The number one rated Scrabble player in Thailand who last year won a string of money tournaments has been banned from playing the popular English word game for allegedly cheating and committing fraud.
Bangkok based Pichai Limprasert proved unbeatable throughout a dramatic rise to the number one spot in the Thai Scrabble rankings from January to July last year.
Now he has been exposed as a cheat for “palming an eighth tile” and “entering an event fraudulently”, according to a national association based in Bangkok.
Many Thais are mad about Scrabble, the world’s most popular word game, and call it Crossword Game. Pichai is known as one of the leading players in the world.
Tournaments in Thailand enjoy the patronage of the Royal Family and are sponsored by large companies. Events attract many foreign participants.
Prizes are often worth many thousands of US dollars and players pay tax on winnings.
Pichai who had hovered around number 5 or 6 in the rankings for several years suddenly started improving rapidly in early 2016, a meteoric rise that even saw him make the final of the iconic international Brands King’s Cup held midyear in Bangkok.
There – after eight tournament wins in a row including in Chiang Mai, Udon Thani and Sri Racha – he was finally beaten by the world’s greatest player, Nigel Richards of New Zealand.
The final was played on a stage in front of thousands of observers both at the Central Westgate Shopping Center and on the internet around the world. Then tourism and sports minister Kobkarn Wattanavarankul presented the prizes.
But trouble had brewed earlier in the tournament when Pichai was observed allegedly cheating and subsequently warned. But he was allowed to continue eventually taking second place.
The King’s Cup is hailed by many as one of Scrabble’s leading worldwide tournaments each year. Thousands of Thai schoolchildren look up to the top Thai players and aspire to be champions.
The Thailand Crossword Game Association said in a letter statement that Pichai was observed palming an additional eighth tile and keeping it under the table during an annotated game at the King’s Cup in July of last year. (Scrabble is played with seven tiles).
The Association said that his play aroused suspicion after setting a national record for consecutive tournament wins. He always seemed very successful when playing short words – known as ‘fishing’ – followed by high probability seven or eight letter words that get fifty bonus points, said the association.
As it was a first offence he was initially banned for three months, a sanction that was not announced publicly. But he was later warned that further infractions could result in a lifetime ban.
However, in February of this year it was decided that Pichai had fraudulently entered the Scrabble event at the University Games, a competition that he won.
He was asked to provide details of his student status that he was ultimately unable to do. After consultations with the association’s lawyer he was suspended until June of 2018.
Pichai has been playing the game for about 15 years since schooldays.
The latest scandal to hit Scrabble – played by at least 10,000 tournament enthusiasts around the world – comes in the wake of the three year ban handed out to leading Scrabble author and top UK player Allan Simmons from Coldingham in Scotland.
That story was revealed to the world several weeks ago subsequently hitting news media from the UK to Australia and Saturday Night Live in the US.
Mr Simmons was returning tiles he did not want to the bag though he denied this.
After being suspected of cheating on several occasions including in a world championship event, for which he was not reported, he was banned for three years losing his job as weekend columnist for the Times of London newspaper in the process.
The ban was ultimately handed down by the Association of British Scrabble Players after a double inquiry by members of the World English-language Scrabble Players’ Association.
A top player would gain an enormous advantage by changing just one letter per seven tile draw in Scrabble.
Following Pichai’s run last year he achieved the highest player rating ever attained in Thailand and won the most tournaments in a row ever recorded.
Some players – especially analyzers of Pichai’s games living in England – wondered how this was possible.
They voiced concerns privately that Pichai was not really that good a player and did not have sufficient vocabulary or strategic ability to be the best over a long run.
Those concerns peaked when he even rose well above the ranking of former Thai champion Panupol Sajjayakorn who won the World Championships in Malaysia in 2003 as a teenager. Panupol was the first non-native English speaker to win the world title in the event’s history.
There is no suggestion that any other Thai player has cheated though one other lesser ranked player is understood to be on a last warning after recent poor behavior, Thaivisa was told.
Rumours of a ban facing Pichai had been rife in the world of tournament Scrabble but his fate was only confirmed yesterday.