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. Ben

    Don't forget... if you played CHEATER, you'd also get a 50-point bonus for using all your tiles.

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

      Only if you either played it on the first turn or played it on an "S" to make "cheaters." Otherwise, you'd only be using 6 of your tiles and the 7th would already be on the board.

      August 15, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Asp

      You probably will only use 6 tiles though, right? Considering you have to build off another word, most likely you would not use all 7 tiles.

      August 15, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
  2. JLR

    I thought the story was going to be about steroid use.

    August 15, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • momo-chan


      August 15, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Caiha

      That'll probably come out later on.

      August 15, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dalcassian

      ...or illegal gambling.

      August 15, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
  3. NoCheat

    @wrap2tyt: so is that what your self-respect's worth? It does bring up the point: what is your "buy off" amount? Do most people have one? As the punchline to the old joke goes: "We've established what you are, now we're just haggling over the price."

    August 15, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Ah'sheet M'Drurz

    The infidels of America are all cheaters and liars who bow down to the Great Satan.

    August 15, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • the plumber

      Thats funny, I don't think most americans worship mohammad

      August 15, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Brian

    The teen cheater should be prosecuted to the Letter of The Law ... (assuming that letter has not also been hidden)

    August 15, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
  6. sam

    Must be a slow news day when this article is a headline.

    August 15, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Dan Quayle

    I was going to use that tile for the E in Potatoe

    August 15, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Leon

    "slight" of hand? How about "sleight" ?

    August 15, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • thomas

      CNN writers don't do so well in Scrabble games.

      August 15, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Obi Vious

    I don't have time to go through all comments but has NO one noticed "sleight" of hand misspelled... in a Scrabble article?
    "...the observer noticed a slight of hand where the blanks were grabbed,,, "
    Thanks, Dante, for teaching me so well.

    August 15, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Obi Vious

    OK, Leon got it too.

    August 15, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Kevin

    Doesn't he know that all you have to do is turn your tile upside down and it turns into a blank???

    August 15, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Hugh Jass

    Aw, and Mitt already chose his running mate! He should have waited for this ingenious young 'job creator.'

    August 15, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  13. doug

    He sure has the potential, send him over to Rahm and Ayers in Chicago for his marxist training, if this kid can get really hateful and mean, can be taught to alway lie and cheat then he might be the next President.

    August 15, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • zooni

      He is one of Mitt Romney's sons. Learning the skills to takeover Bain capital.

      August 15, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • LittleBearFN

      You should know I suppose... You both can work hand in hand. That should make you happy.

      August 15, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Alex

    What can anyone expect. He learned from the bets, Obama.

    August 15, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • politician

      OMG he's a gambler now too. First a non-american, then a muslim and now a gambler.

      August 15, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wynx

      Actually if he learned from Obama he would be a socialist no? And let others win?

      August 15, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • alex

      amazing the idiots who bring Obama into everything, they must really love him to always talk about him regardless the issue, THANKS FOR YOUR SUPPORT!!!

      August 15, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Canada

      Great, now every knows your an idiot.

      August 15, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • LittleBearFN

      Nah.. He was caught. So probably on your teams as a disciple of Romney...

      August 15, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
  15. rufus

    It doesn't really matter. The winner in Scrabble didn't really win it. He had a good teacher or teachers along the way. The government built a road so he could just get to the freakin tournament. Give trophies to all and thank God the government exists to bring us all down to the same, low level.

    August 15, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
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