French Scrabble champion does not speak French

New Zealander Nigel Richards, who does not speak a word of French, becomes francophone Scrabble champion after memorising francophone Scrabble dictionary in nine weeks

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

Nigel Richards, a 48-year-old from New Zealand, was crowned the champion of francophone Scrabble on Monday. 

He doesn't speak a word of French and he won the francophone Scrabble by memorising the francophone Scrabble dictionary in nine weeks.

The competition was contested by 74 players in Belgium on Monday and was won by the only non-French speaker. He won the competition by memorising all of the possible words in the official Scrabble dictionary, from two to 10 letters. 

Richards’ speaking French consists of “bonjour” and being able to count. Despite his linguistic handicap, Richards won the francophone world Scrabble championships, a victory which came as a surprise to all. 

His close friend Liz Fagerlund told the New Zealand Herald that “He doesn’t speak French at all – he just learned 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 is already a celebrity in the English version of Scrabble. He won the English world Scrabble championships three times, the US national championships five times and the UK Open six times in the past. 

This is the first time in history that a player who cannot speak the language of the game has won the world championship. 

The French Scrabble Federation tweeted "AMAZING!" in English and added "Nigel, I love you," 

Richards reportedly did not play the game until he was 28. 

His mother said “I said, ‘I know a game you’re not going to be very good at, because you can’t spell very well and you weren’t very good at English at school’.”  He proved her wrong by winning the New Zealand national championships. In 2000 he moved to Malaysia, and now represents the country in international competitions.

Richards will take part in another championship on Wednesday in which the players compete against a computer. 

TRTWorld and agencies