In Depth

Scrabble world rocked by ‘tile-gate’

Banned champion Allan Simmons says he will ‘rise above’ cheating allegation

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The close-knit world of competitive Scrabble has been shaken by the revelation that one of the UK’s most high-profile players may have been sneaking a peek into the tile bag.

Former British champion Allan Simmons, 60, has been competing in Scrabble tournaments for more than 30 years and has written several books on the word game.

However, he has now been suspended from competition play after admitting that he “may have” broken rules designed to prevent cheating, The Times reports.

The rules of competitive play state that competitors 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.

A complaint was filed by one of Simmons’ opponents after a competition in June. An investigation by the Association of British Scrabble Players - which was co-founded by Simmons in 1987 - agreed that Simmons had performed “actions that led to a suspicion of cheating”.

In response, Simmons acknowledged that the tile bag “may not have always been strictly at shoulder height” during his tournament games.

Simmons also admitted that he might have violated another rule which dictates that players display their empty palm to their opponent before selecting a new tile, to prove that they are not employing any sleight-of-hand to slip unwanted letters back into the bag.

“While I believe I always showed an open hand before drawing fresh letters, if drawing one or two at a time I may not have always had an open hand for each dip in the bag,” he said.

The initial one-year ban was extended to three years after the director of the Scottish Masters competition also raised concerns about Simmons’ play in last year’s tournament.

However, the player insisted that any infraction of the rules was unintentional rather than an attempt to cheat.

Nonetheless, “the scandal was the talk of the association’s championships which ended in Nairobi yesterday,” says The Times.

Simmons told the newspaper that had decided to “rise above” the accusations rather than contest his suspension, which he said would be a “distraction” for the association.

“I had actually been winding down the number of tournaments I play anyway with a view to retiring,” he said.

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