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Advisory Board Motion 21: Rating Computer Players


Computer players should be permitted to obtain NASPA ratings under some circumstances.


John Chew


2011-01-17 Second draft

2011-06-06 Third draft: renumbered from M20 to M21

2011-06-07 Final draft: with modifications from the AB


Computer players may be permitted to play in rated NASPA-sanctioned tournaments if all of the following criteria are met:

  1. Notice of the inclusion of computer player(s) must be given when applying for sanctioning, and be listed in tournament notices and flyers. If computer players will be eligible for prize money, the prize distribution must also be made clear in these places.
  2. Computer players, whether previously rated or not, shall be paired in the top division at any tournament in which computer players participate.
  3. NASPA ratings will be kept for each version of computer program used in rated play, and the rating of each version of the computer program shall be maintained consistent with ratings assignments for human players.
  4. Computer players must have human assistants to draw tiles, place tiles on the board, operate clocks, and handle all other mechanics of the game. (This will ensure that there is no perception that the computer player could have been programmed in a way that would give itself an advantage.)
  5. A computer program for use in a tournament must be able to designate its chosen play for each turn, and handle all other eventualities where a choice is required (for example: opponents' overdraws, whether to hold or challenge a play). This ensures that the program is acting on its own without assistance.
  6. If the computer player is programmed so that it might play phonies, this must be made known to its opponents.
  7. The consent of the owner(s) of the program is required for a computer player to be entered in a tournament (to ensure it is not dumbed down in any way).

Under these circumstances the tournament can be sanctioned, and the games between humans and computers would count in the tournament standings and be rated.


In 2006, Tony Leah (now the co-chair of the NASPA International Committee) held the first Human vs. Computer Open, a well-received event that featured computer players Maven and Quackle being paired with human players in a long preliminary phase, followed by a short finals between the top human (David Boys) and the top computer player (Quackle). The event was widely publicized, and was even mentioned in Time magazine. Each computer player had an operator, who performed the physical actions that the computer could not perform, such as observing the board (entering the opponent's play) and drawing tiles.

There will be another similar event in Toronto in September 2011, and Tony Leah asks that it be rated. This second draft is as a result of consultation with the Tournament Committee, who have given their approval. The general idea has also been suggested by Kevin Leeds of the Rating and Recognition Committee, as a good way to keep human ratings well calibrated.

Disclosure: I will be working with Tony Leah at his September 2011 event.


  • NASPA members should be allowed to play in rated human vs. computer matches if they want to.
  • Support for a director interested in promoting and innovating the game.
  • Accurate calibration of human ratings.
  • More publicity for the game.
  • Interesting new twist to the game.


  • Some players have a gut feeling that computers should not be allowed to play in SCRABBLE tournaments.
  • Not all players like playing computer opponents, and object to any resources (organizational efforts, prize money) going to human-computer events.
  • Allowing computer programs to be rated will increase the ratings of human players who are better at playing against computer opponents.
  • Some people believe that computer programmers should not receive monetary compensation for their work.