Who can forget the cheating scandal that rocked this year's National SCRABBLE Championship Tournament? Most of us will always remember where we were when we heard "one of the top youth players in the country" was booted from the competition, accused of palming precious blank tiles for future use. But according to Stefan Fatsis, there's more to the story.
But first, the back story.
It seems the player, who officials have not named, was hoping to get a little extra help but was foiled.
The player had won a game and took two blanks as the tiles were gathered and put in the grab bag.
When his next competitor stepped in to play, the opponent asked that the tiles be counted. Two were missing.
"It was discovered that two blanks were not put into the tile bag as they should have been when the board was cleared off to start the game," according to the SCRABBLE tournament's website. "The player was questioned and admitted to taking them."
That's the account most of us heard, as the story got major play from media far and wide. But Fatsis was playing in the tournament and had a much closer view of what went down. He describes a feeling of relief that ran through those competing in the tournament when the boy was busted, and the suspicions that had already surfaced regarding the boy's previous wins.
As Fatsis writes for Slate:
After Round 23 in Orlando, Arthur Moore, a 43-year-old Florida computer technician, saw his next opponent, the boy, sitting at their designated table. (They were competing in Division 3, the second-lowest classification out of four. I played in Division 2, on the opposite side of the ballroom.) Moore left the room to clear his head before their game. When he returned, the boy was missing, but Moore noticed that the two blanks were side by side in one of the five-by-five tile quadrants, on his opponent's side of the table.
Moore had played the boy a day earlier. The boy had drawn both blanks, but Moore won anyway. Aware of scuttlebutt about the boy's suspiciously strong performance at the previous tournament, Moore saw the side-by-side blanks as a potential red flag. Each player filled the bag with tiles from his own side. As they finished, Moore grabbed the top of the collapsed bag with both hands to allow the tiles to settle. That also allowed him to watch his opponent's hands. Moore told officials he saw the boy grab the blanks with his left hand and close his pinky, ring, and middle fingers around them. The boy dropped some other tiles into the bag with both hands and then moved his hands below the table. Moore loaded the remaining tiles on his side into the bag, placed it next to him, and called for a tournament director.
Moore told the director he saw the boy palm both blanks. The director dumped the tiles onto the board to search for them. At that point, a player at an adjacent table said: "He just dropped two tiles on the floor." Moore saw that one was a blank; the other landed facedown. The boy picked them up and put them on the table. He was taken from the tournament room, questioned by tournament officials, and, in the presence of the mother of another youth player, ejected from the event.* All of the players who had lost to the boy were subsequently awarded wins.
As to the description the boy took on in news reports - "one of the top youth players in the country" - Fatsis says it's a stretch, and that the SCRABBLE players actually competing in the tournament knew the boy more because he'd competed in SCRABBLE tournaments for a couple years, and he's "gained renown because of a performance at a previous tournament that seemed too good to be true."
Moore, the 43-year-old computer technician who helped bring down the now-famous SCRABBLE cheater, finished second in Division 3 - his feelings of accomplishment unfortunately tainted by some regret thanks to what transpired.
As Fatsis writes for Slate:
At the awards ceremony, when he was called up to receive his $800 prize, Moore got a standing ovation. He told me he's glad he did what he did, but distraught about what the boy and his family must be going through. "While necessary, there is certainly no joy in having to punish a [kid] for such an offense," Moore said.