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Revision as of 12:31, 16 March 2020 by Judycole (talk | contribs) (Additional references: 2020-03-16 - Added link to Stefan)

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COVID-19 is a disease caused by a coronavirus first discovered in 2019. As of early 2020, it has had a serious impact on the global travel and convention industry, and resulted in the cancellation of some SCRABBLE tournaments overseas.

It is easy to communicate respiratory diseases when playing SCRABBLE, because opponents face each other in close proximity and handle playing equipment that has been handled by many other players. They also often compete in confined and/or public spaces, and may be exposed to many fellow travellers on their way to and from events.

We recommend that all participants carefully assess their health risk when competing in SCRABBLE tournaments or attending SCRABBLE clubs, and follow best practices to help mitigate their risk of contracting not just COVID-19, but other contagious diseases such as influenza.

In particular, we require that directors cancel events where directed to do so by public health and other government authorities. Since many directors are cancelling upcoming tournaments and club sessions, please check the calendar (or roster) for the director’s contact information to make sure that your club session or tournament has not been cancelled.

Right to play vs. right of refusal

A NASPA member in good standing has a right to participate in NASPA-sanctioned events, unless the supervising director has good reason to refuse their participation.

A player who has a severe contagious airborne disease should be refused participation on the grounds that they endanger the rest of the participants.

Best practices for all participants

While our advice here is tailored to the needs of SCRABBLE players, all participants should regularly check recommendations from public health authorities for up-to-date and possibly locally specific advice. In preparing this page, we have consulted:

If you are sick

If you have a fever and/or a severe contagious airborne disease (such as COVID-19, influenza, chickenpox or measles), do not go to a SCRABBLE club or tournament where you may spread it to others.

If you have a contagious airborne disease and you are sure that it is not severe, consider staying home anyway from SCRABBLE clubs and tournaments. If you do go, make sure that tournament staff and your opponents are aware of your condition. Wear a face mask, and disinfect your hands after each time that they come near your face. Use either 60%+ alcohol-based hand sanitizer, or warm soap and water. If you have to leave the playing area to wash your hands, do so under the terms of Rule IV.L (Leaving the Playing Area During a Game).

If you have to sneeze or cough, and are not wearing a face mask, do so into a tissue or your elbow and away from all playing equipment and players. Then pause the clock and call the director to discuss whether you should withdraw from the event.

If you are immunosuppressed, make sure that tournament staff are aware of your condition. Consider avoiding SCRABBLE clubs and tournaments where there are local outbreaks of infectious diseases. Follow your doctor’s advice to protect yourself as appropriate.

If you become aware after an event has started that your participation is endangering your health, inform the director as soon as you can, and withdraw from the event. According to Rule V.K. (Forfeits and Byes), if you leave mid-game you will be awarded a rated loss for the game in progress; any subsequent games will not affect your rating.

If you are healthy

Even if you feel healthy, you may be incubating a serious disease, and you can also spread germs from other players. Wash your hands regularly, and don’t touch your face unless your hands are clean.

Engage in “social distancing” by never shaking hands with fellow participants, and staying two metres (six feet) away from them when not playing.

Hand hygiene

Wash your hands thoroughly at least before and after each round. This is to remove germs that your hands have picked up from playing equipment, furniture, keyboards, door handles, etc.

Thoroughly means wetting your hands, soaping them, reciting all the anagrams of AEINRST at a reasonable pace three times while lathering all surfaces of your hands, rinsing them, turning off the water without touching anything, and drying your hands without recontaminating them.

If you cannot wash your hands, then you can try disinfecting them with 60%+ alcohol-based hand sanitizer, used according to directions. This is not as effective as washing your hands, but may be more convenient during play.

Do not unnecessarily touch anything that isn't sanitary with your hands. Do not touch your face. Do not shake hands, even when receiving or awarding prizes). If you do, wash your hands again.

Cleaning equipment

Use a CDC-approved product to disinfect equipment, but exercise caution when using any chemical on electronic equipment or glass, especially bleach-based disinfectants and oloephobic resin-coated glass. See Apple's recommendations for how to safely disinfect their recent equipment.

As of 2020-03-13, Apple says that 70% alcohol wipes or Clorox disinfectant wipes are fine on nonporous surfaces, but do check their website for recent updates. Remember that manufacturers speak with authority about what will not damage their equipment; the CDC tells you what will kill germs.

Keyboards and touch screens should be wiped down between uses.

After each event: wash playing tiles and tile bags, wipe down racks and board with disinfectant wipes, and disinfect clocks and adjudication devices following manufacturer’s instructions.

Word adjudication

Players are encouraged to use licensed software (or the NASPA Word Judge online) on their own mobile devices for word adjudication. Rule IV.J.1 (Software Lookup Procedure) lists which actions should be taken by the challenger and the player being challenged. If a personal mobile device is being used for adjudication, the owner of the device should take all actions necessary to operate their device for both players according to their specific verbal instructions.

Specifically, if one of the players involved in the challenge has an appropriate device (and not withstanding any other prohibition on electronic devices), then steps (e) through (k) should be replaced with the following. If both of the players want to use their own device, then the device belonging to the player being challenged should be used.

e. Both players walk to the computer station without speaking or disturbing others.

f. If either player at any time before the adjudication feels a word was recorded wrongly, both should return to their board to they should verify the spelling.

g. The challenger owner types the word(s) being challenged. All word(s) must be typed before adjudication.

h. Both players verify the word(s) have been entered correctly and that the correct lexicon is selected, and the player being challenged owner presses the adjudication key (usually the TAB key).

i. The adjudication result is marked on the challenge slip.

j. Computer adjudication is final unless either player feels the computer or program is flawed (and requests a manual adjudication) or feels a word may not have been entered correctly (and chooses to repeat the procedure.)

k. Both players return to their board without speaking or disturbing others.

Best practices for directors


Follow official news sources closely to anticipate measures that will be taken to address outbreaks, and communicate them to your players. Be open with your players about your planning process, including how you will decide if the event needs to be cancelled, and how you will treat sick players.


Plan for the possibility that your event may have to be cancelled, either because public health authorities require it, or because your own risk assessment so indicates. (The CDC has a good decision tree for when to close schools, that can be a model for how to decide about SCRABBLE gatherings.) Consider also that players and staff (especially those who are travelling) may have to cancel their plans.

When negotiating space with a new venue, discuss COVID-19 specifically as an example of force majeure. A standard force majeure clause permits either party to cancel a contract at no penalty. Even if you find yourself having to cancel an event without a force majeure clause in your contract, ask your venue if any deposit that you have paid can be refunded to you given the unusual circumstances, or at least be credited toward a future event post-outbreak.

Similarly, although it is NASPA’s position to remain independent of financial transactions between players and directors, we believe that it is in everyone’s long-term best interest for directors to be as lenient as they can about entry fee cancellation policies where COVID-19 is concerned.

Notify the Tournament Committee if you cancel a tournament. You can reschedule the tournament to another date if it does not conflict with a tournament already on the calendar. The standard 6 weeks advance notice will not be required for the rescheduled tournament.


During an outbreak, allow for more redundancy in all aspects of your planning. Consider that any of the following may be unavailable on short notice: key personnel (including yourself), equipment, playing space, and players.

Venue and layout

When choosing a venue for your event, evaluate the risk associated with the location.

  • Venues that have more people attending them on a regular basis carry a higher risk of contagion, and can make contact tracing challenging.
  • Venues such as nursing homes that have large at-risk populations should be avoided.
  • Venues that are geographically isolated may increase the risk of contagion during travel.

When laying out the floor plan for your event, minimize opportunities for players to congregate in close proximity. If possible, ask players to keep a two-metre distance from each other when not playing.

  • Post multiple copies of standings and pairings in different parts of the room
  • If you offer food and beverages, make sure that they are packaged to prevent airborne contamination, and place them in different parts of the room to keep participants apart.

Post notices reminding participants to wash their hands after each round, and offer hand hygiene stations where possible.

Scheduling rounds

If you have a large number of players who are diligently washing their hands after each round, you may find your tournament schedule delayed by lack of capacity of hand-washing stations. Plan accordingly by padding your schedule, and be lenient in the application of Rule III.C. (Arriving Late) when toilets and sinks are overcrowded.

Keep players at the same tables as much as possible, to minimize sharing equipment. At least one player at each game should stay at the same board in the next round.

Medical supplies

If you have access to them, consider adding to your tournament supplies:

  • disposable face masks
  • tissues
  • hand sanitizer
  • disinfecting wipes
  • a fever thermometer

Be aware of the nearest emergency medical services. if there are medical doctors participating, check with them about their availability to intervene if needed.

Additional references

Here are links to how other tabletop game associations are responding to COVID-19:

As of 2020-03-10, there were no announcements online from:

  • American Cribbage Congress
  • American Go Association (which does mention overseas cancellations)
  • Magic: The Gathering
  • United States Backgammon Federation
  • World Series of Poker

Stefan Fatsis reviews the arguments for cancelling tournaments and clubs in Slate.