When considering all trees irrespective of their species, natural tropical rain forests typically exhibit spatial patterns that range from random to regular. The regularity is often interpreted as a footprint of tree competition. Using 23 permanent sample plots totalling 61 ha in the rain forests of central Africa, we characterized their spatial patterns and modelled those that exhibited regularity by a Strauss point process. This Strauss process is obtained as a Markov point process whose interaction function is an exponential function of a competition index commonly used in forestry. The parameter of this Strauss process characterizes the strength of competition. The 23 plots in central Africa differed in tree density and basal area, and could be discriminated depending on the type of spatial patterns: plots having a large basal area with respect to their density had a non regular pattern, whereas those having a small basal area with respect to their density had a regular pattern. For those plots that exhibited regularity, average tree size could be used to predict the strength of competition. The parameter of the Strauss process was significantly related to the average size by a linear relationship, such that competition decreases as average tree size increases. This relationship extrapolated to a null value of the Strauss parameter when average tree size reaches 32 cm in diameter. This relationship between average tree size and spatial pattern is a testable feature for future studies on the relationship between competition and spatial pattern in natural forests.