Scrabble’s World Champion Masters the Tiles in 2 Languages
Posted October 29, 2018 11:53 a.m. EDT
Groutier. Zonular. Come again?
Those were two of the highly obscure words that helped Nigel Richards clinch the finals of the World Scrabble Championships in London on Sunday.
Even for a decorated Scrabble whiz, Richards, who is from New Zealand and lives in Malaysia, is obscenely talented.
Richards, 51, was the world Scrabble champion in 2007, 2011 and 2013. He also won the French edition of the championship in 2015 and again this year — apparently without actually speaking that language. (He is said to have memorized the French Scrabble dictionary.)
“He does have a reputation for being the best Scrabble player ever, and they know about him already,” Liz Fagerlund, a former president of the New Zealand Scrabble Association, told The New Zealand Herald in 2015, referring to Richards’s French opponents.
“But they probably didn’t necessarily expect him to go in for the first time and beat them at their own game,” she said.
Richards won this year’s English-language finals by defeating Jesse Day, a data scientist who lives in New York, 572 to 450. The BBC said he clinched the game by spelling “groutier,” which it defined as “cross, sulky or sullen.”
In a Twitter post after the finals Sunday, Day described Richards as the best Scrabble player “of all time.”
Richards, for his part, was quoted as saying: “It was a closely fought championship and Jesse was a very impressive opponent.”
As of Sunday night, Richards’ competitive Scrabble record stood at 2,758 wins, 833 losses and 11 draws, making him the world’s second-best Scrabble player in the global rankings, behind Ganesh Asirvatham of Malaysia.
An attempt to reach Richards on Monday was unsuccessful.
In 2015, his mother, Adrienne Fischer, told The Guardian that he did not pick up Scrabble until he was 28 and only at her request.
Fischer said he did not expect him to be very good at it because he could never spell well and had not been a particularly good student in English class.
“When he was learning to talk, he was not interested in words, just numbers,” she told the newspaper. “He related everything to numbers. We just thought it was normal. We’ve always just treated Nigel as Nigel.”
But Howard Warner, a fellow competitive Scrabble player from New Zealand, told The Guardian he attributed Richards’ abilities to a photographic memory and rare mathematical skills.
Incidentally, Merriam-Webster defines the word “zonular” as “of, relating to, or affecting an anatomical zone.”
Other winning words in Sunday’s championship game included “maledict,” an archaic word for “accursed,” and “kudu,” a large, grayish-brown African antelope.
The tournament’s prize pool was $20,000.