Before his untimely death, Chip Reese was one of the most feared players on the felt. For over thirty years Reese was the epitome of the “old school” poker player, always in control of his emotions whatever the game and stakes in play. These talents at the tables have led many to call Reese one of the greatest players that the game has ever seen.
Reese’s lineage in the game started even before he began to terrorize the felt around the world. Born in Dayton, OH, David Reese (his given name) took to playing poker against childhood buddies at the age of six for baseball cards. As he got older, his acumen at the game caught the attention of other Dayton players, most notably Mike Sexton, and he continued to play on through his college years. After his graduation in 1974 from Dartmouth with a degree in economics, Reese was set on law school and headed west to Stanford.
On the way to a life as a barrister, however, Reese found what was to be his true calling. A pre-Stanford stop in Las Vegas (a location which Chip had visited on several occasions) and a victory in a Seven Card Stud tournament in 1974 netted him a nice starting bankroll of $60,000 which, as it would turn out, converted Reese into a professional poker player. What was the legal professions loss (and potentially a significant one) turned out to be the basis for a man who became a legend of the game.
For the next three decades, Reese toiled in his new hometown of Las Vegas and wherever else the best game was in what may be the true meaning of a professional: the cash game world. Chip played in ring games against some of the toughest players in the world, including Doyle Brunson and Lyle Berman, and would travel anywhere to play for the highest stakes. Brunson thought enough of Reese’s skills that he tapped him to write the Seven Card Stud section for his seminal poker book Super/System.
It is unknown how much Chip may have won during that time but estimates would have it easily in the millions. He also found the time along the way to take down two World Series of Poker bracelets in 1978 and 1982 (both Seven Card tournaments) and become the youngest member ever inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1991.
While he was able to make a healthy living from only cash games, the birth of the World Poker Tour and his children gradually pushed him back into the tournament world. Arguing that they had never seen him play poker on television, Reese started playing WPT events, earning a fourth place finish at the Jack Binion World Poker Open in 2004 and picking up four more cash finishes in the next three years. This perhaps prepared him for what was to be the greatest tournament championship of his career.
2006 saw the creation of the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. tournament at the World Series and Chip found his way to what was potentially the toughest final table in history. Alongside such poker notables as Brunson, Phil Ivey and T. J. Cloutier and playing what was arguably not his best game in No Limit Hold ‘Em (the first WSOP H.O.R.S.E. final table was a NL affair for television reasons,) Reese was able to get to heads up action against Andy Bloch. After an epic eight hour battle in which the two gladiators swapped the chip lead, Chip Reese was able to capture the first $50K H.O.R.S.E. event at the World Series and his third bracelet. The $1.7+ million that he won became a significant portion of his lifetime tournament earnings of around $2.8 million.
December 4th, 2007 will be remembered as a dark day in the annals of poker history. The poker world awoke to the news that Reese had passed away in his sleep the night before (some say the effects of pneumonia, others believe a heart attack) and the poker world mourned the loss of a great champion. Tournaments around the world paused for a moment of silence to reflect on such a devastating loss and, most notably, the World Series decided to rename the trophy given to the $50K H.O.R.S.E. champion the “Chip Reese Memorial Trophy”. While the accolade was a fitting one, the poker world will have a difficult time replacing one of the greatest players ever in Chip Reese.