TAUT COMPETITION AT JERUSALEM SCRABBLE CLUB

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JERUSALEM - Perhaps it is a bit strange that Jerusalem, where Hebrew and Arabic are the native languages, is home to probably the world's largest club of English-speaking Scrabble players.

But its 50 or so members - and the three or four newcomers who drop in weekly - don't care about that. They just want to play.

``It's a social haven for every sort of Jerusalemite. Here, they have everything in common,'' said Sam Orbaum, director of the Jrslm Scrbbl Clb, as he likes to spell it.

A haven perhaps, but the game's the thing. Orbaum and friends rank players in three divisions and keep statistics and standings. Any evening you drop by, you're sure to learn some new words. (I encountered ``ilex,'' ``bundists,'' ``moule,'' ``verso'' and ``etesian,'' among many others, the night I played.)

You don't have to be an expert to join in. The atmosphere is friendly and newcomers welcome. The skill of members varies widely, so there is likely to be someone of equal skill to play.

Orbaum, a lifelong Montrealer before he moved to Jerusalem seven years ago, is an advertising copy writer at the Jerusalem Post, the city's English-language newspaper and the club's sponsor.

He'll welcome you and ask for a small fee, about $1.50, "for use of the hall," he'll say. Then he'll register you, chat for a couple of minutes and tell you how long it will be before he announces the pairings for the first game.

Play is governed strictly by the rules. Word challenges are settled by referring to the Official Scrabble Players' Dictionary. Usually, a disinterested third party consults the book so that neither player gains an advantage from seeing the dictionary.

Newcomers are provided a list of the dictionary's 86 two-letter words and are allowed to refer to it during the games. Among those listed are xu, xi, ka, ae and ex. Club members meet 7:30 to 11:30 Tuesday nights at Hebrew Union College on King David Street.