One of the top young Scrabble players in the country has been kicked out of the game's national championship tournament in Florida after he was caught hiding blank letter tiles, organizers said Tuesday.
John D. Williams, Jr., executive director of the National Scrabble Association, said that a male player was ejected from the 350-player event in Round 24 of the 28-round event.
The cheating was spotted by a player at a nearby table, who noticed the ejected player conceal a pair of blank tiles by dropping them on the floor, organizers said. Blank tiles can be used as wild card letters. When confronted by the tournament director, he admitted to it, organizers said.
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Williams, who has served as executive director for 25 years and co-authored a book on the popular Hasbro board game in 1993, said this was the first incident of cheating at a national tournament. However, he said it's been known to occur at smaller, regional events.
"It does happen no matter what. People will try to do this," he said. "It's the first time it's happened in a venue this big though. It's unfortunate. The Scrabble world is abuzz. The Internet is abuzz."
Williams would not identify the player by name or age because he's a minor. There are four divisions and he was competing in Division 3.
He said Division 3 is equal to "any great living-room player out there."
In Scrabble matches, players accumulate points during one-on-one matches by pulling random letter tiles from a bag of 100 and trying to create words.
A total of 98 tiles have letters on them and two are blank. Blank tiles can be used as wild card letters to complete words.
The ejected player had concluded a previous game and never reinserted the blank tiles into his bag in an attempt to use them at his discretion in the next game, organizers said.
Players in the national tournament format play multiple matches over the five-day event. The winner is determined by a combination of their overall record against other players and the cumulative point spread over the entire tournament.
The ejected player forfeited all of his wins.
Williams said there is usually "good self-policing in the Scrabble world" as players try to protect the integrity of statistics on the competitive circuit.
That's because national events draw young players to seniors. The leader entering Wednesday's final day of competition is National and Scrabble All-Star Champion David Gibson, a 61-year-old math teacher from Spartanburg, S.C.
Jason Keller, 30, and nine-time Jeopardy champion from New Jersey, is in fourth place.
The winner receives the $10,000 top prize.
"It gets pretty deep. We're one step away from drug testing," Williams joked.
While Williams said this was the first time the national tournament has dealt with scandal, the incident could shine a brighter light on other advantages players have been known to employ.
Even before Tuesday's cheating ejection it was well-known that some players take minerals known as "alleged brain boosters."
"But no steroids so far," Williams quipped.