Lost letter spells trouble at Scrabble championship


Click to follow

In a weekend filled with sporting controversy, it was a missing letter G that threatened to set the Scrabble World Championship on fire this weekend, as wordsmiths from around the world gathered in Warsaw to do battle.

At the event's opening on Saturday, a Thai player demanded that England's Ed Martin be taken to the toilet and strip-searched to prove he had not hidden a G tile that mysteriously went missing during their game. The judges ruled in Mr Martin's favour, sparing him the indignity of a search and seeing a tight defeat turned into victory by a single point.

Ultimately, Scrabble's most controversial incident since one player accused another of eating a tile did nothing to alter the competition's result. The trophy and a $20,000 (£12,700) prize was claimed by New Zealander Nigel Richards, who ensured his 3-2 win over Australian Andrew Fisher by taking 95 points with "omnified" – to have rendered something universal.

Mr Richards also deserved a crown for best beard – and least emotional response to the winning of a world title. The monosyllabic antipodean was blank-faced behind rocket-scientist spectacles as he found a simple four-letter word to describe his win: "Nice".

Walking into the games room on Saturday evening was like entering the most intense of exam halls, populated as it was by 106 competitors from 40 countries who have devoted their lives – and thousands of pounds of their own money – to playing the board game. But while the constant jangling of tiles inside the little bags made it sound like a den of rattlesnakes, the mood was a mixture of good humour and desperate seriousness.

Many players, such as Brett Smitheram – a 32-year-old recruitment consultant who at sixth finished as Britain's top player – have photographic memories. "This game is not about words," he says without irony. "Most of the top players are mathematicians or computer programmers. This game is about the probability that a set of symbols will come together in such a way that you can play them on the board."

It's for that reason that some of the best players in the world do not have English as their first language – the previous champion was Thailand's Pakorn Nemitrmansuk.

For all the effort, it's far from lucrative; despite the titles Mr Smitheram has won, he estimates he has just broken even when travel and accommodation costs are taken into account.