Swap Letters in Scrabble or Words With Friends

Should you risk swapping letters?
PUBLIC SAFETY ANNOUNCEMENT: it is almost never a smart move to swap letters in Scrabble or Words With Friends. These games are built on a limited number of letter tiles, which means a limited number of turns on which to score. Putting up even a few points (maybe by way of a convenient two-letter word) is almost always a better idea than accepting even one turn’s worth of 0. That being said, there are a handful of situations where exchanging tiles isn’t just necessary, it’s a strong play. Here are four.

1. Desperation

We’ve all been there: bad draws happen to good people. Every once in a while you get a handful of futility and there’s just not a play to make. If you’ve been over the board thrice, gone through all our tips about using two-letter words, words without vowels and words without consonants, and still have nothing worth your time, go ahead and swap out your nonsense. We won’t tell.

2. Early Bird Special

The safest time to swap letters is early in the game, when you still have maximum chances to improve your draw. On your second or third turn, it can be smart to swap a few low-percentage consonants for some utility As and Es, by way of getting points on the board. Remember, your chances for that lucky draw go down as the tiles pile up, so when it comes to swapping tiles go early or go home.

3. The Final Countdown

This is the next safest time to swap letters and the opposite of the Early Bird rule. Very, very late in the game — like, five-tiles-left late — trading tiles turns into a different proposition. If you’ve got our list of Scrabble tiles committed to memory (which you clearly should), then, when the game is down to the last few turns, you can read the board and make an educated guess at which tiles are left in the bag.

Remember, some of the unaccounted for letters are in your opponent’s hand, but if there are, say, 3 Es left and you just need one for a big, late-game play, it could be worth rolling the metaphorical dice and swapping a letter you know you’ll never use.

4. One Play Away

Another reliable rule for Scrabble or Words With Friends: don’t bank it all on one big word. Word games come with a fair amount of randomness, and one bit of bad luck can ruin a whole strategy. There is one exception: if you do have one strong play, and you’re just one common letter short of completing it, it can be worth the risk to swap a few tiles in hopes of pulling the E or T that will make your 50-point dream come true.

Is it Worth the Risk?

A letter swap is always a high-risk maneuver in Scrabble or Words With Friends; fundamentally, you’re surrendering a 0-point turn. But sometimes high risk can mean high reward. So, if you’ve got an unplayable hand, are early enough to play the long game, know what’s waiting for you in the bag, or have a strong play in need of a single common letter, swapping tiles can be a strong move.

To manage those unruly letters, unscramble them with WordFinder. It’s a search tool made with word games in mind. Pop in up to 15 letters and we’ll show you all possible game-legal plays. We also have a curated collection of word lists, sorted by length, first letter, last letter and more. Happy pwning!


Matt Salter has been a professional writer for over 10 years. He is a gaming and technology expert, and world-class word nerd.

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