Meet this 48-year-old genius from New Zealand who has been called "the Tiger Woods of Scrabble". Nigel Richards has just won the francophone world Scrabble championships after reportedly memorising the entire French Scrabble dictionary in just nine weeks.
His command of the language of Molière, as the French like to call it, stretches to “bonjour” and being able to count.
“He doesn’t speak French at all – he just learned the words,” his close friend Liz Fagerlund told the New Zealand Herald. “He won’t know what they mean, wouldn’t be able to carry out a conversation in French, I wouldn’t think.”
Richards, who has won the English world Scrabble championships three times, the US national championships five times and the UK Open six times, beat a rival from French-speaking Gabon in the final held at Louvain-la-Neuve in Belgium on Monday. During the match, which he won by two games to nil, he even successfully challenged his rival Schélick Ilagou Rékawé’s use of a form of the verb “fureter” (to snoop). He was given a standing ovation by the mainly French-speaking crowd.
Richards, whose other great passion is cycling, wasn’t introduced to the game until he was 28, persuaded by his mother. “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’,” she said. He showed an immediate talent, however, winning the New Zealand national championships. In 2000 he moved to Malaysia, and now represents the country in international competition.
With his long beard, spectacles and intense gaze, the reclusive competitor cuts an enigmatic figure hunched over his letter tiles. “Without a doubt he’s the greatest player in our sport, ever,” said New Zealand’s national Scrabble representative Howard Warner.
Warner believes Richards’s exceptional abilities stem from a photographic memory and rare mathematical skill. At the very elite level, Scrabble skills rely more on an ability to calculate mathematical probabilities than on linguistic facility.