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Nigerian bags World Scrabble title, in first for Africa

09 November 2015, 17:14

Sydney - Cowboy-hat wearing Wellington Jighere from Nigeria crushed his English opponent 4-0 at the World Scrabble Championship in Australia to become first African to bag the word game's global title.

Jighere, 32, was among more than 120 competitors who travelled to Perth for the World English-language Scrabble Players' Association Championship, which culminated in Sunday's best-of-seven final against England's Lewis Mackay.

"He had to battle for four days to emerge on top but once he got there, maybe he was a little fresher, or got a bit of luck, everything fell into place for him and he won four-nil," Adam Kretschmer, one of the organisers of the event, told AFP of Jighere's effort.

The Nigerian used such high-scoring words as "fahlores", "avouched" and "mentored" as he puzzled his way to victory.

"It is the first time that an African has won in these world championships," Jighere told The Guardian after the win.

Also read: The game of chess in Nigeria

But he conceded: "Nigel is still the master. It just happens that today was my day."

It was a reference to New Zealander Nigel Richards who dominates English-language Scrabble, with three world championships, five North American titles and 11 wins at the prestigious King's Cup in Thailand, sponsored by the Thai royal family.

Richards stunned the francophone world in July when he also won the game's French version even though he doesn't speak the language and only spent nine weeks studying the official Scrabble dictionary.

A trained engineer, Richards reportedly began playing Scrabble at 28 at the request of his mother, who was frustrated that his photographic memory was making their card games too one-sided.

But he proved dazzling at the word game, even though he favoured mathematics at school and was never much of an English student.

A rival New Zealand Scrabbler once said Richards was "like a computer with a big ginger beard", while Malaysian tournament organiser Michael Tang has called him "the Tiger Woods of Scrabble".

Presidential plaudits

On Facebook, Jighere said the Perth tournament, in which each player had played 32 games over four days before the finalists were decided, had been exhausting.

"I really must endeavour to rest now," he posted late Sunday.

"I've not slept well in about a week. The fact that I was able to perform in spite of the sleeplessness still baffles me. It only goes to prove that God was deeply involved in this matter."

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari telephoned Jighere to congratulate him while the head of the Nigeria Scrabble Federation, Suleiman Gora, described the victory as "the climax" for him.

Nigeria had six slots for the tournament and Gora said the players prepared hard at seven training camps.

"We knew we would conquer the world because we have the competent and qualified players to do it," he told AFP.

"The Australians and the British are masters of English language but we are masters of English-language scrabble in the world. That is the difference."

Jighere, an unemployed university graduate who has just finished his national youth service, went into the championship as a two-time African champion.

Gora described him as "the quiet type, humble and hardworking" but before leaving for Perth, said he was confident of outright victory.

"I believed him," said Gora. "I knew he had the capability."

As well as disturbed sleep, Jighere and his teammates only arrived at the venue the day before the start because of a delay in getting visas.

"I, as the president of the federation, was not given a visa to go with the players because they said they were not convinced that I would come back to Nigeria," said Gora.


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