Scott Yeoman is a NZ Herald reporter

Kiwi Nigel Richards wins French Scrabble contest, doesn't even speak French

New Zealand's Nigel Richards competes in the Francophone Scrabble World Championships in Louvain-La-Neuve. Photo / Getty Images
New Zealand's Nigel Richards competes in the Francophone Scrabble World Championships in Louvain-La-Neuve. Photo / Getty Images

A Kiwi has won the French-language Scrabble world championship, reportedly without speaking a word of French.

The BBC reported that Nigel Richards, originally from Christchurch, defeated a rival from French-speaking Gabon in the final in Louvain, Belgium, on Monday.

He had only started studying the French dictionary about eight weeks ago, said a close friend of Mr Richards, Liz Fagerlund.

"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."

Mr Richards, now in his late forties, is a previous English Scrabble champion. He is based in Malaysia.

He has won five US National titles and the World Scrabble Championship three times.

Ms Fagerlund, the former president of the New Zealand Scrabble Association, said Mr Richards also won the King's Cup - a very popular tournament in Thailand - for the 11th time just a few weeks ago.

She said the French players would have been aware of his Scrabble-playing ability.

"He does have a reputation for being the best Scrabble player ever and they know about him already, but they probably didn't necessarily expect him to go in for the first time and beat them at their own game."


In 2008, Mr Richards won the World Players Scrabble Championship in a three-day tournament in Dallas.

The Christchurch engineer had also won the United States' 2008 national championship and its US$25,000 ($45,000) prize in Florida in July that year.

President of the Christchurch Scrabble club Shirley Hol said the French win was "quite remarkable".

She was told about his victory on Monday and said from what she had heard the French were quite "gobsmacked".

"I think one of the comments was 'Are you extra-terrestrial or something?' Because it was so amazing."

Ms Hol had played with Mr Richards in Christchurch and said he was a very talented Scrabble player.

"Initially he was just average, but he grew very quickly - obviously had a flair for words."

- NZ Herald

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