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. Mencius

    Singapore caning @ two strokes…

    August 15, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  2. politician

    Hey a young politician in the making!

    August 15, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Scott A

    The quoted phrase "slight of hand" should be spelled "sleight of hand."

    August 15, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
  4. ben

    i've been reading these comments and it just shows how petty and ignorant most of the people in this country are....they are actually brining politics into this which has nothing to do with scrabble. I honestly weep for our country if all we see are red and blue.

    August 15, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
  5. thomas

    There are people who truly believe that the ends justify the means. Kinda sad though.

    August 15, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
  6. MM

    Did the democrats sign him up?

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

      No.. It was actually a Tea Partier...

      August 15, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mr. Izz

    Scrabble vs Poker. In Scrabble you play for four days to get a chance to win $10,000. In Poker, you buy-in to the tournament with $10,000, play four days, and have a chance to win $7+ million.

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

      Where did scrabble vs. poker come from? Do you compare the subject to something arbitrary and only somewhat similar? Mitt Romney vs. Carrot Top...

      August 15, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • thomas

      And this has exactly what to do with this story??

      August 15, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jerome Horowitz

    I was going to post something – then I drew a blank......

    August 15, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jerome Horowitz

    I was trying to think of something to say, but I drew a blank......

    August 15, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Dalcassian

    I can't believe this scandal. Doesn't this kid know that a tournament as prestigious as the National Scrabble Tournament is so important and is watched by millions of viewers around the world. Every four years, the world's bets gather for this tournament. It's broadcast to 60 different countries in 40 different languages. Shame on him. No doubt, this will have lasting effects for years to come, I wonder if the sport will ever recover from this. We as a nation mourn.

    August 15, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Berman


      August 15, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Berman

    Why is this on CNN?

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

    What a loser. He's probably destined to run the next Enron (Goldman Sachs, Barclays, . . .).

    August 15, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  13. ScottCA

    Cheating in order to win a scrabble tournament? Seriously? Thats just utterly pathetic for so many reasons, not least of which is being at the tournament to being with.

    August 15, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Bernadette Fuhs

    Jerome-sooo funny

    August 15, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  15. James

    S-L-E-I-G-H-T. Where do these "editors" come from?

    August 15, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
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