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. Kbbcoop

    Was his last name Van Doren?

    August 15, 2012 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
    • emma

      Van Doren was helped to 'cheat' by the show's producers because he was popular and the ratings were high while he was on. Their priority was entertainment, not fairness or even truth. His behaviour is questionable in that he later lied about it to a Senate committee.

      August 15, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • thomas

      Good history. I wonder how many here will get it.

      August 15, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Mark

    I'm unclear on how stealing two blank tiles would help. I mean... at some point the set he stole the tiles from would be played again, and it would be obvious there were no blanks. The game he tries to use the extra two blanks on would also throw up a red flag, as a total of 3 or 4 blanks appeared. I could see stealing a specific letter, but blanks will be so obvious.

    August 15, 2012 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Slender Man

      Don't be stupid. He palms the blank tiles. When he draws tiles he doesn't draw a new one but instead just puts his hand in the bag and pulls out the blank he has palmed.

      August 15, 2012 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Rich

      Well obviously he took them from the bag that the next game was going to be played out of, and planned to switch them in for his tiles, or palm them and pretend to pull them out of the bag. There are only two blanks, and if he took them both before the game started, and they used the same tile set, he could guarantee his opponent wouldn't get them.

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

      He grabbed the two blanks from the board he was going to play his next opponent on so there would not be four blanks. He would just trickily add them to his tiles as the game progressed by having a blank in his hand when he grabbed more out of the bag.
      He was caught because before the game started his opponent asked that the tiles be counted and the two blanks were missing.

      August 15, 2012 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
    • dicerotops

      There would never be 4 blanks. The boy took the blank tiles after the first game was being cleaned up. Then, instead of choosing 7 tiles, he would have only grabbed 5 and slipped the other 2 onto his rack. In this way, he'd be starting out with 7 tiles, 2 of which were the blanks. He was busted when the other player wanted the tiles counted first.

      August 15, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jinx

    Gots to agree with you there.

    August 15, 2012 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
  4. Sinfully Yours

    I bet that kid was WAWLING after he got caught. 😉

    August 15, 2012 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
  5. zappafrank


    August 15, 2012 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
    • WasabiPotPie

      I hate scrabble. I got 6 points for throwing down 'ennui' and my opponent throws down 'zoo' for 26 points with triple word score.

      August 15, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
  6. ..

    Future Republican in the making.

    August 15, 2012 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      Right, because it's usually republicans that take something that isn't theirs, use it as if it were, and say it's something that it really isn't.

      August 15, 2012 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Buck Baloo

      Sounds more like a democrat that always wants something free of any real work on their own part. Anyway, what do politics have to do with anything in a scrabble game? All of that crap is old and tired. Give it a break.

      August 15, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Drew P. Weiner

    Say what you want about taking blank tiles, but he made something out of nothing.

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

      Your name made me LOL

      August 15, 2012 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
  8. That would be the way to go

    MAKE HIS NAME PUBLIC!!! Now its cheating in a scrabble tournament, tomorrow its cheating on the SATs, and in a few years, he will claim to have served in the national guard or to have won a bronze star...

    August 15, 2012 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
  9. JanetMermaid

    His mother must be so proud.

    August 15, 2012 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
  10. Sam

    More and more non-news filling up and pandering to the tabloid-esque attention spans. Going to go elsewhere for news from now on – maybe I'll actually learn something!

    August 15, 2012 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Jinx

      If you EVER depended on this for your news, I feel sorry for you. But you won't see this post cuz you'll be gone.

      August 15, 2012 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
  11. Anon

    This is so newsworthy!

    August 15, 2012 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
  12. grahame rhodes

    Why all the fuss. After all cheating is the great American pastime. Anything to get ahead

    August 15, 2012 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
  13. mb2010a

    Che_ters ne_er win...

    August 15, 2012 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
  14. WasabiPotPie

    Winners never cheat and Cheaters never win. Now you know. Cuz knowing is half the battle.

    August 15, 2012 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
  15. RSFan

    Palming the tiles doesn't help. The only way that would work is if all of several things happens: 1. The players playing the game with 0 blanks never notice (almost impossible). 2. You're opponent never draws a blank (about 50/50 chance). If he has a blank on his tray and you play your second blank, you are done for. 3. Your opponent never notices you swapping out tiles on your tray for ones in your hand, or drawing 4 tiles when you need 5 (so you can add the blamk as the 5th). Not too hard if you are a slight of hand expert, but still dangeours.

    Seems impossible to me and sure enough he was caught immediately.

    August 15, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dude

      If he was playing with the tiles that had the missing blanks and just slipped them back in, it would not be obvious.

      To make it work, you would have to be good at slight of hand. Switch a blank for an 'e' then palm the 'e' when you draw and drop it back into the bag.

      August 15, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • fail

      He wasn't caught immediately: everyone knows that Suhas cheated last year to win Nationals too. And he got through most of this year's Nationals without getting caught.

      August 15, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
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