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Controversy At The National Scrabble Tournament


A cheating scandal has rocked the world of competitive SCRABBLE. A player was caught cheating in the National SCRABBLE Association tournament in Orlando, where some 350 players gathered to compete this week.


To find out more, we turn to our own Stefan Fatsis. Usually, we talk to him about the business of sports, but Stefan is also author of the book "Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius and Obsession in the World of Competitive SCRABBLE Players," and he's at the competition in Orlando. Welcome, Stefan.


CORNISH: So start by telling us a little bit more about what happened. Who's this player? What, exactly, is he accused of?

FATSIS: Well, I'm not going to name the player because he is a student. He's a youth. What he's accused of, is squirreling away the blank tiles before the start of a game. SCRABBLE players count the hundred tiles out - on the board - before every game, to make sure that they're all there. In this instance, they put them back in the bag. The player who caught him cheating saw his hand clenched; and grabbed the bag, and called for one of the tournament directors to come over. They found the two tiles under his chair, and they were both blanks.

CORNISH: And what are the penalties for this young person, who's been kicked out of competition?

FATSIS: Well, he was immediately ejected from the tournament. He'll be suspended from playing in tournament SCRABBLE for a long, long time. He is a kid, but there have been other cases like this in the past, where players have been caught red-handed - just like this kid was - and they're banned from tournament play for quite a while.

CORNISH: So Stefan, what's the mood there now? I'm curious how other players have responded to this, especially kids.

FATSIS: The kids were very upset because it's one of their own, and it's hard for them to understand why someone would do something like this. The cheating episode occurred yesterday afternoon, and word spread throughout the room immediately. And the mood was one of disgust, that this kind of behavior would occur; and sadness that this poor kid is going to have to deal with this very, very hard lesson on ethics and integrity when competing.

To give you a sense of how players feel about cheating, the award ceremony concluded a short a while ago. The player who caught the kid cheating - who caught the kid setting aside the two blank tiles - received a standing ovation when his name was announced.

CORNISH: So Stefan, in the end, we should say who actually won the competition.

FATSIS: Nigel Richards; he's a New Zealander who lives in Malaysia. It was his third straight national SCRABBLE championship, and his fourth championship overall; the only person that's ever won this tournament four times. His last game was remarkable. He had to beat another former champion, named David Gibson - a math professor - by 170 points in order to win the tournament.

And that's because they both had the identical record of 22 wins, and nine losses, in the 31 games that we've played over the last five days.The tiebreaker is your point differential: how many points you score versus how many points your opponents scored. Nigel ended up winning the game by 177 points. To put it in terms everyone can understand, he won by 16 points.

CORNISH: So Stefan, how did you do?

FATSIS: Well, thanks for asking, Audie. I played in Division II. I won 18 and a half games, and lost 12 and a half games; and the half is because I tied one game. I finished 13th out of 85.

CORNISH: Stefan, thank you, and congratulations.

FATSIS: Oh, thanks, Audie.

CORNISH: Stefan Fatsis is author of the book "Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius and Obsession in the World of Competitive SCRABBLE Players."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.