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. mdmooser

    I love scrabble, play it daily or every other day on my ipad for quick fun. If you cheat in scrabble you miss the whole point of it. Why even play?

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

      In this case, for a $10 000 prize...but you are still a loser for cheating.

      August 15, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • nostrildamus

      There are 10,000 reasons to cheat.

      August 15, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim


      August 15, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Michael

    This reflects poorly on that kids parents; it is intuitively obvious, even to the most caual observer, that the child was never taught personal responsibility nor a Code of Honor. I was, both growing up and whilst at the USAF Academy; I will not lie, steal or cheat ... No aspect of my life is more difficult than maintaining that code, regardless ...

    August 15, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dude

      We are losing the idea that something worth having is worth working and waiting for. Ultimately, the rewards of honest are far greater than the rewards of cheating. But, cheating gets the reward faster.

      In a sense, isn't lying what the Air Force is all about? "This isn't a jet fighter aircraft, see it's just a little bumble bee. Yeah see the radar? Just a little bee carrying some pollen. Yeah, that's all. NO! That's not all, It is jet fighter with 500# GPS guided bomb."

      Just kidding. I checked, no enemy tanks in my neighborhood and you guys are doing a great job.

      August 15, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jack 63

      You can start with the parents not teaching the values. But you have to finish up with the society we have to day which encourages that kind of behavior. From the highest office in the country to copy / paste school homework from the internet, cheating has become the way to go in this country.

      August 15, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • jsraabi

      things that are obvious are always intuitively obvious, that's what obvious means.

      He was taught personal responsibility, he fessed up about his crime. Besides, if you need a Code of Honor to make sure you don't cheat, you're probably going to cheat eventually.

      August 15, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bozobub

      Bah. There IS such a thing as a "bad kid", regardless of how he/she was raised. You know nothing about his parents, sorry.

      August 15, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • USA!

      You're my hero.

      August 15, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • FeelBetterNow?

      Glad you were able to use this story to let everyone else know how much better than them you are.

      August 15, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jayh

      Dude – it's Scrabble...

      August 15, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • PeterM

      Parents might have done a wonderful job, but teenagers often chart their own course.
      I am glad the Air Force has a code of honor and that you follow it even today. But don't be so smug. Many have broken that code and you know it.

      August 15, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jack237

      No it doesn't; it only reflects poorly on THAT KID. You said it yourself, "personal responsibility." Maybe his parents tried as hard as they could, but the kid is a sociopath...Maybe you had friends in the USAF academy whose parents were deadbeats, but they aspired to a higher code than the example they grew up with.

      August 15, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Patty

      Black and white thinking is dangerous.

      August 15, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Adam

    actually Cheater is a 62-point word. 12+50 (for using all of your tiles) =62.

    August 15, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cindy Maddy

      Only if its the first word played.... otherwise, at least one of the 7 letters must have already been on the board, hence the player only used a maximum of 6 tiles. 🙂

      August 15, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bozobub

      If it's the 1st word played, it's actually 74 points, as the starred square where the 1st word goes is a double-word premium square, as well ^^' ...

      August 15, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • kevin

      You would only use all your tiles playing CHEATER if you were the first player, or if you played it next to an existing S. There are also the bonus squares to consider, depending where on the board it was played.

      August 15, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Raphe

      That is assuming you provided all the letters of the word cheater. If you used any letter already on the board to create cheater then you would use only 6 of your letters thus getting twelve points. Again this assumes you don't connect to any other word. As you can see currently I have too much time on my hands.

      August 15, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • dan

      in all likely hood it would only be a 12 point word because you would use some letter from another word to spell it. The chance of it being spelled with all seven letters by extending an already existing word on the board is pretty unlikely. 19/20 times its a 12 point word.

      August 15, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Serene

    This is just disgusting. Children these days run rampant and cheat, drink and smoke marijuana... and all that other bad stuff. Parents are not whipping them enough when they misbehave, and the parents ought to be hauled off to jail for being such bad parents. It is good that caught this little bstrd.

    August 15, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ummmm

    i think its funny he thought he could get away with it.

    August 15, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Meeeee

      He did get away with it. For 24 games. And all of last year's nationals, where he won his division.

      August 15, 2012 at 9:28 pm | Report abuse |
  6. dave

    Air Force we drop more high explosives on babies before 9 AM than the other services do all day

    August 15, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
  7. dave

    USAF academy - force you to go the chapel and let you ra pe the women

    August 15, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  8. dave

    Why does the teaser [picture say AA -- was the kid drunk???

    August 15, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • asdf

      "AA" is a common word to put down in spelling-based games. It's total BS, but it's a type of lava or something.

      August 15, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • thomas

      AA is a type of lave found in Hawaii.

      August 15, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jack Ledger

    I heard the kid was also on PED's.

    August 15, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
  10. BGMchocolate

    I don't think any of the teen's friends will ever want to play Scrabble with him again.

    August 15, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Bongo™

    Cheaters never prosper. Unless you are a politician or corporate fatcat.

    August 15, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Kevin

    This is not news. What next? A story about how a kid cut in line at a drinking fountain?

    August 15, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
  13. JS

    If you open with CHEATER, put the H on the double-letter, you would get 82 points to open the game.

    August 15, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
  14. maestra730

    I'm a public school teacher. I have taught seventh and eighth graders (12- to14-year-olds) from all socioeconomic backgrounds for almost 20 years. Cheating of all kinds (academic, athletic, etc.) has reached an all-time high among kids. Many of our students see nothing wrong with cheating or lying to get what they want because "you gotta do what you gotta do." It is very disheartening, especially when some of their parents do the same thing demanding special "exemptions" for their children because they say the rules are unfair, the child didn't mean to do it, etc. We as the adults must live with integrity ourselves, demonstrate that to our kids, and then insist that they live honestly and responsibly, too. Not easy at all, but better than ending up with a generation full of lying narcissists.

    August 15, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • B

      I totally agree!

      August 15, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  15. banasy©

    He was cheating at Scrabble?
    How many points does one get for "loser"?

    August 15, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
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