If you’ve ever made the drive into Las Vegas with a pocketful of cash and a dream, the legend of David “Chip” Reese is right up your alley.
A talented student, Reese earned himself a scholarship to attend law school at Stanford University. While making the cross-country drive to California, Reese and a pal decided to take a pit stop in Sin City circa 1974.
Armed with only $400 and a natural acumen for Seven Card Stud poker, Reese decided to hit the card room. Within a day’s time, he had built that initial bankroll to over $20,000, enough to subsidize a year or two studying at Stanford with room to spare.
But like any true gambler would, Reese decided to let it ride, taking his newfound funds to the biggest Stud Poker game in town to tackle the local sharks. For most folks, a tale like this would end in misery and regret, as the up and coming poker player gets their clock cleaned by Las Vegas’ notorious local pros.
Reese wasn’t like most folks though, and in short order, he tripled his stake to leave the game with $66,000 in hand. In a 1980 profile published by the Washington Post, it was said that Reese walked the fine line between winning and losing his life’s savings.
As his friend packed up and prepared to hit the road for the last leg of their westward journey, Reese announced he wouldn’t be attending Stanford after all. Bitten by the high-stakes poker bug, Reese elected to skip school in lieu of a new career as a professional gambler.
Brief Biography of Chip Reese
Stumbling into situations was rare for the young Reese, a methodical thinker who excelled in his studies at every level.
As a young boy, Reese was confined to his home for a full year on doctor’s orders while dealing with a bout of rheumatic fever. This period of his life was spent learning and mastering games like baccarat, bridge, and poker skills which would eventually come in handy decades later.
Reese told his fellow poker pros that he was “really a product of that year,” attributing his innate talent at the poker table to a year spent with little else to do. At just six years old, Reese became a regular winner in impromptu poker games held by older children at his elementary school.
Beating his fellow students became a habit, and he went on to turn down an offer from Harvard University to attend another Ivy League institution in Dartmouth College. As a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, Reese spent his evenings schooling his brothers in games like Seven Card Stud and No Limit Texas Hold’em.
His prowess at the frat house’s poker table became so apparent that Beta Theta Pi later named its den the “David E. Reese Memorial Card Room” in his honor.
After earning his undergraduate degree from Dartmouth, Reese was ready to further his education at Stanford, until a detour to Las Vegas changed his life, and the world of poker, forever afterward.
Reese Teams up With Doyle Brunson
During his first few years grinding the Las Vegas high-stakes poker cash games, Reese regularly squared off with Doyle Brunson, one of the original “Texas Road Gamblers.”
Eventually, the two formed a lasting friendship based on their mutual love for the game of poker. In 1978, with Brunson fresh off winning the WSOP Main Event in back-to-back years (1976 and 1977), Reese decided to take a crack at the tournament format for himself.
Playing in one of his first WSOP events, Reese used his best game of Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo Eight or Better to earn a gold bracelet and $19,200 in prize money. Brunson and Reese wound up collaborating on the former’s legendary poker strategy book “Super/System: A Course in Power Poker” (1978), with the latter invited to write a chapter on Seven Card Stud.
Choosing a Steady Living Over WSOP Gold and Glory
A second WSOP win would follow in 1982, when Reese took down the $5,000 buy-in Seven Card Stud event for $92,500. Reese went on to record a pair of runner-up finishes at the 1985 WSOP, followed by another at the 1988 edition, but his focus remained on the more lucrative cash games.
Mike Sexton, a fellow poker pro and founder of the World Poker Tour (WPT) who was Reese’s close friend, once mentioned that the late Stu Ungar might’ve been Reese’s equal on the felt. But it was Reese’s sharp retort, later recounted by Sexton when speaking to the Las Vegas Advisor, which revealed his personal poker philosophy:
“Maybe. But it doesn’t matter. He never understood the object of the game. The object of the game was to continually grow your wealth, continually improve your lifestyle, and take care of your family. All Stuey wanted to do was to gamble every day as high as he could and go on drug binges.”
“Had Chip Reese focused on tournament poker instead of cash-game play, he very well might have been the greatest player in World Series of Poker history. But fame was never at the top of Chip Reese’s list of priorities. He cared only about the money.”
Reese became a staple in the largest poker games held in Las Vegas, often serving as the organizer by inviting well-heeled “whales” for his fellow sharks to feast upon.
Reese’s preternaturally calm and humble demeanor made him the perfect go-between for poker pros and wealthy businessmen, tourists, and other folks who didn’t mind dusting off stacks of cash in exchange for taking on the game’s greats.
His friends and opponents revered Reese for never “tilting,” or allowing his emotions to boil over after a bad beat.
Reese Returns to WSOP to Win the Title of a Lifetime
For decades, Reese dedicated his time at the tables to beating the biggest cash games in town.
In fact, between 1995 and 2002, Reese recorded exactly zero tournament cashes. But when the “poker boom” was sparked in 2003, tournament prize pools suddenly swelled to the point where even Reese was tempted to take a shot.
In 2006, the WSOP hosted its inaugural $50,000 buy-in H.O.R.S.E. event, a mixed game tournament featuring five variants—Texas Hold’em, Omaha Hi-Lo Eight or Better, Razz, Seven Card Stud, and Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo Eight or Better.
At the time, the $50,000 buy-in made the WSOP H.O.R.S.E. World Championship the largest poker tournament ever held. Reese showed up to play alongside 142 other top-tier pros, each of whom had the $1.7 million first-place payout in their sights.
After three grueling days on the felt, Reese played his way to the final table where a murderer’s row of elite poker talent awaited. His old buddy Brunson was there, holding a second-place stack to find himself trailing only Reese.
Brunson wound up bowing out early after a big loss, but Reese played his way into a heads-up duel against fellow top pro Andy Bloch. During a marathon heads-up session lasting over seven hours, setting a new WSOP record in the process, Bloch built big leads on several occasions.
Even so, Reese continually clawed his way back into contention, eventually amassing most of the chips in play before dealing Bloch the death blow. You can watch Reese, Brunson, and other top pros like Phil Ivey battle it out at the 2006 WSOP $50,000 buy-in H.O.R.S.E. final table here, courtesy of ESPN’s coverage.
With his third gold bracelet in hand, Reese was asked to expound on his WSOP legacy by industry media outlet PokerListings:
“I won them so long ago I can’t remember what they were for, but I know I won one for Seven-Card Stud, which was a big deal at the time.
But back then the bracelets weren’t such a big deal, and I didn’t even play in the World Series for ten years. Had I known that the bracelets were going to become so important, I would have played in a lot more tournaments.
But, I’m really happy to win this event. It’s the first time they’ve had this event, and I think it’s going to be a very popular event.
I know that the top pros think it’s their favorite event and I’m really happy to have won it.”
And while he might have been reticent to revel in the seven-figure score, fellow pros like Daniel Negreanu were happy to celebrate Reese’s legacy-defining victory.
Untimely Death and a Lasting Legacy at the WSOP
Reese would go on to earn one more cash game at the WSOP in 2007, but that December, complications from a blood clot and pneumonia combined to fell the poker giant in his sleep at the age of 56.
Brunson remembered his late friend by lionizing him as the “greatest poker player who ever lived.” Former WSOP commissioner Jeffrey Pollack echoed those sentiments, calling Reese “the greatest cash game player who ever lived, but also a World Series of Poker legend.”
In 2008, the WSOP began awarding the “David ‘Chip’ Reese Memorial Trophy” to the champion of its $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. event, which is known today as the Poker Player’s Championship.
They simply don’t make poker players like Chip Reese anymore. The man lived and breathed poker at the highest levels. But unlike many of his contemporaries who became destructively consumed by the game, Reese never failed to care for his family, donate to charity, and use his winnings for the greater good.
Stories like his, beginning with a detour to Las Vegas and a dream of winning big, don’t normally happen in real life, but Reese was always a larger-than-life figure anyway.
Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. ...
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