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. eroteme

    Everybody does it, nobody's perfect, we all make mistakes. Cheating teachers admired by their students, it is the new American way.

    August 15, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Sheilagh

    Dear God, is nothing sacred? 🙂

    August 15, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Michele

    Thanks, whimsy, for calling out CNN on their spelling error. This is what happens when people depend on spell check versus a real, thinking editor. Pretty amusing given the story content.

    August 15, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Katz For Dogs

    Wonder what kind of pressure the kid's parents put on him to resort to cheating.

    August 15, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • UnSub

      @Katz For Dogs none probably. In fact it's probably the opposite in that his parents probably suck and let him get away with everything.

      August 15, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Carol

      They certainly didn't give him any lessons on morality. Teaching children the difference between right and wrong is essential.

      August 15, 2012 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      Because it's always someone else's fault in our blameless society?

      August 15, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • kelly

      Pretty big assumption there. Why do people always try to find some genesis story in the someone's childhood where a parent made a horrible mistake that turned them (a decade or two down the line) into a cheater, liar, rapist or murderer?
      This guy is a kid. Sometimes kids make mistakes. Sometimes adults make mistakes. When they do, they should face the consequences. Simple as that. Why look for some deeper, most likely non-existant, backstory?

      August 15, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • 2bnfl

      Give them all trophies, juice boxes and chips they are all Winners!!!!

      August 15, 2012 at 9:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Meeeee

      Lots, actually. I know this kid (Suhas Rao) and being Indian as well, the whole mentality is "you have to be the best or we'll disown you." His parents are very likeable but put Suhas under an inordinate amount of pressure. This added to the fact that he is the defending champion was enough to make him crack. Not an excuse, but a reason nevertheless.

      August 15, 2012 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • paul

      oh yes let's blame the parents. snot nosed teens.

      August 15, 2012 at 11:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • DB

      His parents probably wish he'd play football instead.

      August 15, 2012 at 11:02 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Bluchunks

    Thank god this menace was apprehended...Imagine the mayhem if he was allowed to continue! #slownewsday

    August 15, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Larry

      Its so obvious!!! He is going to grow up to be a Republican!

      August 15, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • ArchieDeBunker

      Reply to Larry:

      Well OF COURSE he was going to grow up to be a Republican! There aren't any Democrats smart enough to be in a national SCRABBLE tournament! We all know that!

      August 15, 2012 at 9:20 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Teila K. Day

    CNN... and cheating on Scrabble? Scrabble?!?! I just saw a video clip of a little girl in Syria face up on the sidewalk barely breathing with a bullet wound through her eye and skull and her mouth and eyes open... her little chest barely rising and falling as her body slowly dies. People all around her taking photographs and video with their cell phones.

    But some kid cheating on a board game that most people couldn't care less about it, let alone remember how to play, is reported as "news" by CNN.

    "click". . . that was me turning the channel. I think CNN might do a lot better trying their hand at reality tv, because they sure as heck aren't impressing me with their "news".

    August 15, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • URClueless

      Not everyone wants their news to be depressing and deep, some of us like more light-hearted news. I come for the Entertainment articles, Science, Living, and Health articles. I glance at headlines of "major" (depressing) news stories to know whats going on. This is what happens when other people on this planet exist other than you, they have opinions and make their own choices. Not to mention, it's a website, you control your content, and it takes up no space that could be used elsewhere. They are a corporation, and have the right to employ whomever they want to write whatever they choose to.

      Get over yourself.

      August 15, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • David Bolton

      Jesus, Debbie Downer—go subscribe to the War In Syria channel. Or maybe Starvation In Ethiopia in HD. And leave the rest of us alone, who don't want to wallow in the misery of the world along with you.

      August 15, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eroc Smith

      And by "click" I think you meant "click click click click click...", the sound of you typing away on this forum and showing CNN your genuine interest in this sort of reporting. You came, you read, you responded, you interacted, you increased their ability to sell advertisement space. The funny thing is that it's people exactly like you why they run these stories.

      August 15, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • bob aussie

      Oh get a life Teila. Some would say that what you think is news worthy about the little girl is no more than a staged event to elicit world sympathy. That's no more news than a Scrabble tourney cheater. All news has value, and just because it has no value to you, doesn't mean it isn't news worthy. Cheaters, winners, murderers, lying politicians, tornados, cats in trees.... where do you draw the line as to what's news and what isn't? My bet is that you'll be back here reading CNN, just like all the others who make claims that a story isn't news and they'll get their "news" from someplace else. FOX maybe? The Daily Show? Yes, Teila. Get a life.

      August 15, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Paul

      The news is not a zero sum activity. Both the Syria story and the Scrabble story were available. You can (and did) read both. You can do whatever you think will help the people of Syria whether or not the Scrabble story is published.

      August 15, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Former Marine

      That's fascinating that you managed to turn the channel on the internet. How did you do that exactly?

      There are thousands of articles on CNN. Plenty of them are on Syria. No one forced you to click on and read this article, if you don't like it, read about something else.

      August 15, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Doodlebug2222

      You have writers that are assigned to various types of news, and this is what they report on. The reason news is this way is to offer a large variety to the readers, and in this – you want to be sure every topic is rotated to the front of the website to ensure equal viewing time.

      Not everyone wants to continually ready about murder, bloodshed and other atrocities...

      August 15, 2012 at 7:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • kelly

      This is CNN. They can report on both, dummy. This is 2012, news sites come with more than one story a day.
      It obviously got your attention, for you to read and comment on it.

      August 15, 2012 at 7:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      CNN is a complete joke. It is This was top story!

      August 15, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • moose

      I'd much rather read about a kid cheating than a kid shot through the head. Also, in all honesty, the kid cheating actually has a lot more direct impact on our society in america than someone halfway around the world in a conflict thats none of our business. And before you start bashing me for being cold and heartless for saying its none of our business, please take care to remember the Iraq war.

      August 15, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • carpenterman123

      The disclaimer up front said its not news, just a distraction.

      August 15, 2012 at 8:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Um...

      How is some random girl dying in a country thousands of miles away "news"... People die every minute of every hour, there has NEVER been someone caught cheating at this tournament, thus its news.

      August 15, 2012 at 10:35 pm | Report abuse |
  7. fernace

    Cheating is such BS! Why would any1 cheat themselves out of knowing they blew away the compet.ition due to their knowledge/skills! I would want to be able to say "I won cuz I'm bad ass," not "I won cuz I got away w/cheating"! In that sense the cheater cheats him/herself worst of all! Instead of saying "I beat all these people because I studied harder, retained more knowledge, honed my skills," you get to say "I won cause I came up w/some devious tricks & any of these people might have beaten me"! That goes for all compet.itions & real life as well! Like any lie, it constantly needs another layer of "cover-up" so it wont be discovered! Not like we haven't all done it at 1 time or another, but you learn lessons in life! Hopefully, this young man has learned his!!

    August 15, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • magnus

      he hasnt learned anything other than he needs to be more careful next time he cheats in his life.

      August 15, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
  8. majav

    Sounds like the teen is well on his or her way to being a successful politician!

    August 15, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • ed

      I was going to say Wall Street Hot-Shot but in the end, same difference!

      August 15, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Report abuse |
  9. JLS639

    "It's a 12-point word if you played it in SCRABBLE"

    No, it is a 7 letter word. You play it first or play it so it ends in an "S" on another word then you played all seven tiles giving you a bingo and with a 50-point bonus. Scrabble is won with 7 letter words you can stick an "S" on or 6 letter words you can stick and "ED" on, etc.

    Been awhile since I played tournament Scrabble. My sister is at that tournament and said she would tell me the story later.

    August 15, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • clevercandi

      pssssss....."Scrabble" is an EIGHT letter word....sssshhhhh

      August 15, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Not So Clever

      @clevercandi, your handle confused me. They were talking about the word cheater not the word scrabble!

      August 15, 2012 at 8:51 pm | Report abuse |
  10. LastDinosaur

    How did this kid become one of the "top youth players" anyway? I always note when a blank is played; they are so valuable that I like to know whether I still have a chance of drawing one. I imagine a lot of players do this.

    The cheating teen is a total bonehead who must be new to the game.

    August 15, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • tonya

      My thoughts exactly. I couldn't even get through the whole article because all I kept thinking was "how the hell did this kid even get in a tournament if he doesn't even realize EVERYONE knows there are only 2 blank tiles". Not like an extra couple of blanks would clue anyone in or anything lol

      August 15, 2012 at 7:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • John Schaeffer

      This guy sounds like he is well on to a professional sports career on steroids or else a career in lawn maintenance.

      August 15, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andy Daniel

      One of my relatives played in the tournament so I know a little more than is said here (including who the cheater was, which I won't post here). The idea was to pocket the two blanks, leaving 98 of the 100 tiles in the bag. Later in the game, when he needed a blank, he could palm one as he reached into the bag and draw it back (for instance, if he played 5 tiles, he could replenish by reaching into the bag with a blank hidden in his hand and draw it back out along with 4 legitimate tiles).

      He is not new to the game and is by all accounts a skilled player, but he has been pubilcly suspected of cheating on several occassions in the past, based on how his scores at some tournaments dramatically exceed his expected scores.

      August 15, 2012 at 9:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Meeeee

      He used the same set of tiles for two consecutive games. There would still only be two blank tiles played.

      August 15, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse |
  11. B-DOG1

    if its fraud or cheating, you know its gonna be in Florida..the fraud and cheating capital of U.SA!

    August 15, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Report abuse |
  12. B-DOG1

    If its fraud or cheating, of course its gonna be in Florida..the fraud captial of the U.S.A!

    August 15, 2012 at 7:36 pm | Report abuse |
  13. WhtRULknAt

    They actually have referee shirts?!? LOL

    August 15, 2012 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
  14. magnus


    August 15, 2012 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
  15. East 4TH ST Kid

    Winning is everything. this is supported by both the Media and the Public.Somehow the means is becoming unimportant to the masses.Sodom and Gomorrah is alive and growing

    August 15, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
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