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. bingo

    The kid was suspected of cheating last year, too, but was caught this year. It was not totally surprising news to players. It's unfortunate that it took place, but most are glad to see this situation taken care of.

    August 15, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Stan Klecha

    I caught my poker buddy cheating.. I never trusted him again.. once a cheat .. aways a cheat ..

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

      I once played a game of chess with the son of one of my best 'friends'. When I went to the bathroom and came back I saw that a piece had been moved. I realized it immediately. I paused and stared at the boy to see if he was just playing a joke on me. But he just said, 'It's your move." I tipped over my king and told him I was tired of playing. My 'friend' was irritated at me for forfeiting the game with his son without explanation. I quickly made my excuses and left. Days later, his own wife ratted him out telling me he advised his son to cheat because he would have been checkmated in three moves otherwise. I once had alot of respect for this guy. I didn't want trouble for his wife so I kept silent but I never spoke to him again and ignored all further invites until they finally ended. I tell ya. I hate cheaters with a passion. It's the reason I gave up watching sports of any kind decades ago. You just don't know who's legit and who isn't.

      August 15, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  3. cp

    If you're good at Scrabble, why would you have to cheat? The blank tiles don't really make much difference in your score. What an idiot, cheating at Scrabble.

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

      Not true, if a blank tile allows you to play your entire row of letters, that's something like 75 free points. That can be hard to surpass for the other player.

      August 15, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Matt

    For all of you blaming this kid's parents and society for this kid cheating, That's a bunch of BS. All of you are part of the problem. You make it to easy for people to place the blame elsewhere instead of owning up for one's own faults. This kid is just a bad person. Plain and simple. No one else's fault.

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

      True.... the problem is people's word isn't as valuable now because so many people lie and think it's not a big deal. I'm not saying I'm perfect but I value keeping my word. Sometimes people will ask me if I can do something for them or meet them and I'm not quick to say 'yes'. I have to think about it because I know if I make a promise I have to keep it so I don't take it lightly. They aren't used to that.... they're used to people yelling 'yes' before they even know what the whole question is. LOL

      August 15, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shan

      Matt - Absolutely right. These are adults, usually, commenting here and pulling blame right off the kids and placing it on somebody else. Helicopter parents never want to blame their children for /anything/. But wait, all these folks pushing blame, they'll swear they're not HPs. Uh huh.

      August 15, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Bob

    HELLO!!?! CNN ?!? There was a shooting at the office of the Family Research Council in DC and this is what you lead with??? No wonder no one follows CNN anymore.

    August 15, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • nunya beeswax

      Hey Bob, Tony Perkins wasn't shot, so I can't say I care.

      August 15, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Keithlol

    I can't help but chuckle as grumpy internet cynics all proclaim that -this- story is a perfect example of how the United States of America's values are crumbling. Are you serious? One kid cheats and you are going to use that as evidence to support your, frankly, childishly narrow view of American values. "His parents must never have taught him a moral code" - give me a break! Do you always act according to how your parents raised you? Doubtful.

    August 15, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
  7. John Walsh

    He confused Scrabble for Monopoly......

    August 15, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Katie

    Cheating is wrong. Doesn't matter the reason. You cheat on a test you should automatically flunk the class. You cheat at sports, you should be off the team for good. You cheat on your taxes, you should pay more. Losers cheat.

    August 15, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
  9. kcchrism

    Is there a reason the location of the tournament (Orlando, FL) is not mentioned in the story? Basic journalism, folks: who, what, WHERE, when, why and how. Please update the story to include this.

    August 15, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • thomas

      Probably because no one really cares about the tournament or where it is located. The only newsworth part of this story is that a kid was caught cheatin g at Scrabble.

      August 15, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Lokust

    I'm confused. This isn't cheating. This is stealing. He took pieces from a game box after the game was over. He couldn't possibly have used them in another game because it would be quickly apparent when four of those tiles showed up instead of two.

    I'm not saying he shouldn't be sanctioned in whatever way the event organizers feel is appropriate, but call it for what it is.

    August 15, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • fritz

      He stole in order to cheat.

      August 15, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • bingo

      He was playing on the same board. He could hide the blanks and pull them out whenever he wanted to maximize his chances of playing all 7 letters for a 50-point bonus. Blanks are huge for that. With 2 blanks, he could do that twice a game. That's a huge advantage.

      August 15, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      It certainly gave him an advantage. He would have had the opportunity for the entire game to use the blank tiles at the perfect opportunity to score big points. A blank tile gives a skilled player a huge opportunity to use all his/her tiles in a single move and/or make the most of double and triple word scores. Then, later in the same game, he could have taken any blanks he received and pocketed them again for use in the next game. It's cheating. And it's wrong.

      August 15, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
  11. fritz

    Children follow by example. We are now seeing the consequences of steroid ridden adult athletes cheating in professional sports for the sake of money and false glory. The lesson they taught is that winning is the goal at all costs no matter how they get there. Fame and wealth awaits the cheater if he gets away wth it. The cheater knows that no one remembers the losers. In the kid's mind they figure if adults can justify giving themselves an unfair edge, "Why can't I? This is America, right?"

    August 15, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Al Bundy

    It's only cheating if you get caught.

    August 15, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Elizabeth

    It would be nice if the news covered such events when people don't cheat; the difficulty of this game is something to celebrate when it is done right.
    I've seem cheaters in role-playing games who push a die-20 roll to a number they prefer; nobody wants to play with them, and their reputation follows them. I've wondered if they do the same thing on their jobs. It's something that a person should never do, or if they ever cheated in the past, they should stop, because eventually it catches up to you.

    August 15, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  14. praline

    Slow news day? Ya know... my 5 year old daughter cheated me at Candy Land. She jumped 3 res squares rather then the 2 red squares the card allowed. Call me and we can discuss an exclusive.

    August 15, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Andrew McCauley

    There's so much evil in the world 🙁

    August 15, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
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