LONDON – Tongues are wagging across the world of competitive Scrabble. Allan Simmons, one of the game’s top-billed British players, has been barred from tournaments for three years after an inquiry concluded he had broken the rules of the word game.
Simmons, a former British Scrabble champion who has written several books about the game, was accused of putting a hand with freshly drawn letter tiles back into a bag to draw more favorable tiles. Simmons has denied wrongdoing.
The punishment, imposed by the Association of British Scrabble Players, made headlines in Britain.
Yet many organizers of tournaments where a fluency with words may spell victory or defeat seemed to tilt toward reticence Tuesday. For a game played in the glare of open competition, its inner machinations were more opaque.
“For some unknown reason, I don’t think they want it to be public,” Len Moir, a tournament organizer in the English Midlands, said of the accusations against Simmons. “He is such a high-profile player.”
Nicky Huitson, who is overseeing the Broadstairs Seaside Special in southern England next year, said the ban was “not very positive for the game, and that’s why most of us don’t want to talk about it.”
When the news of the ban broke Monday in the Times of London, Elie Dangoor, a leading figure in the Association of British Scrabble Players, said in a statement that Simmons had been “a huge part of the game’s development,” adding, “There’s no one person bigger than the game.”
Tournament rules require players to show opponents their empty hands before drawing tiles from a cloth bag, so that they cannot be accused of dropping unfavorable letters back in. The bag is also supposed to be held at shoulder height, to prevent players from peeking at the tiles.
Simmons, 60, could not be reached for comment on the accusations against him. But he told the Times of London that he had suffered the same “untimely bad luck from the bag as anyone else.”
Simmons had written a weekly column for the Times of London, but the newspaper said Monday that he would “no longer be a contributor.”
The Scrabble group’s inquiry began with a complaint about Simmons’ behavior in the British Masters tournament last June. The organizers of the 2016 Scottish Masters tournament then came forward with similar allegations.
“The natural conclusion had been that he had been cheating,” Dangoor said. The inquiry into the complaints against Simmons ended several weeks ago, but news of the ban only recently reached a wider audience.