Foto by Larry Kang/ www.flickr.com
Childhood an academic career
He played so frequently and with such dedication, that later on he would maintain that most of his poker success was based on this childhood playing during his year at home. At the early age of six, Chip had become skilled enough to regularly defeat kids much older than him at poker. At high school he discovered his passion for American football and joined the debating club, for which he won the Ohio state championship and made it all the way to the national finals.
When Harvard University offered Chip a scholarship, he declined it, preferring to study economics at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. A member of “Beta Theta Pi” fraternity, he continued to play football and being active in debating. Poker remained one of his favourite pastimes – Chip often challenged his team mates and frat brothers as well as his professors. And he left his mark on Dartmouth: the “Beta Theta Pi” card room is now called “David E. Reese Memorial Card Room”.
After graduating from college, Chip’s intention was to study at Stanford Law School in California, but a trip to Las Vegas was to turn all his plans upside down. In the summer of 1974, Chip Reese headed west to have a look at his new university to be but – almost by fate, it seems – he stopped over in Sin City to visit an old friend of his. As legend has it, Chip sat down at a Seven-Card Stud table, never to leave it again. Legend, actually, does not stray very far from the truth: as soon as he had arrived, Las Vegas put a spell on Chip and it is fair to say that he never left the city ever again.
Armed with $ 400, he entered the nearest best casino and lost all that money at Black Jack. But Chip did not let these initial set-backs damp his spirits – the very next day he took up a job offer so he could finance playing Seven-Card Stud on a regular basis. After he had studied the game thoroughly for one entire summer, Chip signed up for a tournament at the Sahara and made it to first place straight away. As Chip cashed his $ 50,000 prize money, his university plans were put to rest for good.
Gambling instead of law
When the university year started that autumn, Chip was still playing poker in Vegas – by then, he had built up quite a sizable bankroll of $ 100,000. To him it was clear that studying law could never have the financial appeal of a professional poker career, but how was he to break these altered plans for the future to his parents? For one full year, Chip left them in the belief he was actually studying for the bar before he confessed to them that it was not a lawyer he wanted to be, but a poker player.
Chip Reese teamed up with his poker colleague Danny Robeson, who had been drawn to Las Vegas from Dayton, and the both of them decided to take on the pros. After a three-day poker marathon against legendary opponents like Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson (who was to become Chip’s best friend) and Johnny Moss, Chip had made a profit of $ 300,000. Success made him more daring and he tried his luck at other poker games like Texas Hold’em and Razz.
By the end of the 70s, Chip had established his reputation of being the best Seven-Card Stud player in the world, which accorded him the honour of authoring the Seven-Card Stud chapter of Doyle Brunson’s “Super System” – there simply was no better man for the job. One of the bestselling poker books of all time, Brunson’s “Super System” is like the bible to many poker enthusiasts.
Chip Reese did not only make a name for himself on the Vegas scene by playing poker, for five years he also worked as floor manager of the card room at the Dunes Casino – today’s Bellagio – which made a nice addition to his bankroll. Chip entered relatively few tournaments and concentrated rather on cash-games.
Chip takes the WSOP by storm
In 1978, Chip Reese won the limit Seven-Card Stud Hi Lo tournament at the World Series of Poker (WSOP) and received his first Gold WSOP Bracelet. In 1981, he made it to third place in no-limit Ace to Five Draw and finished fifth both in the no-limit Deuce to Seven Lowball and the limit Ace to Five Draw.
Chip claimed his second Gold Bracelet and a prize money of $ 92,500 in 1982 for limit Seven-Card Stud, his favourite poker variant. That same year, he also won the Deuce to Seven Lowball tournament at “Amarillo Slim’s Superbowl of Poker”. Two years later, he decided the limit Seven-Card Stud tournament of the 1984 Grand Prix of Poker in his favour and took home $ 100,000.
In 1985 he came within an inch of two further WSOP titles. Although he did not win, he cashed a good $ 38,000 for coming second in no-limit Deuce to Seven Lowball, while his second place in pot-limit Omaha gained him $ 42,500.
In the following years, Chip finished in the money ranks regularly at the WSOP, a lot of the time he made it to the top 10. He also was quite successful at other renowned events (1985 and 1987 Grand Prix of Poker, 1986, 1986 and 1988 “Amarillo Slim’s Superbowl of Poker”...). His second place finish at the limit Hold’em tournament of the 5th Annual Diamond Jim Brady in 1989 made Chip $ 150,000 richer.
All through the 1990s, Chip Reese remained a fixture at the final tables of the tournament poker scene, and in 1991 he became the (then) youngest player to be inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame. At the 1992 Queens Poker Classic, Chip came second in two tournaments and third in yet another. He finished sixth in Seven-Card Stud at the 1993 WSOP and dominated the cash ranks of all significant professional poker events until 1995.
That year, Chip decided to turn his back on tournament poker and concentrate on cash-games exclusively. He had started a family and his impressive wins at the Bellagio’s “Big Game” helped him cope with bulging expenses. He increased his income with sports betting and joined the Computer Group who won millions of dollars betting with the aid of a specially developed programme.
In 2002, he participated in the 3rd Annual Jack Binion World Poker Open in Tunica and finished fifth, but apart from that, Chip Reese kept a low profile between 1995 and 2004 and only played the exclusive “Big Game” at the Bellagio at astronomical stakes.
Chip was a family man and spending time with his three children always came first to him. His poker colleagues had great respect and appreciation for his priorities; Barry Greenstein once said about Chip:
"He was a family man like no one else in poker. No matter what the situation was, if his kids had something going on - a baseball game, a recital, whatever - he would quit to go to it. Probably a lot of us were jealous of him that he was able to do that - that he had done well enough in poker that he could always take time off of poker to be involved with his kids."
And it was his children who finally made him come back to the tournament tables in 2004. Proud as they were of their father, they wanted to see him on television. At his first “TV appearance”, the no-limit Hold’em tournament at the 5th Annual Jack Binion World Poker Open (part of the World Poker Tour Season 2), he went all the way to fourth place, winning more than $ 200,000. That same year, he participated in two further WPT events, the Grand Prix de Paris and the Doyle Brunson North American No-limit Hold’em Poker Championship.
Naturally, the long-time pro could not give a miss to the prestigious Tournament of Champions. The 2004 Tournament of Champions was a freeroll invitational tournament – only the cream of the crop was invited. Poker celebrities like Phil “Poker Brat” Hellmuth, Doyle Brunson, Greg Raymer, Johnny “The Orient Express” Chan, Annie Duke and Howard Lederer competed for the staggering $ 2,000,000 in the pot. Chip Reese finished in 10th place and Annie Duke won the tournament.
Chip writing poker history
In 2005, Chip came fifth in the Poker Superstars Invitational Tournament and the year after, he emerged victorious from the $ 50,000 buy in no-limit HORSE tournament (a combination of Hold'em, Omaha Hi Lo Split, Razz, Seven-Card Stud and Eight or Better) at the World Series of Poker. This success earned him a fantastic $ 1,784,640 – as well as his third Gold WSOP bracelet.
This tournament is unique in many ways – its enormous buy in alone was enough to make it legendary. The duration of this tournament also was extraordinary – it turned out to be a downright poker marathon lasting 4 days in total, with 143 players giving all they had to secure the pot. The tournament was a strain on everybody: the first day lasted 14 hours, and the second day was even longer than the first. The tournament was taken up again at 12 a.m. and ended at 9 a.m. the next morning. After 21 hours of nonstop playing, the remaining nine finalists could eventually give themselves a little rest before they met again at the final table, twelve hours later. This final table seated only the best of the poker elite: poker giants like Phil Ivey (“The Tiger Woods of Poker”), Doyle Brunson, the charismatic Finn Patrik Antonius, T.J. Cloutier and Andy Bloch.
The last three players contending for the main prize were Phil Ivey, Andy Bloch and Chip Reese. Ivey, who was down on chips significantly, was finally eliminated, and Reese found himself heads-up with Bloch. It was to be a clash of poker colossi: two similar characters with similar playing style up against each other – it was destined to be a thrilling match. The heads-up contest exceeded all expectations, and when the sun rose on the horizon, the two opponents still sat at the final table, highly concentrated, brains rattling, poker faces impenetrable.
When the crowd of onlookers that had left the previous evening returned and found Chip Reese and Andy Block still playing for first place just the way they had left them the night before, they could hardly believe their eyes. At 9.12 a.m. precisely, Chip and Andy broke a record that had been considered unbreakable for decades: in the heads-up of the 1983 main event, Tom McEvoy and Rod Peate were locked in poker combat for seven hours, delivering the longest heads-up match of all times – until Reese and Bloch broke it to write WSOP history with the longest heads-up to this date.
Bloch entered the heads-up final with a slight advantage in chips, and for most of the time, he managed to keep things that way. He went all in with his opponent on several occasions, but Chip managed to bounce back and retaliate every time: One time, luck was on Chip’s side – he received just the card he needed to complete his straight and was back in the race. Another time, a flush saved him from elimination and Chip started to slowly gain chip leadership.
After more than 300 hands, the duel was finally coming to an end: Chip’s last hand consisted of A-Q and he had gone all in even before the flop. Andy Bloch only had few chips left and had to call with a hand of 9-8. The board showed J-7-7-4-4, so Chip’s Ace won him the tournament.
Placed second, Bloch went home with $ 1,029,600 – prize money he was not really interested in at first. He had maintained high hopes to win his first Gold WSOP Bracelet and was quite disappointed. One would really have to be a devoted member of the poker scene to fully understand that this match was not primarily about the money, but something rather different and more valuable to both contestants. Chip had once more defended his unofficial title of best all-round player and accepted his $ 1,784,640 along with his third Gold Bracelet. H.O.R.S.E. is considered the most difficult poker variant – no other demands as much versatility and skilfulness.
In an interview after this tournament, Chip remarked, “Being the best is not just about winning one day or two days - it's every day.”
Despite his obvious happiness about the victory, he felt sympathetic towards Andy Bloch: "I'm happy to win this but I feel badly for Andy, he deserved it just as much as I did."
Andy Beal vs. The Corporation
“Andy Beal versus The Corporation” was another highlight in Chip’s poker career. “The Corporation” was founded by Phil Ivey and its members were dedicated to pool enough money to challenge the renowned poker player, banker and millionaire Andy Beal. Apart from Chip and Phil, The Corporation consisted of Doyle Brunson, Todd Brunson, Jennifer Harman, Howard Lederer, Chau Giang, Barry Greenstein, Ted Forrest, Gus Hansen, Ming La and Johnny Chan. The team managed to fund 10 million dollars and took turns facing Beal heads-up at the Wynn in Las Vegas. Chip was the first to challenge the mathematical super mind. Two weeks later, Phil and The Corporation had lost everything. After a one-week break, Phil played against Beal for three days straight and won back all of the 10 million they had lost, plus an additional 6.5 million. This legendary defeat and the loss of 16.5 million dollar made Andy Beal swear never to play poker again.
The legendary match against Beal captivated the world of poker: big bets were placed and all kinds of speculations made. The media desperately tried to get at information about the game. The “Corporation”, however, created an atmosphere of mystery around the match and tried to keep secret what was actually happening at the table – It was a private match after all. Had they really wanted to keep the match secret, though, they probably would have played at one of their homes instead of using a private room in a Las Vegas casino. As it seems, the enormous public interest in the game was not entirely unintended.
The game of “Andy Beal vs. The Corporation” went down in poker history for involving some of the highest stakes ever recorded. American author Michael Craig even made it the subject of his book “The Professor, the Banker and the Suicide King. Inside the Richest Poker Game of All Time”. The title refers to Beal as well as two members of the Corporation. Mathematical poker mind Howard Lederer is “The Professor”, Andy Beal is “The Banker” and “The Suicide King” is the eccentric and exceptionally reckless Ted Forrest. “Suicide King” also refers to the King of Hearts because on this card, the king appears to sink his sword into his head.
An extraordinary poker talent and a unique personality
Most of his professional poker colleagues consider Chip Reese one of the best cash-game players, the best all-round player and also the best Seven-Card Stud player of all times.
A different factor which distinguishes Chip Reese from the masses is the fact that he has never entered a contract with an online poker room. He was a pleasant presence at the poker table, always behaved like a gentleman and he was never reluctant to support his colleagues when they were short of money. Chip, who had already proven that he had the gift of the gab when still in high school, was famous for talking others into a game or two of poker. Regardless of whether one was afraid of being stripped clean of cash by the master, regardless of lack of funding, energy or just the right mood, after a brief cross-examination by Chip, one usually ended up at the poker table. So legendary were his persuasive skills, his manoeuvres were endearingly called “Chip Talk” by those who knew him.
Barry Greenstein remembers being prey to Chip’s seductive tricks:
When asked how long he wanted to continue playing poker in an interview, Chip reputedly said,
“I’ll stop playing at my funeral, and only God knows what I’ll do after that.”
When away from the poker tables, Chip enjoys playing golf with his buddies Doyle Brunson and Barry Greenstein. The three of them played for a lot of money and challenged younger poker pros like Daniel Negreanu, Phil Ivey or Erick Lindgren.
Doyle and Chip were close friends and tried to realise some business ideas together. They had the most extraordinary schemes, but – original as their plans were – they were hardly ever successful. Investments in oil, diamond mines, race horses, the search for the Titanic and Noah’s Arc are only a few examples of their projects that nothing ever came of –still, Doyle and Chip had a good time musing about them together.
Doyle Brunson on those slightly eccentric plans:
"We went to look for the Titanic. We went to look for Noah's Ark! We were two of the biggest suckers whenever it came to business, but we both had poker to fall back on. Unfortunately, we always had to come back to poker to rescue ourselves."
Chip was also involved in the making of the TV series “Professional Poker League”, which was never to be aired. Due to a change of gambling laws in the US, sponsoring by online poker rooms and advertising was made very difficult and – to the great disappointment of Chip Reese – the project was finally abandoned.
An incredible shock for the poker world
Early December 4, 2007, sad news caught the world of poker completely unawares: the previous night, Chip Reese died unexpectedly at his house in Las Vegas, at the age of only 56.
According to a close family friend, Chip had called his doctor at about 10 p.m. and complained about symptoms indicating pneumonia. He did not admit himself to hospital, however and passed away in his sleep. Chip leaves behind his son Casey, his daughter Taylor and his stepdaughter Britney. He was divorced from his wife shortly before his unexpected death.
The public funeral service took place at the Palm Mortuary Northwest in Las Vegas, on December 7, 2007. Countless poker players came to pay their last respect to Chip – above all Doyle Brunson, who had been like family to Chip.
Doyle Brunson about Chip’s premature death:
"I have lost one of my oldest and dearest friends today. He was one of the most unique individuals I have ever known, and poker has lost one of the greats today. He's certainly the best poker player that ever lived."
The news of Chip’s decease also came as a heavy blow to Doyle’s son Todd Brunson:
"I have lost a mentor and friend today. He was like a family member to me."
The unexpected death of Chip Reese shook the poker world like an earthquake. Out of respect for one of the greatest poker players in history, a number of online poker rooms stopped all activity for minutes of mourning; brick-and-mortar casinos held mourning and memorial assemblies.
Jeffrey Pollack, head of the WSOP announced that future winners of the $ 50,000 HORSE tournament would receive the so-called “David Chip Reese Award” in commemoration of Chip’s outstanding achievements in poker.
Chip Reese has shaped the poker world like few other players have. He will always be remembered as the poker genius, the king of “Big Game” and the generous and amiable man he truly was.
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