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How A Non-French Speaker Won The French Scrabble Competition

A lot of people say that French is a difficult language to learn, and we’re not here to contradict them nor to agree. You know what wise people were saying since the dawn of time that no activity can be too difficult if you try it enough. Nigel Richards, a 48-year old native New Zealander and resident of Malaysia, can surely agree!

Even though Richards is a non-French speaker, he won the French-language Scrabble world championship back in 2015 and 2018. During the first championship, he managed to defeat 74 other players and win the competition in Belgium. The New Zealander had a very ingenious method for conquering the title of the new world champion.

Nigel Richards memorized the entire Scrabble dictionary

Richards has vast experience when it comes to Scrabble. The guy was already the English-language Scrabble world champion three times, he won the US Scrabble championship six times, and he won the UK championship for the same game six times. Richards doesn’t speak a word in French, but that didn’t stop him from winning the French Scrabble championship as well in 2015 after spending nine weeks memorizing the official dictionary of the French Scrabble game. He managed somehow to memorize a staggering amount of about 400,000 words.

AMAZING!” the French Scrabble Federation said on Twitter after Richards’s success. “Nigel, I love you.”

Liz Fagerlung, who is a close friend of Nigel Richards, explained more as cited by The Guardian:

He doesn’t speak French at all – he just learned the words,” 

He also added:

He won’t know what they mean, wouldn’t be able to carry out a conversation in French, I wouldn’t think.”

The final round of the 2015 French Scrabble competition lasted three hours, and it presented the confrontation between Nigel Richards and Schelick Ilagou Rekawe, a native French speaker from Gabon. The New Zealander beat his opponent two games to nothing with two ‘triple-word score’ boxes. Richards also challenged Rekawe on a word and won.

Probably the greatest tournament-Scrabble player of all time

Nigel Richards was born in 1967 in New Zealand, and he was also raised there. He became world champion in Scrabble in 2007, and he repeated the feat four years ago, and also in 2013, 2015, 2018, and 2019.

While generating high-scoring words using a scrabble cheat or a jumble solver is easy, but to memorize them all there’s no wonder why Richards is widely regarded as the best tournament-Scrabble player of all time. The man also holds the record for the highest rating that was ever achieved in Scrabble. Richards is renowned for his mathematical and eidetic abilities, and he has been described as a reclusive personality. He has rarely appeared in any interviews. At its highest levels, Scrabble requires more mathematical probabilities than the linguistic facility.

Nigel Richards also has other great passions except for Scrabble, and cycling is one of them. The man spends a significant part of the day cycling, and he is known to have cycled over 12 hours from Dunedin to Christchurch under awful weather conditions during his first national championship in 1998 when he won.

Richards was introduced to the Scrabble game by his mother when he was 28. Oddly enough, he wasn’t too good at spelling and at the English language in general at that time, and his mother would have never guessed that he would become so good at playing Scrabble. Some years later, in 2000, Richards moved to Malaysia, and he now represents the country in international Scrabble competitions.

 Richards is even such an overwhelming favorite that a popular fantasy Scrabble rotisserie competition placed him on participants’ selected teams automatically. The man became an icon for the legendary Scrabble game and will remain like that for a long time.

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