World of competitive Scrabble rocked by 'tile-gate'

Wednesday, 15 November 2017, 07:54:56 AM. One of the star Scrabble players is banned amid allegations he put a hand with freshly drawn letter tiles back into a bag to draw more tiles.

Allan Simmons is a prolific scrabble author and has been competitively playing the word-game for more than three decades. Photo: Allan Simmons is a prolific scrabble author and has been competitively playing the word-game for more than three decades. (Facebook: British Scrabble)

One of the UK's star Scrabble players has been sidelined from the game for three years after an investigation found he may have been taking a peek into the tile bag.

Allan Simmons, 60, is well known among Scrabble enthusiasts having written several books and contributed game coverage to the Times newspaper, which first reported his ban from competition.

Mr Simmons has been banned from competing in tournaments held by the Association of British Scrabble Players (ABSP) and the Times will no longer use him as a contributor.

Mr Simmons was one of the founding members of the organisation and the first chairman of the World English-language Scrabble Players Association.

ABSP committee member Elli Dangoor, said three independent witnesses saw Mr Simmons put a hand with freshly drawn letter tiles back into a bag to draw more tiles — contrary to the rules.

The official rules of competitive play state that players must hold the tile bag no lower than shoulder height when they are selecting new tiles, to prevent any peeking — deliberate or inadvertent — at the letters inside.

An independent investigation found he had breached the tile rules of the game. Photo: An independent investigation found he had breached the tile rules of the game. (Reuters: Kacper Pempel)

"The natural conclusion had been that he had been cheating," Ms Dangoor said.

There were four instances of foul play dating back to 2016, and the committee conducted an independent probe which was concluded a few weeks ago.

Mr Simmons told the Times he denied cheating, and that he had suffered the same "untimely bad luck from the bag as anyone else".

"You have to remember that at the top level, games can be quite intense and there's a lot going through one's mind, let alone remembering to religiously ensure tile drawing rules are followed meticulously," he was quoted as saying.

"From the outset, I have said that no-one is beyond suspicion and complied fully with the investigative process."

Ms Dangoor said Mr Simmons had been "a huge part of the game's development" and there was "great disappointment", as he is a liked and respected part of the Scrabble community.

But action had to be taken.

"There's no one person bigger than the game," Ms Dangoor said.

Efforts to reach Mr Simmons were unsuccessful. The Times quoted him as saying he planned to concentrate on "more important things in life".

The matter came to larger public attention only recently, and was discussed during the World English Language Scrabble Players Association event that ended on Sunday (local time).

Allan Simmons pictured during a tournament in 2002. Photo: Allan Simmons pictured during a tournament in 2002. (Supplied: ABSP)

ABC/AP

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