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David Gibson

From Steve Pellinen:

David at Word Cup IX
David at Word Cup IX

David Gibson passed away on November 22, 2019 after a fight with pancreatic cancer. It’s hard to say he lost that fight, because he and wife Nancy are devout Christians who see this as just another step in their journey of faith. Nevertheless, he will be missed by many in the various circles in which he moved. He was a gentle man, and a gentleman, and yet was a fierce competitor in the game he loved and mastered to a degree unmatched by all but a very few.

He didn’t play as often as many others, but when he did he often dominated the field with his somewhat unorthodox defensive style that stymied so many of his opponents. He leaves the Scrabble® world with the top ratings in both NASPA (2200) and WGPO (2166). His legacy includes the giving of his name to tournament lore and terminology, when in 1995 he dominated the strongest field of players ever assembled at that time for the Superstars tournament.

The term Gibsonization was born when tournament organizers were faced with an unexpected dilemma. 54 of the highest rated players in North America gathered in Las Vegas to compete for an unprecedented $50,000 first prize. But there were also significant lower prizes to be had with the $100,000 prize fund, and going into the last day of the 24 round event, David Gibson held a four game lead with three games to play. He had already clinched first place, and the organizers were concerned that David would either not play optimally with nothing on the line, or would continue to dominate the next ranked players in the king of hill format in a way that would somewhat unfairly give lower ranked players who wouldn’t have to play him a chance to move up in the final standings.

In a stroke of debatable genius, a decision was made to pair David with the players with the worst records for the last three games, thereby allowing the remaining equally motivated contenders to play amongst themselves for the lesser prizes. Ironically, in the final game, the last place player, Rodney Nivison, defeated Gibson. Some of the players started using the term “Gibsonizing” to humorously describe what happened on that last day. The relief felt by the top contenders was balanced by the dismay the last place players felt when, after obviously struggling to no avail for three days, seeing they were paired with David. That dismay disappeared when David, in another unprecedented act, generously shared a significant portion of his winnings with every other player.

Tournament pairings changed forever on that day, as more and more directors used the same approach in their tournaments. Today Gibsonization is routinely used, though it has been modified to match the winner with the highest ranked players that cannot win a place prize. The last place players are no longer dismayed, and, David Gibson, ever the gentleman, would like that.