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. Android

    Who wants blank tiles anyway? They're worth nothing. I'd rather take the Z or Q.

    August 15, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Pete

    Actually, 'cheater' is a 62-point word

    August 15, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • cedar rapids

      yeah, if someone was in a scrabble tournament and played cheater and only got 12 points then you would know they were in the wrong tournament.

      August 15, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
  3. wimsy

    The term is "sleight of hand" not "slight of hand." If only they kept a Scrabble dictionary in the CNN newsroom. If only they hired people who can spell. If only they hired people who could get the facts straight.

    Alas, 'tis not to be.

    August 15, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anon

      Amen. Kind of ironic for an article about SPELLING.

      August 15, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lisa

      Huh-larious! Glad u called them out. I c this in a ton of articles on this site. Whatever happened 2 copy editors?

      August 15, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Antidjinn

      Indeed. A "slight of hand" would be to insult a hand by not showing it proper respect.

      August 15, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • SB1790

      I have noticed a lot of typographical errors in CNN's articles lately. Usually they've either left words out or appear to have deleted part of a sentence and missed a few letters. Of course there are the misuse of words that are spelled correctly but used inappropriately such as 'too' and 'to'.

      An English teacher from my eighth grade year told me to read my work backwards. It's a great way to spot mistakes.

      August 15, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • cedar rapids

      "Glad u called them out. I c this in a ton of articles on this site. Whatever happened 2 copy editors?"

      sarcasm right? I mean for a person who uses 'u' and 'c' to make a comment about copy editors.

      August 15, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Sandeep Singh

    Wais it that black kid? The 'lebron James' of scrabble.

    August 15, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Meeeee

      nope, an Indian kid. Suhas Rao.

      August 15, 2012 at 10:26 pm | Report abuse |
  5. wimsy

    You are aptly named. You certainly bring "sunshine" to the conversation.

    August 15, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  6. fat joey

    I got some blanks for SALE!!! Use your brain dude,and take in your own! stick a few in your underwear!

    August 15, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sandeep Singh

      That wouldn't work. Extra blanks during play would definitely be noticed.

      August 15, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
  7. fat joey

    "never has happened before".....?,,,,YEAH RIGHT

    August 15, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Shneeky

    I'll be Jerry Blank had something to do with this!!

    August 15, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Big Mike

    If you ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin'.

    August 15, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Brad

    You can't just level the playing field by doing whatever unscrupulous acts it takes to win! This is a scrabble tournament, not the corporate boardroom.

    August 15, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
  11. CLE fan

    First cheating in badminton and now Scrabble. What is this world coming to?

    August 15, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • rom2894FL

      It is coming to a bad place unfortunately.

      August 15, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Dave

    Welcome to America.

    August 15, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Heather

    So Suhas Rao didn't juyst lose, he is an actual loser.

    August 15, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
  14. chang

    How old is this "youth" scrabble league? Sounds like the kid cracked under the pressure and felt he needed to cheat. He got caught'n'bounced so thats enuff punishment. Not like he colored his hair orange and did something foolish. BUT as for the snitch that "witnessed" the event...that kid needs to get smacked around a lil....jus sayin. Annnnnnnd leavin work...

    August 15, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Tom

    The teen who cheated at SCRABBLE probably read Ayn Rand, and, like Paul Ryan (who is a devotee of Ayn Rand), felt it is the American way.

    August 15, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
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