August 16th, 2012
09:33 AM ET

The highs and lows of SCRABBLE: A cheater overshadows a record champion



Those two drastically different words couldn't describe more perfectly the highs and lows of this year's National SCRABBLE championship which saw one player break two winning records and another casting a shadow over the tournament by being the first person ejected from it.

Nigel Richards, 45, posted his third consecutive and fourth overall championship, setting two new records, according to the SCRABBLE tournament's website. The New Zealand-born security analyst, who now lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia , finished with a record of 22-9.

But his highly touted achievement in the SCRABBLE world was overshadowed by two of those precious blank tiles that are so valuable because they can be used as any letter you like.

That's because one of the top youth players in the country was kicked out of the Division 3 National SCRABBLE Championship Tournament on Tuesday for cheating, according to John D. Williams Jr., the executive director of the National SCRABBLE Association.

It's something organizers say has never happened in the tournament's 30 years of competition.

During the 24th round of the annual tournament in Orlando, Florida, on Tuesday, the director was called over to a Division 3 game, a lower level of competition than what Richards won. A young teen was under suspicion by other players, according to Williams, who noted the tournament has a self-policing policy.

It seems the player, who officials have not named, was hoping to get a little extra help but was foiled.  The player had won a game and took two blanks as the tiles were gathered and put in the grab bag. When his next competitor stepped in to play, the opponent asked that the tiles be counted. Two were missing.

"It was discovered that two blanks were not put into the tile bag as they should have been when the board was cleared off to start the game," according to the SCRABBLE tournament's website. "The player was questioned and admitted to taking them."

Another player observed the young teen drop or place tiles near his foot, according to Williams. The player was called over and confronted, and a witness verified the story.

Daniel Horowitz, an iReporter at the tournament, explained that a player saw a red flag by how the blank tiles were positioned on the board. Normally, the tiles are arranged randomly at the beginning of the game as new players arrange the tiles on four 5×5 grids is to verify that all 100 tiles are there, he said.

Daniel Horowitz, an iReporter, shows how the boards are usually checked to make sure all tiles are there.

Horowitz added that it is common courtesy to “square” the tiles at the conclusion of each game so that the players who play the next game will see that all the tiles are accounted for.

"The cheater positioned the board so that the blanks were directly in front of him, and the observer noticed a sleight of hand where the blanks were grabbed by one hand and were not placed in the tile bag, while all of the other tiles were picked up with the other hand and placed in the tile bag," Horowitz said.

iReport: At the SCRABBLE tournament

The teen confessed to cheating, and he was immediately removed from the tournament. His opponents will be retroactively given forfeit wins. There will be a disciplinary hearing to determine what the sanctions will be, Williams said.

Peter Sokolowski, a lexicographer with Merriam-Webster, tweeted about what happened and how referees come into play if there is a dispute.



The tournament, which has more than 350 competitors, has a final prize of $10,000.

Adding 'f-bomb' to dictionary makes for an 'aha moment'

soundoff (367 Responses)
  1. Alex

    I can't believe this news made it to CNN.

    August 15, 2012 at 11:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Azhar

      I can't believe you read it.

      August 15, 2012 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
  2. WWRRD

    That kid is a future wall street securities trader for SURE!

    August 15, 2012 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
    • gager

      Another sheeple who does not know wall street.

      August 15, 2012 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
  3. ROMNEY 2012

    If you ain't cheating, you ain't trying.

    August 15, 2012 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
  4. Zzzzzzz

    [yawn] I'm sorry, you were saying something....?

    August 15, 2012 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
  5. vatoloke

    Future repubicans start at an early age.

    August 15, 2012 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
    • TwM

      Was the player named Barrack obama? Proven liar, noted cheater.

      August 15, 2012 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
  6. Jokesterer

    24th round?! 1 game of Scrabble a year is plenty for me.

    August 15, 2012 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
  7. bobcat (in a hat)©

    Is NOTHING sacred any longer ? Has NOTHING ever been sacred. Let's examine this word NOTHING. NOTHING is exactly that. Zero, nada, zilch. So if NOTHING has never been anything, how could it be or ever have been sacred ?

    I mean, if you are talking about NOTHING, it means you aren't talking about anything,ergo you are silent.

    Too much for this early in the day ?

    August 15, 2012 at 11:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Jinx

      I got it, bobcat. Triple score!

      August 15, 2012 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      Lmao! Katman, Nothing is of zero value. Excellent play on word.

      August 15, 2012 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
  8. Eric

    Meanwhile in africa, kids continue to die of starvation.

    You're a joke CNN

    August 15, 2012 at 11:10 am | Report abuse |
  9. James

    You know, this is about newsworthy as watching GRASS GROW!!

    August 15, 2012 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
  10. OBAMA 2012

    Sanctions? Really? What kind of sanctions can the Scrabble association apply... No more Y's or Z's for you, kid!

    August 15, 2012 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
  11. MakeThemEatCake

    $10,000 to memorize a dictionary. they say that as unemployment goes up, or does not improve, more and more people turn to crime to survive. what can be done? If he gets a lifetime ban from future SCRABBLE tournaments he may change his name so he can continue to compete.

    August 15, 2012 at 11:12 am | Report abuse |
  12. XPMorgan

    The same player, Suhas Rao (google with Scrabble) was suspected at last year's tournament (where his cheating ways netted him $2000) as usual, the "governing body" NASPA just ignored the issue until it was too late.

    August 15, 2012 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
  13. Bob

    Future Politician accepting the Presidential Republican nomination.

    August 15, 2012 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
    • TwM

      Definitely a future Politician, Democrats love cheaters, see Tim Geithner and liars see President Barrack Obama.

      August 15, 2012 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
  14. Chuck

    Actually, it's 62 points with the 50-point bonus 🙂

    August 15, 2012 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
  15. Vander

    What's that saying...Winners never cheat and cheaters never prosper.
    Too bad that won't reveal his name so very one will know who he is and I hope is banned for life from ever competing in a tournament again.

    August 15, 2012 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
    • chibidw

      Say that to Wall St. and you'll be laughed out of New York.

      August 15, 2012 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Jinx

      They have SPECTATORS at these things?

      August 15, 2012 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
    • NooYawkah

      They did reveal his name. But they used blank tiles.

      August 15, 2012 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
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