Scrabble Players Championship: Stats and Trivia Over the Years

Players at the National Scrabble Championship

Photo courtesy North American Scrabble Players Association (NASPA)

What do you know about the Scrabble Players Championship? The premier North American Scrabble tournament has been around for more than 40 years! As you can imagine, a lot of fascinating trivia around the national Scrabble championship has emerged over those four decades. Did you know over 800 people participated one year? And the largest prize pool was almost $100,000? Read on for more!

9 Fast Facts About the National Scrabble Championship

There’s certainly more to winning a tournament than memorizing the whole Scrabble dictionary. It takes focus, strategy and maybe even a bit of luck, like coming back from being 239 points down! To get started, here are some fun and interesting bits of trivia about the Scrabble Players Championship! Did you know… 

  • Highest single game score: Susan Beard, 700 points (2008; defeated Linda Hoggatt who scored 170 points)

  • Highest score in a loss: Kevin Rickhoff, 545 points (2006; lost to Mark Milan who scored 558 points) 

  • Most points in a single turn: Lee Mills, 239 points for QUAVERED (1985)

  • Biggest comeback: Bruce Adams, from down 219 points (2000)

  • Fastest game: Jean Carol versus Steve Williams, completed in seven minutes. (1978) 

  • Mainstream coverage: The finals from 2004 to 2006 were aired on ESPN. 

  • Only one female winner (so far): Though girls and women have entered every national Scrabble tournament, only one — Rita Norr in 1987 — has won the championship to date.

  • American Scrabble champions: Of the 20 unique Scrabble Player Championship winners, 16 of them are from the United States. 

  • Only 4 non-American winners: The Scrabble tournament winners not from the United States are Joel Wapnick (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), Adam Logan (Kingston, Ontario, Canada), Nigel Richards (born in New Zealand, residing in Malaysia since 2000) and Matthew Tunnicliffe (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada).

The 2022 Scrabble Players Championship at a Glance

The 2022 national Scrabble championship took place from July 23 to 27 in Baltimore, Maryland. The field of 278 Scrabble tournament players came from all over.

  • Over 40 states and provinces are represented.

  • Entrants represent 8 different countries around the world.

  • Players range in age from 12 to 89 years old.

In the end, Michael Fagen took home the top prize (and $10,000) in the division 1 NASPA Word List (NWL) main tournament. The 27-year-old data analyst from Montreal defeated 35-year-old Orry Swift of Beaumont, Texas in the best of five finals, three games to one.

Austin Shin, a 32-year-old solutions engineer from Metairie, Louisiana, won the Collins Scrabble Words (CSW) title. He defeated 33-year-old professional Scrabble coach Waseem Khatri of Karachi, Pakistan, also 3-1 in the best-of-five finals.

How Big Are Scrabble Tournament Cash Prizes?

The status of the national Scrabble players tournament and the number of entrants it draws continually ups the ante for a significant top prize. The $1,500 top prize awarded in the first national Scrabble championship in 1978 was respectable at the time. Though they have not consistently grown larger with each passing year, the tournament cash winnings continue to be a big draw for players.

The average prize pool has been around $50,000 over the championship’s 40+ year history. That’s certainly more than you’d be able to win playing Words With Friends! The Scrabble tournament prize pool is funded through a combination of player entry fees and sponsorship money.

Joel Sherman - Winner of 2018 North American Scrabble Championship with prize checkJoel Sherman - Winner of 2018 North American Scrabble Championship with prize checkJoel Sherman (2018 Scrabble Champion)

What’s the Size of Championship Prize Pools?

The total prize pool allows for multiple top entrants to win some money. Generally, players who place in the top 10 for each division walk away with some cash in hand. In 2019, there were five divisions. For the 2022 Scrabble Players Championship, there were four NWL divisions and one CSW division.

  • Average prize pool (1978 to 2019): $50,407

  • Largest prize pool (2004): $92,805

  • Smallest prize pool (1978): $8,400

Adjusted for inflation, the prize pool in 1978 is equivalent to $37,658 in today’s dollars.

How Much Does the Tournament Winner Receive?

The top players all earn something, but the top division Scrabble champion naturally takes home the most money.

  • Average first-place prize (1978 to 2019): $13,155

  • Largest first-place prize (1996 to 2008): $25,000

  • Smallest first-place prize (1978): $1,500

Adjusted for inflation, the top prize in 1978 is equivalent to $6,651 in 2022 dollars.

Who Are the Top Scrabble Champions?

As with any competition, only one person can walk away as the victor of the Scrabble Players Championship. And there are plenty of interesting details surrounding Scrabble championship winners over the years. To go along with the information in that article, we’ve found some more fascinating trivia about the players who’ve won the tournament over the years.

Which Regions Have the Most Champions?

Certain countries and states have been home to multiple champions or players with multiple first-place wins. This certainly gives these regions some big bragging rights among the Scrabble community.

  • Malaysia is home to one player with five first-place wins

  • New York is home to three players with four first-place wins.

  • Michigan is home to two players with four first-place wins.

Have Scrabble Champions Won More Than Once?

Across the four decades of this premiere event, there have been five repeat winners of the National Scrabble Championship. These are tournament players who have shown the level of Scrabble mastery it takes to be a consistent winner.

David Gibson - Winner of the 2016 North American Scrabble Championship tournamentDavid Gibson - Winner of the 2016 North American Scrabble Championship tournamentDavid Gibson (2016 Scrabble Champion)

Has Anyone Won Both the National and World Scrabble Championship?

North American Scrabble championships aren’t the only major Scrabble events. There is also a world championship that takes place nearly every year as well. Like its North American equivalent, the global tournament has also gone by different names, including the: 

  • World Scrabble Championship (WSC)

  • Scrabble Champions Tournament

  • WESPA Championship 

The worldwide championship draws the best players from around the world. Naturally, this includes the Scrabble Players Championship winners too. Some of these tournament champions have managed to win both events. Players who have won both the Scrabble Players Championship and the Scrabble World Championship include:

  • Peter Morris (1991)

  • Joel Sherman (1997)

  • Joel Wapnick (1999)

  • Brian Cappelletto (2001)

  • Nigel Richards (2007, 2011, 2013, 2018, 2019)

Who Are the Youngest and Oldest Scrabble Champions?

The age range among tournament entrants is quite vast, as is the range between the youngest and oldest players who have won the National Scrabble Championship. 

  • Alec Sjöholm is the youngest Scrabble champion ever, winning the 2019 tournament at the age of 21. He was one or two weeks younger than Adam Logan was when the latter won the 1996 tournament, also at 21 years of age. 

  • David Gibson is the oldest Scrabble champion to date. He was 66 years old when he won the national tournament for the second time in 2016.

National Scrabble Championship FAQs

It goes without saying that you need to be an expert Scrabble word finder if you want to claim the top prize at a national Scrabble championship. Before you get there, though, you’ll want to answer some key frequently asked questions about the Scrabble Players Championship and how you can enter the prestigious tournament. 

What Is the Official National Scrabble Tournament Name?

After a two-year hiatus, the prestigious Scrabble tournament returned in 2022, running from July 23 to July 27, in Baltimore, Maryland. This was also the first year with the new name: Scrabble Players Championship. Before this recent change, the official Scrabble tournament had been known by three other names:

  • National Scrabble Championship: The official name of the tournament from 1978 to 2014.

  • North American Scrabble Championship: A renaming of the tournament in 2015 to better include all countries in North America. This name stuck up to and including the 2019 tournament in Reno, Nevada.

  • United States Scrabble Open: The one-time name for the event in 2006 in Phoenix, Arizona.

2018 North American Scrabble Championship - Tournament play2018 North American Scrabble Championship - Tournament play

Who Can Enter National Scrabble Tournaments?

The Scrabble Players Championship isn’t open to everyone. You must meet a number of requirements before you can enter the tournament. To play, you must:

  1. Be a registered NASPA member.

  2. Have played in an officially sanctioned SCRABBLE tournament to earn an official tournament rating.

  3. Pay the entry fee. For 2022, the entry fee for adults was $200. For children (any player under the age of 18), the fee was $100.

For the 2022 Scrabble Players Championship, the total number of entrants was capped at 360 players.

How Many People Enter the Scrabble Players Championship?

As the championship has grown over the decades, so have the number of attendees and games played. The number of players in each national Scrabble championship has steadily increased, but there have been a few years that stand out as extreme highs and lows.

  • Most entrants: 2004 New Orleans (837 entrants)

  • Fewest entrants: 1980 Santa Monica and 1983 Chicago (32 entrants each)

For context, in the 2022 Scrabble Players Championship, 244 entrants participated in the NASPA Word List (NWL) competition, plus 34 players in the Collins Scrabble Words (CSW) division, for a total of 278 players.

How Many Games Are Played in the Big Scrabble Tournament?

Similar to the number of entrants, the number of games played has not always been the same. It hasn’t followed a consistent, yearly increase either. Understandably, the years with more players generally involved more rounds of play.

  • There is a 15-way tie for the tournament with the most rounds: 1998, 2000, 2002, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2022 (all with 31 games per player)

  • Tournament with the fewest number of rounds: 1978 (16 games per player)

What Is the Official Scrabble Tournament Format?

As it would be impractical to run a true round robin tournament with hundreds of entrants, the Scrabble Players Championship organizes its tournament format in a more efficient manner. 

First, players are grouped into divisions based on their official tournament rating. Then, they go through several rounds of play, paired using specialized tournament management software. After a set number of rounds, Scrabble tournament organizers determine the top two players based on record and point spread.

These two players enter a best-of-five playoff to decide the Scrabble champion and runner-up. The remaining players compete in additional rounds of play to determine their final standing in the tournament. 

How Often Is the National Scrabble Championship?

The 2022 Scrabble Players Championship was the 31st national Scrabble tournament. As you might have figured out, this means there has not been a North American Scrabble championship every year since it first started in 1978. There have been shifts in how frequently the tournament was held.

  • From 1978 to 2003, the national Scrabble tournament would take place intermittently with one-year and two-year breaks.

  • The National Scrabble Championship officially became an annual event in 2004.

  • The annual event streak ended in 2020 when it was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was canceled for the same reason in 2021.

  • The tournament returned in 2022.

  • Plans for a possible 2023 tournament have not yet been finalized.

On average, prior to the pandemic-related cancellations of 2020 and 2021, there was a Scrabble Players Championship tournament every 1.37 years. 

The Official Scrabble Tournament Word List

Merriam-Webster has been a decades-long partner with Hasbro to publish the official Scrabble dictionary in North America. But, that word list was not the first one used for the National Scrabble Championship. For the first championship in 1978, players used the Funk & Wagnalls Standard College Dictionary as the official Scrabble word finder and validator. Deciding on the definitive Scrabble tournament word list has been a point of contention ever since.

Astrobiology played at 2018 North American Scrabble Championship tournament Astrobiology played at 2018 North American Scrabble Championship tournament
  • Almost right after the 1978 championship ended, the tournament organizers announced they would be moving to the (at the time) newly released Official Scrabble Players Dictionary for the next tournament, which would take place in 1980.

  • Twenty-nine years later in 2009, NASPA assumed responsibility for managing the tournament. It was at this time that the event began using the NASPA Word List (NWL) as the official Scrabble tournament dictionary.

  • Three years after that in 2012, NASPA partnered with Collins English Dictionary to host an international division of the Scrabble Players Championship. This additional tournament uses the Collins Scrabble Words (CSW) list and takes place alongside the main event. 

There continues to be ongoing debate and controversy over what words should or should not be included in the Scrabble tournament word list. Hasbro and Mattel have exerted significant pressure on NASPA, WESPA, Collins and other organizations to ban offensive words from their Scrabble lists. It’s a hotly contested topic among Scrabble tournament players. 

Where Are National Scrabble Tournaments Played?

The Scrabble Players Championship has taken place in various cities across the United States. While the tournament is usually in a unique city each time, there have been some notable repeats.

  • Four championships have been hosted in Reno, Nevada.

  • Three championships have been hosted in Dallas, Texas.

  • Two tournaments have been hosted in each of New York City, Buffalo, New Orleans, Chicago and Las Vegas.

The first National Scrabble Championship was held in New York City in 1978. It returned in 1989 and then went up the road to Buffalo in 2014 and 2018. Between Las Vegas and Reno, a total of six North American Scrabble tournaments have been run in Nevada. The championship has not yet been hosted outside the United States. 

Learn More Scrabble Facts From a NASPA Leader

The competitive Scrabble scene has a rich history, that much is clear. The game came from humble beginnings, but it quickly became the standard word board game experience around the world. This is especially true in North America, where tournament players compete in two different scenes. One is WESPA, the organizer of worldwide Scrabble tournaments. The other is NASPA, the group that organizes tournaments exclusively in North America. NASPA is the group that helps facilitate the Scrabble Players Championship. 

Read our interview with John Chew, NASPA’s chief executive officer, to learn more about this group and the work it does.

Zac Pricener has been a content creator for the past eight years. He’s a bit of an all-around nerd, and he has a bad habit of working movie and TV show references into conversations whenever possible.


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