Steve Friess: A Scrabble Grandmaster Launches An NFL Picks Service

Written By Steve Friess on September 7, 2023
Steve Friess State Of Play A Scrabble Champion Takes On NFL Betting

State of Play with Steve Friess

State of Play is a column that focuses on the trending stories in the casino and gambling space with sharp and clever insight from senior staff writer Steve Friess. Over his 25-year career, Friess has contributed to publications such as Newsweek, Time, New York Times and more.


The NFL oddsmaker biz is tricky. Everyone’s looking for an edge and everyone thinks they understand how countless elements of a football team coalesce into a predictable-ish outcome. It’s a tough, tough racket in which the best and luckiest of them do a bit better than breaking even.

Enter Joey Krafchick.

He wants you to pay as much as $4,999 for his NFL wisdom. He’s also super confident you’ll get your money’s worth.

“I genuinely believe I can hit 70%,” he tells me. “I have the delusion that I can do that. We’ll see how close I can get, but I definitely think you need to have the delusion and the vision to have a chance to. I’m not in this just to get 58%. If I can do better, I’m gonna do better.”

Uh, Joey who?

Fair question. You wouldn’t know his name unless you followed the rather niche world of competitive Scrabble. Then you’d know him as among the best players in North America. He’s won 63 tournaments over about 15 years dating to middle school. His lifetime winnings are north of $31,000 which might not sound like much except that Scrabble prize money tends to be a low-four-figure affair at best.

Now the 28-year-old is hanging up the tiles, he says, to make a business out of his lifelong passion and acumen for professional football.

And before you shrug and click away, consider this: He got 57.2% of 227 picks correct last year. In four games, he predicted the precise score of both sides.

He and his new service, Sir Rebral Selects, might be worth keeping tabs of.

Scrabble and NFL are ‘math puzzles’

To be fair, the 2022-23 NFL season is the only one for which he offers his winning percentage, so you might want to wait and see before coughing up the minimum $499 for the lowest of four tiers. Before that, he says, he was a more casual, though often triumphant, bettor. Then, after a few exhausting years of making a living as a poker grinder at the Texas Card House in Dallas, he decided to “monetize my passion for the NFL and make it my career.”

He explains:

“Last year, I started watching every snap of every game, really looking at all the stats for a few hours a day, doing write-ups, analyzing how much money’s being bet on all the sides, and just compiling all these things throughout the week and coming up better decisions because of it.”

Yes, there are countless NFL handicappers out there either charging money or giving away their picks online. Every major sports news outlet has experts breaking it all down.

What Krafchick is doing, then, is not novel. There is a difference, though; applying Scrabble genius to the sports-betting world offers a new way of slicing and dicing something that most of us figured had been sliced and diced to death already.

Both Scrabble and NFL betting, he says, are “math puzzles.”

This may be a surprise to folks who play Scrabble for fun. But the elites go far beyond leaning on a hifalutin vocabulary and a printout of obscure two-letter words. “The real tedious part of the game is learning the dictionary perfectly which, if you have a photographic memory, it helps,” he says. “If you don’t, it’s not so easy.”

The Alpharetta, Georgia, native is now applying that memory and mathematical ability to something more lucrative:

“In both cases, you’re creating an entire super system of processing information. Obviously, sports betting is different because we have more at stake. Scrabble is a low-stakes activity. It’s just a hobby. If you win the Nationals once a year, that’s $10,000. It’s not going to pay bills. But with every rack you get, you’re seeing all the words within those letters and then seeing on the board where they can go and being able to know them, find them, strategize. It’s like a whole process that takes years to master.”

Krafchick’s super system for football involves him creating thick dossiers on every team and player and crunching his information into his formula to work out the most likely outcomes.

To him, this very well could be easier than Scrabble.

“I know the NFL people like to say it’s hard to predict. I kind of just disagree. People don’t want to do the work it takes to overcome the hardness. That’s how I see it.”

Four pricing tiers for NFL betting information

Sir Rebral Selects, which launches this week in time for the Sept. 7 kickoff between the Lions and Chiefs, has four subscription tiers, with Week One free for everyone as a teaser. The tiers are:

  • Just the Selects: For $499 for the season, Krafchick provides five to six over/under or betting-line picks a week, plus one or two “locks” of the week and one or two “stay-aways,” games too volatile to wager on.
  • Just the Insights: For $1,299, the subscriber receives one-page write-ups on each team as well as a deep-dive research document with numerical and subjective analysis of 14 or 15 games a week.
  • The Whole Enchilada: For $1,499, the subscriber gets twice as many picks, locks, and “stay aways” as the $499 tier, plus the writeups in the $1,299 tier. In addition, Krafchick provides early picks on Mondays or Tuesdays, which can be lucrative because the betting lines and payouts may tighten throughout the week.
  • VIP Room: For $4,999 a year, subscribers get the Whole Enchilada tier plus a weekly video conference with Krafchick and other VIP members to ask questions about any game or player and an invite to a once-a-year viewing party.

Those are some steep prices, especially given Krafchick only has the one year of data on his accuracy to offer. And he knows that. He says:

“A lot of pressure’s on me to do good the first few weeks. I agree, one year is thin. But it’s still worth starting now to get it rolling because even if we don’t get a whole lot of customers the first year, we’ll have an apparatus and maybe we’ll do better next year. Ultimately, if I hit 60 percent this year, which is quite likely, I think things should roll pretty well.”

Gambling and geniuses go hand in hand

I’m not telling you whether to subscribe. I don’t get any credit or kickback if you do. But I do find Krafchick’s story to be fascinating. There has long been an intriguing relationship between the gambling world and geniuses from what seem like disparate worlds.

James Holzhauer, the now-legendary Jeopardy! champion and TV personality, famously emerged as a quiz-show savant after a Vegas sports betting career. Nate Silver was a baseball statistician before he became the guru of political predictions and, more recently, a poker player who placed 87th and won $93,000 in this year’s 2023 WSOP Main Event. Annie Duke, now a self-help entrepreneur, was a few credits shy of a doctorate in behavioral psychology when she opted instead to be a poker star.

So why is it hard to imagine that a Scrabble champ would have unusual skills that could be brought to bear in NFL betting? He’s certainly worth keeping an eye on if only for the novelty factor.

If it goes well, Krafchick says, of course he’ll expand into betting on other sports.

“The NFL is my favorite thing on Earth, but I’m definitely going to venture into other sports that are more profitable over time once I’m more established. But for now, this is just what I’m doing because I love it and I see a clear vision to profit.”

He says to take the Lions +5 and the Over tonight, by the way. Good luck!

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Photo by Charlie Neibergall/AP photo (NFL logo); illustrated by PlayUSA
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Steve Friess

Steve Friess writes the State of Play column for PlayUSA twice a week. He's a veteran gambling-industry reporter who began covering Las Vegas in 1996 and covered the openings of resorts in Asia, Europe, and across the U.S. His bylines have appeared in The New York Times, Playboy, New Republic, Time, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, New York magazine, and many others. He, his husband, their children and three Poms live in Ann Arbor.

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