Scrabble con­tro­versy spells trouble

Cham­pion banned af­ter cheating ac­cu­sa­tions.

Star Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - By ALAN COWELL New York Times

LONDON – Tongues are wag­ging across the world of com­pet­i­tive Scrabble. Al­lan Sim­mons, one of the game’s top-billed Bri­tish play­ers, has been barred from tournaments for three years af­ter an in­quiry con­cluded he had bro­ken the rules of the word game.

Sim­mons, a for­mer Bri­tish Scrabble cham­pion who has writ­ten sev­eral books about the game, was ac­cused of putting a hand with freshly drawn let­ter tiles back into a bag to draw more fa­vor­able tiles. Sim­mons has de­nied wrong­do­ing.

The pun­ish­ment, im­posed by the As­so­ci­a­tion of Bri­tish Scrabble Play­ers, made head­lines in Bri­tain.

Yet many or­ga­niz­ers of tournaments where a flu­ency with words may spell vic­tory or de­feat seemed to tilt to­ward ret­i­cence Tues­day. For a game played in the glare of open com­pe­ti­tion, its in­ner machi­na­tions were more opaque.

“For some un­known rea­son, I don’t think they want it to be pub­lic,” Len Moir, a tour­na­ment or­ga­nizer in the English Mid­lands, said of the ac­cu­sa­tions against Sim­mons. “He is such a high-pro­file player.”

Nicky Huit­son, who is over­see­ing the Broad­stairs Sea­side Special in south­ern Eng­land next year, said the ban was “not very pos­i­tive for the game, and that’s why most of us don’t want to talk about it.”

When the news of the ban broke Mon­day in the Times of London, Elie Dan­goor, a lead­ing fig­ure in the As­so­ci­a­tion of Bri­tish Scrabble Play­ers, said in a state­ment that Sim­mons had been “a huge part of the game’s de­vel­op­ment,” adding, “There’s no one per­son big­ger than the game.”

Tour­na­ment rules re­quire play­ers to show op­po­nents their empty hands be­fore draw­ing tiles from a cloth bag, so that they can­not be ac­cused of drop­ping un­fa­vor­able let­ters back in. The bag is also sup­posed to be held at shoul­der height, to pre­vent play­ers from peek­ing at the tiles.

Sim­mons, 60, could not be reached for com­ment on the ac­cu­sa­tions against him. But he told the Times of London that he had suf­fered the same “un­timely bad luck from the bag as any­one else.”

Sim­mons had writ­ten a weekly col­umn for the Times of London, but the news­pa­per said Mon­day that he would “no longer be a con­trib­u­tor.”

The Scrabble group’s in­quiry be­gan with a com­plaint about Sim­mons’ be­hav­ior in the Bri­tish Masters tour­na­ment last June. The or­ga­niz­ers of the 2016 Scot­tish Masters tour­na­ment then came for­ward with sim­i­lar al­le­ga­tions.

“The nat­u­ral con­clu­sion had been that he had been cheating,” Dan­goor said. The in­quiry into the com­plaints against Sim­mons ended sev­eral weeks ago, but news of the ban only re­cently reached a wider au­di­ence.

MATT DUN­HAM • As­so­ci­ated Press

Tour­na­ment rules say Scrabble play­ers are sup­posed to show op­po­nents their empty hands be­fore they draw let­ter tiles.

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