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. Richie

    I blame Barack

    August 16, 2012 at 8:56 am | Report abuse |
    • E Money

      If Obama had a son his cheating might look a lot like this boy's.

      August 16, 2012 at 10:23 am | Report abuse |
  2. chris

    We live in a society where nothing is considered right or wrong. If it works for you then do it. Just don't get caught.

    August 16, 2012 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
  3. Sinfully Yours

    The first thing newly crowned Scrabble Champion, Nigel Richards, is going to do with his winnings is...


    August 16, 2012 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
  4. Ed G.

    Congrats to Nigel Richards!

    August 16, 2012 at 9:56 am | Report abuse |
  5. Bleh64

    Wow, first badminton in the olympics and now scrabble!!!! The world is ending!!! LOL what a newsworthy article and apparently i will read anything anymore, sigh, 🙁

    August 16, 2012 at 9:59 am | Report abuse |
    • amphiox

      Hey, it costs you nothing but a tiny amount of time to read, and in reading you learn something. Even if what you learn is something you think is "useless", you have learned something, and you now have more knowledge in your brain than you did before.

      I see no downside in this to you.

      August 16, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Brad

    Words with Fiends.

    August 16, 2012 at 10:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Ed G.

      Good one!

      August 16, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jerome Horowitz

    I was going to post something, but I couldn't think of what to say.
    I guess I drew a blank.....

    August 16, 2012 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
  8. hipster

    I wouldn't want to meet Nigel Richards on a dark Scrabble board.

    That dude looks like he could rough you up!

    August 16, 2012 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
  9. Doc W

    Like we say in the military, if you ain't cheatin' you and tryin' ....Giving yourself an unfair advantage is, I guess, not viewed upon as a positive attribute elsewhere... understandably so.

    August 16, 2012 at 11:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Todd in DC

      There are no rules in love or war. Scrabble on the other hand...

      August 16, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Joe

    What happened to the cheater? i hope he got life in prison. If not he might end up being a politician one day.

    August 16, 2012 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
    • vatoloke

      "What happened to the cheater?"

      He was drafted with honors into the Junior GOP .

      August 16, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jerome Horowitz

    It's the same cash prize as the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating contest – $10,000.

    August 16, 2012 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
  12. Andrew

    I sort of think of it as the news overshadowing the champion.

    August 16, 2012 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
  13. mike

    Where is the Word with Friends tournament or the Scramble Tournament! ha ha

    Wasn't Scrabble in the Olympic and NBC just hasn't shown it yet?

    August 16, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Sandy

    I don't understand how he thought he would get away with it. There are only 2 blank tiles in the game. Was he banking on drawing both from the random pile at a later time in the game?

    August 16, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
  15. JLS639

    The ability to use it in a sentence is irrelevant. There are 3 Dictionaries that act as a Scrabble reference. If the word is in all 3, it is legal. There is a tournament Scrabble dictionary available for every country that complies all legal words each time new editions of one of the dictionaries comes out.

    Words with more than 8 letters are unusual and more than 9 are rarely used. How about some "Q" words with no "U" like QA and FAQIR? How about common 2 letter words? AE, HO, ME, TO, ZA, etc.... those are the bread and butter of tournament Scrabble. You make a two or three letter word alongside another word to 3 or 4 words, full score each one. Sweetness is making a bingo of a 7 letter word forming 4-6 two letter words.

    Also vowel dumps, "I" dumps and "U" dumps are important.

    August 16, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
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