G for 'guilty'? Lost letter spells trouble at world Scrabble contest

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Showdown ends with demand for British player to be strip-searched after tile mysteriously vanishes


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

At the event, which opened on Wednesday, a Thai player demanded 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 buttock-clenching 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 $20,000 (£12,700) prize was claimed yesterday by New Zealander Nigel Richards, who assured 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. Of the plethora of words he could choose from, the monosyllabic antipodean was blank-faced behind rocket-scientist spectacles as he found a simple four-letter word to describe his win: "Nice." Clearly words are for playing Scrabble with, not for verbal communication.

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 different countries who have devoted their lives – and thousands of pounds of cash – to playing the board game.

But while the constant jangling of tiles inside the little bags made it sound like a den of rattlesnakes had slithered into the room, the mood was a curious mixture of good humour as well as 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. It's easy to imagine them being haunted by chains of letters constantly charging through hyperactive minds.

"This game is not about words", Mr Smitheram says without any irony. "The vast majority 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 players are among the best in the world despite English not being their first language – the previous champion was Thailand's Pakorn Nemitrmansuk, and in 2003 his compatriot Panupol Sujjayakorn won without being able to hold more than a cursory conversation with his English-language opponents.

For all that 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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Louis van Gaal
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Jay Z has placed a bet on streaming being the future for music and videos
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own