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. Parham

    Everyone cheats depending on the stakes at hand. That's what freakonomics says.

    August 15, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  2. ScrabbleCheater

    It is only cheating if you get caught. Sprinters use steroids. Government use high tach drone bombers. This kid was doing what it takes to win and that is to be commended!

    August 15, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Huh

      Using High tech bomber drones is cheat? I call it keep our soldiers out of harms way. There is actually a dictionary online. Just go ahead and type in cheating and you can become more familiar with what cheating is.

      August 15, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tanker

      While you were typing that, I stole your wallet.

      August 15, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • badspeller

      So, its not stealing if you don't get caught. Its not murder if you don't get caught. etc. Hummmm.

      August 15, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marcus

      Cheating is cheating. It doesn't matter if you get caught or not!

      August 15, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Luther51

    If you cheat, it's a hollow victory.

    August 15, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • thomas

      But the $10,000 is still there.

      That's why he cheated - to get the 10 grand

      August 15, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
  4. dgfdg

    So what did this kid think was going to happen when someone played a 3rd or 4th blank tile?

    OOPS! Oh Golly Gee! I guess we got an EXTRA SPECIAL GAME HERE! Durrrrrr

    August 15, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
  5. pmangr

    It's only against the rules if you get caught.

    August 15, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Gypsy

    So, why is it that when CNN iReport discovered that their "most viewed" iReporter was actually cheating by buying fake views from a "pay per click" service in Pakistan, that they allowed the cheater to continue as if nothing happened?

    Do you suppose there was something specifically written in the Scrabble Tournament's rules (Terms of Service) stating that hiding tiles is not allowed? If there wasn't, do you think the cheating would have been hidden from the public and the cheater allowed to continue playing as if nothing happened – the way CNN iReport is allowing their cheater to do?

    CNN iReport and the cheating iReporter owe everyone a public apology!

    August 15, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lynn

      Seems CNN is quick to point out cheating and scams , why not the buying views by the millions to keep ones self as most viewed ireporter and winner of an CNN ireport award?

      August 15, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  7. mel

    I think it should be made an Olympic sport right up there with badminton and BMX riding.

    August 15, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Knucklehead

    The results aren't final and the check isn't signed until the urine testing is complete.

    August 15, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Keith

    must be a SLOW news day.

    August 15, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  10. wordy

    Check him for doping.

    August 15, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Hadenuffyet

    Kobayashi Maru.....

    August 15, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  12. ArtInChicago


    Probably did it in the regionals as well. Take all his previous prize money.

    August 15, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  13. wrap2tyt

    ... you know there's only one way to solve this...naked SCRABBLE...

    August 15, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
  14. NoCheat

    Dignity consists not in possessing honors, but in the consciousness that we deserve them.—Aristotle

    What do you really gain by cheating? You possess the honor, but you don't deserve it. How does that affect your self-respect? Despite what many in our society believe, winning isn't everything.

    August 15, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • wrap2tyt

      "What do you really gain by cheating?"... $10,000

      August 15, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  15. RomneyTaxCheat

    That kid must be Mitt Romneys tax advisor.

    August 15, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Flarno

      An article about Scrabble, and "sleight" of hand is spelled incorrectly. Bravo!

      August 15, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
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