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.

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soundoff (367 Responses)
  1. pamik

    How low can you go? Scrabble? OMG. This is just too funny.

    August 15, 2012 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
    • melvinslizard

      Scrabble with a $10k prize... this isn't your dad's scrabble.

      August 15, 2012 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
  2. johnny

    Cheating at Scrabble!
    He should be shot.

    August 15, 2012 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Lagos

      Wishing death upon someone over cheating at scrabble! Which is the more egregious offense, and what should your punishment be?

      August 15, 2012 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
  3. TwM

    Democratic Party just handed this person a job, cheaters and liars are most welcome there. Tim Geithner anyone?

    August 15, 2012 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
  4. gman5727

    OOPS! How many points for that?

    August 15, 2012 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
  5. ..

    The teen will become a very good CEO for one of the banks, mega corporations etc. in the future..

    August 15, 2012 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
    • melvinslizard

      Citigroup and BofA are fighting to see who can sponsor this kid. He's got a future in the mortgage industry!!!

      August 15, 2012 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
  6. Southern Guy

    What a shame. This kid, had he won, would have no real sense of satisfaction, and the players that SHOULD have won, would have had a sense of defeat that shouldn't have been theirs. Hopefully he learns a lesson, and doesn't turn into a life-long scammer.

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

      I don't think he cared about self-esteem. I think he cared about the 10 grand.

      August 15, 2012 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
  7. Greenspam

    Future Republican in the making.

    August 15, 2012 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
    • A Republican

      TOO FAR.

      August 15, 2012 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
    • NooYawkah

      Why? Does he need more defenders? He already has 99% of the major media.

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

    WAWL...the sound the cheater's making right about now...

    August 15, 2012 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
  9. eda

    Why is this front page news?

    August 15, 2012 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
    • SilentBoy741

      Because CNN discovered a place where 350 people know how to spell, and they can't find more than 4 in their entire corporation at any given time.

      August 15, 2012 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
  10. Kana

    Maybe he can friend Alec Baldwin and they can play Words With Friends....

    August 15, 2012 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
  11. HenkV

    What are we whining about? He just took his fair share of blank tiles. Nothing wrong with that.

    August 15, 2012 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
  12. Jim

    At least they the referees are not in the North American Milton Bradley Lovers Association

    August 15, 2012 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
    • thomas

      Nice! 🙂

      August 15, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  13. canadianscot

    What about all the teens being "kicked" out of Syria? Permanently!!

    August 15, 2012 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
    • thomas

      Dunno. Perhaps you could ask that question on a forum that is on a story about, oh I don't know, Syria?

      Syria is a country, Scrabbel is a game. Two different stories.

      Anything else you need help understanding?

      August 15, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Pete

    It's all about the M3O1N1E1Y4.

    August 15, 2012 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Pete

      The html sub tag is too hard for them to implement, apparently.

      August 15, 2012 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
  15. RSFan

    I don't understand what he hoped to accomplish... he could never use those blanks in his next game. you think your opponent isn't going to notice that there are 4 blanks on the board???

    August 15, 2012 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
    • phearis

      hahaha that's exactly what I was thinking.

      August 15, 2012 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      And the thief's IQ would be? Yep, you guessed it... Zero! lol

      August 15, 2012 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Plush

      There would not be 4 blank tiles. He would use the only two, it is just that he would have them already in his possession to use them when he needed.

      August 15, 2012 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
    • tyldak01

      Next time, read the article.

      August 15, 2012 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Buck Baloo

      Read the story. There would not have been four blank tiles. He kept them from the bag that was about to be used for his next game. He was just going to act as if he picked each blank fairly at some point in the game.

      August 15, 2012 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Pete

      Game A ends and the tiles are collected off the board for the Game B. The guy snags the two blank tiles and hides them before all are placed in the bag. A new player comes over to the guy's table to start Game B. New player wants to count the tiles. Cheater is caught. If the new player had not asked for a count, Game B would have started and the cheater would palm one of the blanks he hid and pretend to pull it out of the bag of tiles when play starts or any time during the game. No one would notice.

      August 15, 2012 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
    • cheetahgirl

      did you not read the entire blog? the person lifted the tiles that were suppose to be put in the bag...the player wanted the tiles counted...two were missing...the cheater was does two missing tiles equal two extra tiles on the game board?

      August 15, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      @tyldak01, My sentiments exactly. However, stealing doesn't show intelligence, it only shows you have none, if you have to steal to get ahead. If your going to steal though, which I'm not advocating, at least he stole the most valuable t itles.

      August 15, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
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