Why did I spend four years at university learning French when all I needed to do was memorize the Scrabble dictionary?!
Nigel Richards memorized French-language Scrabble dictionary in nine weeks to win world championship despite not speaking French. Pierre Calendini/Fédération Française de Scrabble/Facebook
Arguably the best Scrabble player on Earth, Nigel Richards can now add French-language champion to his list of accomplishments.
And the New Zealand native didn’t let one pesky detail stand in his way: il ne parle pas français.
That’s right, Richards doesn’t speak a lick of French.
“The Scrabble microcosm is shaken, turned upside down, amused, stunned, delighted, blown away,” the French Scrabble Federation wrote on its Facebook page Monday.
“Nigel Richards (New Zealand) just won the Francophone Scrabble World Championship while not speaking a single word of French!”
Richards, who lives in Malaysia, defeated Schelick Ilagou Rekawe, a French speaker from Gabon, on Monday at the tournament in Belgium.
A classic board game, Scrabble players choose tiled letters to form words on a grid. Each letter has a numbered value, and special spots on the board also boost a word’s point total.
Richards memorized the francophone Scrabble dictionary in nine weeks in preparation for the tournament, the federation said.
“He doesn't speak French at all, he just learnt the words. He won’t know what they mean, wouldn’t be able to carry out a conversation in French I wouldn’t think,” Richards’ close friend Liz Fagerlund told the New Zealand Herald.
Richards was given a standing ovation after his victory, which has stunned many observers of competitive Scrabble.
“In my opinion, his secret must be found in his brain, a photographic memory no doubt . . . And of course, lots of practice,” someone commented on Facebook.
“Bravo, the human spirit still saves us nice surprises!” another wrote.
Others were a little discouraged: “This is exactly what discourages many potential players in clubs, Scrabble has nothing to do with French (and) this is proof. To win you need to be a machine that can memorize the words that only exist in the (official Scrabble dictionary).”
“Just a winning machine,” another quipped.
But the French federation didn’t lose its sense of humour about it all. “Rumour has it that Nigel wants to stop French Scrabble to take up Spanish Scrabble. More to come,” the group joked.
Richards won the English-language World Scrabble Championship in 2007, the World Players Championship in 2008, and holds several National Scrabble Championship titles, the biggest competition in North America.