Challengers, Chumps & Cheaters


It was only 5 months ago that I played in my first Words With Friends tournament. It’s interesting to consider this as I’m now so deeply involved in the creation and management of tourneys on this page…and very grateful for the opportunity, I should add. Before that first tourney, I knew there were other people out there like me…people who couldn’t get enough of this game…people with 10-20 games going at once…people with abnormal vocabularies that were developed over the course of thousands of Scrabble & WWF games. I just hadn’t gotten around to finding these people. But when I finally began to search, I found a couple of groups with regular competitions and I eagerly signed up for everything they posted.

I quickly identified the great players. I gained tremendous respect for the words they came up with, the strategy behind their moves and their ability to come back from large deficits. I won many of those games and lost many too. I went back and forth with one opponent in particular. He beat me as often as I beat him. I put so much time and thought into my moves against him because I knew he would capitalize on any mistake I made. If I averaged less than 28 points a move, I wouldn’t be able to keep up with him. I was glad to find out that he took our games as seriously as I did. We congratulated each other after our games and we continually rematched with a new game. When I found him on facebook, I saw what he looked like. There were pictures of him, his wife and his kids and I was glad that I had gotten to know him…in an online sort of way. There was no shame in losing to him…he was a worthy challenger and it was thrilling to beat him.

But I also realized there are other types of players…those who totally suck the fun out of the whole experience, those who take a day or two to make a move, those who don’t finish the games, those who quit and even worse: those who quit and immediately start a new game when you get a big lead on them. Oh…I really hate that. “What a chump!” I would say to myself. Who wants to play with someone like that…someone who won’t play unless they’re winning….probably the same kid who picked up his ball and went home when the other team scored a goal.

And just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse than playing a chump, I discovered a whole new breed of player that took my anger to a whole new level; the cheater. These are the absolute worst. A cheater not only eliminates the fun experience of taking on a worthy challenger, but instead makes it an infuriating experience of injustice and bitterness.

Of course, we always hear that it’s impossible to prove that someone is cheating. However, if you’ve played enough games, you know exactly what to look for. It’s one thing to come up with a few rare words to make some big points…but when nearly every word they put down is considered “very rare” by the game itself, I get suspicious. And let’s say they are coming up with these rare words with nothing other than their own brainpower, how is it that they find these amazing moves just seconds after receiving their new letters? At first, it’s fishy. Eventually, it’s suspicious.

And now, from the perspective of an admin who sees all of these competitions with a birds-eye view, the little piles of suspicion become a heaping mountain of evidence that is hard to ignore. How is this guy averaging 33+ points per word in WWF when I know he’s playing in numerous competitive tournaments? How did he average 500 points per game in a 35-match competition against elite players? And if these numbers weren’t enough, we also have an inbox full of complaints. After receiving numerous complaints about one particular player who appears to be playing unfairly, it becomes clear that we’re dealing with a cheater. And just so you know, there is nothing more problematic and destructive than a cheater in an environment of friendly competition.

The governing bodies of cycling must contend with cheating cyclists who inject their bodies with an unfair advantage. Major League Baseball deals with the same thing…figuring out which players from the steroids era truly belong in their Hall of Fame. The National Football League has to investigate if one of its quarterbacks gave himself an unfair advantage by having his footballs deflated and we here at Words With Friends 24/7 must deal with cheating players who use apps and websites to come up with “brilliant” moves during their games…moves that their own brains did not come up with.

The bottom line is that any competitive event is going to attract those who don’t have the usual aversion to cheating that is found within most of us. These are people who don’t see a problem with it, those who somehow enjoy victories that were unfairly attained. For the last several weeks, our time and attention has been absorbed in one particular fiasco that required decisive action and now is the time to tell you about it. I’ve written this long-winded post to explain what happened and also to remind everyone of the standards that we fully intend to enforce in our events. We’re not exactly curing cancer here or solving the world’s problems, but this little page is nonetheless very important to us…and also to many of you. Therefore, we are adamantly dedicated to making sure that it continues to be exactly what we want it to be; a friendly word-game community that is fun and fair.

Over the course of several weeks, we became increasingly convinced that 3 WWF usernames were being controlled by one person. Those usernames are AkoSiMiko, JVFThe13th and IgiTheWordKing. The more we investigated this matter, the more this murky suspicion became a clear conclusion…clear enough that we confronted this person about it. Our evidence was supported by indisputable proof that these 3 usernames were playing and posting scores from the same area in the same Asian city, in spite of 3 respective facebook pages in which they claimed to live in other parts of the world. Further, the pictures, likes and interests across all 3 accounts were clearly similar, indicating that they did not derive from 3 individuals, but rather, from one person who is maintaining at least two aliases.

Playing in one competition with multiple usernames is a blatant violation of our rules. It gives that person a considerable advantage over the other players. Whereas most of us sign up for a 32-player tournament with a 1/32 chance of winning it all, playing with an extra two accounts would give you 3/32 odds, not to mention a free pass to the next round when you’re matched against one of your other accounts. This player never requested permission to play with multiple accounts and we never would have granted that permission.

In spite of this evidence and much more that I’m excluding from this post, we gave him the opportunity to provide proof of his identity, fully ready and willing to apologize for the accusation if it was concretely proven to us that we’re truly dealing with 3 people instead of 1. However, this person made no attempt to prove we were wrong. He did not ask about our evidence and did not ask to see it. Instead, he blocked us from seeing his fb pages and unliked our page. I’m not a professional interrogator, but to me, this defensive reaction did not match the righteous reaction you would expect from someone who is being falsely accused.

I have won only two tournaments in the 5 months that I’ve been playing in them. Two is a small number in comparison to the numerous tourneys won by the “3 players” in question. Their collective number of victories has not been totaled, but it’s definitely more than a dozen. However, if you were to approach me and cast suspicion on my two meager victories…or if you were to claim that I’m not who I say I am…I would direct a tidal wave of evidence at you that wouldn’t stop until you fully apologized for questioning my identity and integrity. In other words, those who are falsely accused do not tend to hide and run, especially if their success is legitimate and especially if they are truly “The Word King.”

Having said all that, rest assured that you will never again be matched in our tourneys against these usernames. We will be closely monitoring their accounts to make sure he/they do not reappear in our competitions with some other name. This experience has taken so much of our time and caused us to reevaluate how we run our page and competitions. We never want to be the closed group that refuses to allow new people to come in and join us. Remember that I was the new guy here just 5 months ago…and I was warmly accepted and encouraged by Laura and the others to experiment with new ideas. We always want to be receptive to new players, especially if they’re loaded with skill and integrity. And let me just say…so many of you are loaded with skill and integrity and we are so glad to have you. And if all you have is integrity but very little skill, we are also very glad to have you.

However, we are now shrewdly aware of the need to protect this community from deceivers and cheaters. They are the Kryptonite that ruins the fun for everyone. We will use every technology at our disposal to get to the bottom of a situation, just like we did in this recent case. We will bend over backwards to give someone the benefit of the doubt and believe what they tell us…especially if we know them and talk to them and can verify that they are real people. But if it becomes clear and undeniable that someone is deceiving us or giving themselves an unfair advantage of any kind, they’re done. They can go somewhere else. There are plenty of other groups who don’t care about the integrity of their games, but we do….a lot.

We want honest players and worthy challengers.

We’ll put up with a few chumps who forget about their games…

but we will never have any tolerance for a cheater.

Anyhow, enough with all the serious talk…let’s get back to our games 🙂