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. john1425

    So within blinks, he took the blanks ? Sacrilege !!

    August 15, 2012 at 9:46 pm | Report abuse |
  2. John Vance

    Cheating in a Scrabble tournament. Man, I just don't know what to say. It's just so, so... un-nerdy. This would never happen at a Monopoly match.

    August 15, 2012 at 10:17 pm | Report abuse |
  3. joe

    I've used a similar, yet equally effective, trick numerous times. Simply flip the lettered tiles over to make them blanks.

    August 15, 2012 at 10:55 pm | Report abuse |
  4. rmtaks

    He might be kicked out of all Scrabble tournaments for life! Can you imagine?

    August 15, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Edwin

      For someone who takes the game seriously, it would be an awful punishment.

      August 16, 2012 at 4:02 am | Report abuse |
  5. StuporDave

    How much shame does the miscreant feel? Any hope of restoring the honor system? Shortcuts are not all they're cracked up to be. There are few better feelings than knowing you earned whatever reward or award comes your way, even if luck cannot be ruled out as a factor in the outcome.

    August 15, 2012 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Edwin

      Sounds to me like the honor system worked - it caught the cheater, who admitted doing it.

      August 16, 2012 at 4:03 am | Report abuse |
  6. hotdamnitssam

    I thought this was an Onion headline...

    August 15, 2012 at 11:40 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Ro

    Those blanks were the players at all costs. Poor teenager....had all the pressure to win or bust.

    August 15, 2012 at 11:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Keith

      Yeah, all the pressure of $10,000 !!
      'Course, cheating is the American way. All that pressure forces athletes to take those steroids too ....

      August 16, 2012 at 2:40 am | Report abuse |
  8. ATLApplePie

    I'm in a give the kid a break mode. I'm sure he learned his lesson. I'm sure we can all think of a lesson or two that we needed to learn. Sometimes experience really is the best teacher. I'm actually disgusted with the referee who thought it was appropriate to Twitter the situation. I wonder if his job description included this? Handle the situation and dole out the required punishment, but don't publish a kids poor choices in this manner. He really isn't an adult yet. Also, any parent who has a perfect kid is doing something wrong. It's doubtful that this kid will ever cheat on anything again as he experiences the consequences of his choices and actions. This spotlight will pass kid.

    August 16, 2012 at 12:56 am | Report abuse |
    • ATLApplePie

      Ooops. Sorry. It was the lexicographer who outed the kid on Twitter. I doubt this was part of his job duties.

      August 16, 2012 at 1:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Keith

      Sure, give the kid a break and he doesn't get to learn his lesson. You can't have it both ways – not even with hand waving.
      And by the way, the referee who's reputation you impugned wasn't the one who tweeted !

      August 16, 2012 at 2:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Edwin

      I think you misunderstand the situation. In the Old West they would have shot the kid - he cheated for money ($10,000). In many sports he would be banned for life. In school he would earn a failing grade AND a mark on his permanent record. At a job, he would be lucky if all that happened was that he got fired - if there really was $10,000 on the line he might well have been charged with a crime.

      This is a top player who should already have known better. He was a teen - not an eight-year-old still learning that cheating is wrong. What he did was very bad, and it should have consequences (probably a ban on tournaments for, say, ten years or more).

      August 16, 2012 at 4:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Marcus

      Think about the fact the person is #2 scabbler player in the country. How many other games did he/she cheat without being caught? And how much prize money did he/she won that another person should have? Before you give anyone a break, think about that.

      August 16, 2012 at 7:29 am | Report abuse |
    • bingo

      He was not a top player. He was described as one of the top young players. He's not #2 in the country. He may be 500th or so in the country. He was competing for a couple thousand dollars in his lower division. He won $2000 last year. I'd love to see him have to pay it back on top of a long suspension. I don't know that the paying back will happen, though.

      August 16, 2012 at 8:24 am | Report abuse |
  9. puckles

    This is DEFINITELY a sign of the End Times. I think he should get prison for life. LOLOLOLOLOL!!!!

    August 16, 2012 at 1:49 am | Report abuse |
  10. All4TheLulz

    When I heard of scrabble cheating, I thought he tried to make up a word like KWIJIBO.

    August 16, 2012 at 2:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Edwin

      Kwijibo is a perfectly cromulent word.

      August 16, 2012 at 4:11 am | Report abuse |
    • larry5

      The proper spelling is Kwyjibo. You would not make the grade against a pre-teen player.

      August 16, 2012 at 6:02 am | Report abuse |
  11. TheVideoMan

    Hello CNN, When will the cheating scandel at Ireport be resolved? Why does CNN continue to try and sweep the scandal under the rug?

    August 16, 2012 at 2:20 am | Report abuse |
  12. phil

    Great non-story.. slow news day? Next we will be getting updates about Magic the Gathering tournys...

    August 16, 2012 at 3:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Edwin

      Soon there will be a 'All Magic, all the time' TV channel that broadcasts magic tournaments... and it will probably have a devoted following...

      August 16, 2012 at 4:13 am | Report abuse |
  13. donna

    "And when reporters asked why he cheated, he simply drew a blank."

    Gotta love CNN! lol

    August 16, 2012 at 4:29 am | Report abuse |
  14. wildone

    Future politician in the making. He'll fit right in.

    August 16, 2012 at 7:30 am | Report abuse |
  15. hurricane

    A lifetime ban should be in order. For a person to commit such actions means they can never be trusted to play fairly.

    August 16, 2012 at 8:42 am | Report abuse |
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