David "Chip" Reese, a poker star who won one of the biggest cash games in the world and three World Series of Poker championships, died last week at his Las Vegas home. He was 56.
Reese died in his sleep and was found by his son early Tuesday morning after suffering from symptoms of pneumonia, said poker great Doyle Brunson, his longtime friend.
"I knew him for 35 years, I never saw him get mad or raise his voice,’’ Brunson said. "He had the most even disposition of anyone I’ve ever met. He’s certainly the best poker player that ever lived.’’
Brunson added that Reese appeared to have died of a heart attack after learning he had pneumonia the same day.
Brunson and Reese played regularly at Bobby’s Room in the Bellagio Hotel in an event called The Big Game, in which $100,000 buys a seat and $2 million can be won or lost.
Reese was part of a generation of players in the 1970s that challenged established greats like Brunson, Thomas "Amarillo Slim" Preston Jr. and Walter Clyde "Puggy" Pearson.
Brunson and Reese eventually became business partners, investing in everything from oil wells and mining to TV stations and racehorses and becoming sports betting consultants.
None of the ventures was successful, Brunson said.
"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," Brunson said. "Thank God we could play, so we always survived."
At age 6, Reese was beating fifth-graders at card games. After attending Dartmouth College, Reese was on his way to Stanford business school in the early 1970s when he stopped by a Las Vegas poker room and won big, said World Series of Poker media director Nolan Dalla.
"He just accidentally stumbled into Las Vegas and never left,’’ Dalla said.
His immediate success at cash games and low-key persona won him friends, even among those who wound up passing him their chips.
Despite winning three World Series champion’s bracelets over the last four decades, including a $1.8 million HORSE event in 2005 that combines five poker disciplines, Reese focused his attention on high-stakes cash games away from the limelight.
"I’ve seen him with a million dollars in front of him,’’ said Dalla, describing how Reese would put out racks of $5,000 chips "like he was betting a few bucks."
"I can bet $100,000 and feel nothing," he said in an interview with People magazine in 2003. "If you think about the money and what it means, you’re gone."
Reese’s prowess at both cash and tournament play was cemented with his 2005 win, said World Series of Poker commissioner Jeffrey Pollack.
"Many consider Chip the greatest cash-game player who ever lived,’’ Pollack said in a news release. ``His victory in the inaugural $50,000 buy-in HORSE championship ... made him a part of WSOP lore forever.’’
Reese became the 19th person inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1991, the third living player and the youngest.
In his last years, Reese played publicly only so his children could see him on television. In 2006, he entered a new World Series event that required professionals to play five separate poker games, rather than only Texas Hold’em, the usual televised game. Organizers reasoned that playing Omaha, Razz, seven-card stud and Eight or better Hi-Lo — in addition to Hold’em — would determine a true champion.
Reese is survived by a son, a daughter and a stepdaughter, Brunson said. He was recently divorced from his wife. Funeral services were held last Friday at Palm Mortuary.
The Reese family has requested that, in lieu of flowers or other gifts, cash donations may be made to the Alzheimer’s Association in Chip’s name.name.