In an age where many of us have been locked down at home for more than a year, board games like Scrabble have enjoyed a renaissance of popularity.
The feeling of accomplishment of bashing down a seven-letter word – or finding an ingenious way to get smut and innuendo onto the board – is about as ambitious as most get with the famous vocabulary-based game.
But for those with aspirations of being the best in the business, the Scrabble World Championship will not have gone unnoticed.
Held each year (apart from 2020 due to the pandemic), the Scrabble Worlds bring together the best wordsmiths from around the planet, who compete for the top prize which pays in the region of £7,500.
If you know your infinitesimal from your proletariat, maybe you could challenge Nigel Richards, the reigning and five-time Scrabble world champion. The Kiwi overcame the field at the glamorous Torquay Riviera International Centre to reign supreme once more, although in 2021 he might have a daunting opponent of some skill to overcome – eight-year-old Jeffery Lam. More on him later….
What is the Scrabble World Championship?
Sponsored by the game’s originator Mattel, the Scrabble World Championship was held bi-annually from 1991 until 2013, when it became an annual event.
Incredibly, many countries have an official Scrabble national association, and it is this governing body that decides which of their players represent them at the Worlds. The field has ranged in size from 130 participants to just 46 who took part in 2019.
The tournament has its own dictionary, Collins’ Scrabble Words, in which all of the words played must feature, and it is decided before the event begins whether UK or US English will be used. As ever, the standard rules of Scabble apply, with the player scoring the highest points tally crowned the winner.
Richards remains the only multiple-time Scrabble world champion, and in the early days the tournament was dominated by entries from the United States and Canada. The UK has had three champions – Mark Nyman in 1993, Craig Beevers in 2014 and Brett Smitheram two years later.
How Good is the Scrabble World Champion?
To offer some context as to whether your ‘dipstick’ is the kind of word that can compete at the Scrabble World Championship, Richards scored more than 400 points in three of the four rounds played in the 2019 final!
Of his best words, the likes of ‘ghostier’, ‘pugarees’ and ‘upgazed’ – none of which are exactly on the tip of the tongue of the average Joe and Jane – were amongst those that swept him to the title. Ghostier was played across two triple word score squares, enabling the Kiwi to rack up 140 points from that play alone.
In 2018, Richards won again with words like ‘zonular’ and ‘phenolic’, and clinched the title when he laid down ‘groutier’ – which means sullen or sulky, rather than having anything to do with tiling a bathroom or kitchen.
Controversy at the Scrabble World Championship
Given how intense the competition is – and some of the contestants are truly intense, to say the least – it’s no surprise to learn that cheating is a potential problem at Scrabble’s flagship event.
In 2012, there was a shocking incident in which a contestant – while helping to clear the board from a previous game – slipped two blank letter tiles into his lap. The player was reported by his opponent, who witnessed the heinous act, and he was disqualified from the competition. A further investigation revealed that many of his opponents had been surprised at the regularity with which the accused picked blank tiles out of the bag.
A year prior, the world of competitive Scrabble had already been rocked by scandal. One competitor demanded that officials strip search his opponent, Ed Martin, after the letter ‘G’ went missing from the bag of tiles. It later appeared in the coat of another player.
The skulduggery dates back as far as 1995, where another missing tile saw two opponents square up to one another and accuse each of cheating. When one contestant refused to empty his pockets, he was immediately disqualified.
And in 2017, Allan Simmons was banned from competitive Scrabble after he was found to have looked inside the bag of tiles before drawing his next selection.
Who Will Win the Scrabble World Championship 2021?
To give you a measure of how serious the competitors take it, Richards quit his job to become a Scrabble pro, participating in events all over the world and earning a full-time living from it. It has been suggested that he is a recluse living in complete isolation.
And such is his ability to put together a winning score, Richards won the French edition of the World Scrabble Championships – despite not even speaking the language.