Nigel Richards—An enigma

“Do I talk a lot?” I asked, amused by my own palaver. “Not at all, you have a very pleasant voice”, said the reticent Nigel Richards. I was enraptured by his aura. Well, if you are incognizant of the world Scrabble champion Nigel Richards, I am not surprised. The world’s most popular word game has hardly any cognizance in India. It is lamentable but it is true. Yet, I am not incriminating anyone for this. Cricket is the only recognized sport here. The Indian soccer, basketball, hockey etc teams are obscure. Therefore, it is obvious that Indians are not aware about scrabble or its players.
But for me, Scrabble meant passion. So, Nigel Richards was a paragon to me. What flummoxed me was not Nigel the world scrabble champion, but Nigel the person he was. The enigma was a normal human after all. Just a little more focused than many and a little less complicated. He said he was a normal school boy and had just been through high school. He had not studied in any university. He was fiercely independent and left home when he was 18 years old. He worked on security system which includes monitoring cctv cameras and people moving in and out of the organization. Till he was 28 years of age he had not seen a scrabble board. He had a strong mathematical mind but he was not good with words. His mother introduced him to the game and told him "Nigel, since you are not good with words you won't do good in this game but this will keep you occupied!” Yes, these were the exact words said to the world champion Scrabble Player! However this did not deter him. In fact, it increased his keenness in the game. He started pursuing it on national level and then he moved on to the international level. He won many titles and eventually he left his job in New Zealand. He moved to Malaysia when he was offered a job by some Malaysian scrabble enthusiast and has been staying there for the past 13 years.

Nigel Richards

Nigel Richards and me.
Apart from scrabble he loves bicycle riding and rides for 120 km every day. He says that it keeps him fit. He doesn't drink alcohol, smoke, party and is a vegetarian. He is so humble and down to earth that he wears the same t-shirt almost everywhere. The only emotion (irritation) he ever displays is when media mobs him and asks for interviews. When you look at him you would never be able to say if he won or lost. He is the best in the world for what he does and yet the simplicity in him leaves you mesmerized. I got an opportunity to interact with him on 20th January 2013. I was in Bangalore representing my organization, Mastek, at the inter-corporate Scrabble tournament organized by IGATE Global Solutions. After emerging the best team in Mumbai, we went to Bangalore for the finals. There was an international tournament going on as well. Nigel Richards was a part of the international league. The world champion won his title yet again!
Nigel chatted with me for quite some time, he gave me tips, showed me the area of my improvements and a lot of other stuff. But more than the game he plays, the person Nigel Richards left me awed. A true persona of how a human should be. He pursued his passion, did what he wanted and was always focused. He was outrageously modest and honest about his life experiences. He was mobbed everywhere during the event and yet he never acted as if he were a celebrity. After collecting the grand prize, Nigel Richards just slipped away without any trace. I was left there, wondering when I will get another chance to meet him again.

People don't know him much since scrabble is not a very popular sport (especially in India), but people who do know him have a lot of Nigel stories to tell. ‘Nigel Richards has photographic memory’, ‘He is a loner’, ‘He is painfully reticent’, ‘He does not talk with anyone’, ‘He is an ENIGMA’, etc etc. I don’t know what made the reticent Nigel open up to me and talk so freely. Whatever it may be, he managed to influence and charm me. I learnt that if you follow your passion passionately you will definitely excel.  Even after achieving success you must keep your head firmly on your shoulders. Modesty should always be a key aspect of your personality. I learnt a great deal that day. I so wanted to keep in contact with him, but he was nowhere to be found. Not on the internet, not on social media and not even on phone (He keeps a very simple phone called 'dabba' in our local terms)! And here I am, eagerly awaiting the next tournament to meet him again! Thanks to him, next time he meets me, I will be a better player and definitely a better and focused individual too!


  1. Hello Zeba.
    I am making a documentary film about Alfred Butts and a history of Scrabble. I was wondering if I could use the photograph of you with Nigel Richards. It is in a chapter about the masters of the game and I have Joe Edley talking about him. I love your photo. Is it yours and can you give me permission to use it?

    1. Yes, you may use it. I haven't been writing since a really long time and hence didn't reply.