Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Online Scrabble

One of the things I do in my spare time is play Scrabble with strangers on the internet. I use a Facebook app for it, which isn’t the best program in the world but it does the job and you can have a good game. One unfortunate feature of this setup is that the internet abounds with anagram generators which tempt the players to cheat. Sometimes you wonder whether people are succumbing to this temptation. There are some very good Scrabble players out there and when you’re playing one of them over the board it can feel like they must have an iPad under the table with an anagramming app on it. They don’t, of course. I’m reminded of the brouhaha that erupted when Veselin Topalov was playing Vladimir Kramnik for the world chess championship and Kramnik kept going to the toilet so Topalov accused him of having a chess computer in there. Grandmasters everywhere were defending Kramnik by saying how a tight endgame can play havoc with your bladder. Kramnik won, and almost certainly wasn’t using a computer.

Anyway, Facebook Scrabble has a chatbox in the corner, as these things usually do, so you can talk to your opponent. Normally it’s used for saying ‘hi, gl’, ‘nice 1’, ‘gg’, ‘my letterz are no gud’ and so on, but occasionally people use it to accuse their opponent of cheating. I’ve been accused three times, and I never know how to react. You don’t want to stop playing because then they’ll think they were right, and you don’t want to keep playing with someone who thinks you’re cheating. Fortunately they usually make the accusation towards the end of the game, or make it, wait for your reaction, say they don’t play with cheats and then resign. It’s unpleasant.

What I find most peculiar is that people do it at all. It’d be a strange person indeed who got any satisfaction out of watching strangers play Scrabble against an anagramming program they didn’t design. Perhaps people occasionally cheat for a move or two when they’re losing just to even up the scores, but that’d be hard to detect and wouldn’t completely ruin the game. I expect the vast majority of accusations are from people who aren’t very good and aren’t bright enough to realise some people are much better than they are, and all it does is spoil the game and upset their opponent. Sometimes I suspect my opponent is cheating a bit but I never make any accusations because there’s no point. It’ll probably be unfounded, if it’s not it still won’t achieve anything and either way it’ll ruin the game. I guess the lesson to be learnt is this: Veselin Topalov shouldn't play online Scrabble.

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