He May Be One of the Best Players of Any Game Ever

Defector digs into the astounding Scrabble prowess of Nigel Richards
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 24, 2024 6:31 AM CDT
He May Be One of the Best Players of Any Game Ever
A 2014 file photo of Nigel Richards.   (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)

You could try saying something like, "Nigel Richards is the Michael Jordan of Scrabble," but that wouldn't capture it. "I don't know how to put this in layman's terms, but ... he's the best player at any game that ever existed," is how David Eldar, who is one of the world's best Scrabble players and yet leagues behind Richards, puts it. For Defector, Stefan Fatsis attempts to put it in layman's terms for the rest of us. Richards, a 57-year-old New Zealander, is a "gentle, mild-mannered, private, witty, unflappable enigma." He doesn't like talking about his Scrabble prowess or attempting to explain it. "I'm not sure there is a secret," Richards said after one of his tournament wins. "It's just a matter of learning the words." And as Fatsis explains, nobody has managed to do this like Richards, who has won 11 North American and world championships, eight more than anyone else.

He seems to have something along the lines of a photographic, or eidetic, memory. "I can look at things and remember," he says. One rival player likened him to a computer, describing how his eyes "seemed to do a rapid scroll in his head." Consider that Richards has won the French world championship even though he doesn't speak the language. Consider, too, that one analysis found that he made a mistake once every 83.5 moves, compared with once every 2.1 moves for mere mortals. "At a time when artificial intelligence has assumed overlord status in the popular imagination, Nigel is a reminder of the unknown limits of human performance and the mysteries of the human mind," writes Fatsis. Read the full story, which deconstructs how Richards once played the word PERNOCTATED in a way that some consider the best Scrabble move of all time. (Or check out other longform recaps.)

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