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. James

    Scrabble should implement Sharia Law and cut off the cheater's hand.

    August 16, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
  2. jon

    What did he hope to gain?.......aren't the blank tiles worth zero points?

    August 16, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Zulu

    Send those cheaters to Gitmo and have him play scrabble in arabic letters.

    August 16, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  4. BBK


    August 16, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • RMS

      I just Googled "monopoly tournaments" and got all the latest dates. Duh.

      August 16, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      RMS is not familiar with sarcasm.

      August 20, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
  5. BBK


    August 16, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Tom

    Cheat on taxes, college exam, blow through a red light, but cheat in scrabble ? Does he play in Checkers tournaments too?

    August 16, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Meds4thewin

      I play solitaire for money.

      August 21, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Skippy

    Clearly Obama's fault.

    August 16, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Guest

      Obviously Bush's fault.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:26 pm | Report abuse |
  8. eleanorcat

    And even if his deceit had not been discovered and he had won, would it really have been a satisfying victory? Would he ever have been able to reflect back on it with pride? Or would the memory always be stung with secret bitterness?

    August 16, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wes

      He would be $10k richer, which would make it worth it.

      August 16, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andy Daniel

      It's also being incorrectly reported that he stood to win $10K by cheating. He was playing in a lower division in which the first prize was $2,500. The first prize in division 1 was $10K.

      August 16, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • cuervo jones

      he was laughing till he got caught. let's see if any "friends" come forward

      August 17, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Mitt the Criminal Cultist

    Sounds like a future Republican Nominee for President. Probably already working on next year's taxes.

    August 16, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • stevan

      Ya no proof of Mit cheating on taxes..but your buddy Obama donates 35k to each of his daughters as a tax shelter. Obama also self admitted cocaine user. Using cocaine is a Felony which makes him inelegible to be president.

      August 17, 2012 at 11:31 am | Report abuse |
    • cuervo jones

      @stevan you realize Bush will be his cellie right?. i'm guessing the Arab smoocher/ hand holder will be quite the catch

      August 17, 2012 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • MNTaxpayer

      stevan you are only a felon if you are convicted. He wasn't.

      August 21, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Matty13

    DUMB*UC* (30 points)

    August 16, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • j

      How did you get two blank tiles?

      August 17, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  11. John Karris

    I would like to know the factual basis for the reporter's claim that the cheater positioned the board so that the blanks were directly in front of him. I have serious doubts about the truthfulness of this factual assertion. I was at the tournament and was informed that the cheater's opponent intentionally placed the blanks in front of the suspected cheater so as to give the suspected cheater an easier opportunity to cheat. Unfortunately, the suspected cheater took the bait. Of course, this does not excuse what the cheater did, but it is not quite as bad as reported. In any event, the reporter should stick to the facts that are known and not embellish them. If the reporter is not sure of a fact, then he should make that clearer.

    August 16, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • sparky

      Seriously? You went to a scrabble tournament??

      August 16, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • bingo

      It sounds like they got their information from Dan Horowitz. Maybe Dan didn't have all that straight, but he is as credible a source as you could find that would discuss it.

      August 16, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andy Daniel

      My sister-in-law was also there. I don't know if the cheater was baited but if you look him up online (I know his name but won't post it here) there are assertions of cheating on his part going back several years, but with only statistical proof rather physical evidence.

      August 16, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • jack

      wait what? It makes no difference whatsover who placed the blank tiles there. The kid should not have taken them, period, end of story. It's no better than if he'd arranged it himself, that's ludicrous.

      August 16, 2012 at 9:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • cuervo jones

      cool. the next time i see a drawer of money at the bank, if i take it i'll just say it weren't THAT bad

      August 17, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Uncle Milty

      Having a greater opportunity to cheat doesn't lessen the cheating in my book. I'm sick of dirt bags blaming their own moral failings on opportunities for cheating. Little punks that make comments like, "They make it so easy to shoplift. If they don't want any shoplifting, they should have better security".

      I hope this little punk owned it and gave a public apology to the game organizers and a private one to his opponent otherwise he'll grow up to be a dirt bag that hides his money from the U.S. government, makes up reasons to avoid the draft, uses his Dad's money to break up companies and sell them for parts, and then claim he is a great success and true patriot.

      August 20, 2012 at 5:36 am | Report abuse |
  12. Bill

    This is part of the new moral compass that we're moving towards and our kids are taking the lead on this apparently.

    August 16, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  13. dike

    the last time I played I got all blanks... till my kid told me i had placed it upside down.... and I thought I could win...

    August 16, 2012 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
  14. GreenEnergyDoesntExist

    Ok, so the headline reads the the cheater overshadowed the winner's records, then the article completely neglects to mention what that record was. Yet another CNN fail.

    August 17, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Southern mom

    It's not the cheater's fault. He came from a broken home, his dad was abusive, and his mother was distant. He should be allowed to continue the tournament, just like we keep allowing the criminals to walk the streets. Oops! Did I just say Casey Anthony?

    August 19, 2012 at 2:52 am | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14