David E. Reese developed a reputation as a rounder at an early age.
Growing up in Dayton, Ohio, he often schooled older kids on his street in poker, pocketing their baseball cards and returning home victorious. His card prowess only increased after he contracted rheumatic fever in the early years of elementary school.
With her son forced to stay away from school for most of the year, Chip's mom stayed at home as well and taught him to play all sorts of board and card games.
As a teenager, Chip was a regular at the felt and often bellied up next to Mike Sexton, later to be host of the World Poker Tour. Aside from poker Chip also played some football and was a member of the debate team.
He was particularly good at debating and won the Ohio State Championship before moving on to the National Finals.
After high school he was accepted to Harvard University but opted to study economics at Dartmouth College instead. There, he continued to play poker and often competed against professors and members of his fraternity, which later named their card room the "David E. Reese Memorial Card Room" in his honor.
Summer Vegas Trip Changes Everything
Chip planned to study law at Stanford University following his undergraduate degree, but a summer trip to Las Vegas altered his plans.
While driving west to set up shop at his new school, the 23-year-old stopped by Sin City to visit a friend. He had $400 in his pocket, which he promptly lost playing blackjack.
The next day he took a job with his friend's dad to earn some pocket money and took up low-limit Seven-Card Stud. After a summer of practice Chip bought-in to a $500 event at the Sahara casino and ended up with first place and its $50,000 prize.
Needless to say, he didn't leave Vegas. In fact, by the time September rolled around, Chip had amassed a bankroll of over $100,000. Soon after, he joined forces with fellow Daytonian Danny Robison and together they decided to take on the pros.
After three days of straight play against a slew of intimidating adversaries, including Doyle Brunson - who eventually became one of his closest friends - and Johnny Moss, Chip netted a $300,000 profit.
The win allowed him some leeway with his bankroll and he began to play different games like Hold'em and Razz.
The Best 7 Stud Player in the World
As the 1970s rolled on, Chip became known as the best Seven-Card Stud player in the world - a reputation endorsed by Brunson himself. Doyle was so impressed with Chip's skills he asked him to write the chapter on Seven-Card Stud for his bestselling poker tome, Super/System.
Shortly after, in 1978 and again in 1982, Chip won bracelets in two different Seven-Card Stud events.
His skill at the table wasn't the only thing buoying his bankroll, though. Chip took a job as the card room manager at the Dunes Casino (now the Bellagio) when he was 28, a position he held for five years.
When he was in his mid-30s he settled down to raise a family and took a step back from tournament play, although he continued to place high and cash big in major tournaments throughout the late 1980s and 1990s.
Youngest Ever in Poker Hall of Fame
In 1991, at the age of 40, he was honored as the youngest player to be inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame. (Phil Hellmuth broke that record in 2006.)
During this time Chip focused on the Big Game at the Bellagio and on sports betting to earn an income and support his family. Known as an adept baseball handicapper, Chip became a member of the "Computer Group" and earned millions by using a computer program designed to handicap sporting events.
A devoted family man and father, Chip was capable of dropping everything to spend time with his three children, a trait envied by many of his friends.
"He was a family man like no one else in poker," said Barry Greenstein. "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."
A Return to Tournament Poker
In fact it was his kids who got him back into tournaments. In 2004 Chip returned to the tournament arena at the behest of his children, who wanted to see him competing on TV with the rest of his friends.
And compete he did. Between October 2004 and June 2007, Chip cashed in 11 major tournaments - including five WPT and four WSOP events - and nailed his most memorable win: first place in the inaugural H.O.R.S.E. event at the 2006 WSOP.
The H.O.R.S.E. win cemented Chip's reputation as the best all-around player in the world, as many of poker's top pros consider the $50,000 mixed-game event to be the true test of a player's skills.
"Most of us, especially old-school players like myself, feel that Chip is the greatest all-around poker player that ever lived," Mike Sexton told the Las Vegas Sun in a 2007 interview.
"That's especially true when it came to playing multiple games. That's why we were so happy to see him win the $50,000 HORSE tournament. It certified his status as the best all-around player."
Indeed, it was a battleground fit for la crème de la crème of poker. Final-table players included Doyle Brunson, Phil Ivey, Dewey Tomko, T.J. Cloutier, Patrik Antonius and David Singer, not to mention Chip and eventual runner-up Andy Bloch.
Despite the stellar lineup, few were surprised to see Chip win top spot. He took the event after facing Andy in the longest heads-up battle ever played in WSOP history, and after seven hours and 286 hands, Chip stood up to collect his $1.78 million and a third gold bracelet.
Post-humously, the trophy awarded to the winner of the $50k Poker Players Championship was renamed the Chip Reese Trophy.
Big-Money Golf, Big-Money Business
Away from the poker table, Chip spent hours playing big-money golf with his poker buddies Doyle and Barry. The trio of poker legends would take on the younger generation of pros like Daniel Negreanu, Erick Lindgren and Phil Ivey, and wager hundreds of thousands of dollar on a single stroke.
In addition to golf, Doyle and Chip also teamed up in multiple business ventures, investing in oil, racehorses and TV, among other things. According to Brunson, none of their attempts to make a buck away from the poker table were ever successful.
"We went to look for the Titanic. We went to look for Noah's Ark," Brunson quipped to the Las Vegas Sun in 2007. "We were two of the biggest suckers whenever it came to business, but we both had poker to fall back on."
Chip was also passionately involved in the Professional Poker League, an invitation-only, made-for-TV poker series that aimed to bring 64 pro players together to face off in teams of eight. The league held a draft at the Venetian in October 2006 but never got off the ground.
The passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in the United States made it difficult for the PPL to secure necessary funding and advertising revenue, and the league was disbanded, to the great dismay of Chip.
He soldiered on, however. He continued to dominate the cash game tables, taking on anyone willing to ante up. His peers were continually impressed with his gentleman-like manners, bottomless generosity and the fact that he never went on tilt. He was one of the most respected poker players alive.
Chip Reese Dies at 56
On December 4, 2007, the poker world awoke to the shocking news of Chip's untimely death. At just 56 years of age the poker legend had passed away in his sleep.
Poker players the world over expressed shock and sadness over his death and turned out in large numbers at Chip's funeral, which was held on Dec. 7, 2007 in Las Vegas.
Daniel Negreanu, Doyle Brunson and Bobby Baldwin were just some of the pros in attendance, with Brunson and Baldwin delivering heartfelt eulogies and sharing humorous memories.
The next week the WSOP announced that future winners of the $50,000 Poker Players Championship would receive the "David ‘Chip' Reese Award" in honor of Chip's poker accomplishments and the professional and personal attributes which made him so popular amongst his peers.
A legend in his own time Chip has left a legacy that will be carried into the future by those who loved him and loved to play against him.
He will be remembered as a graceful and devastatingly skillful player who embodied the greatest aspects of poker, and as a loving, devoted family man whose efforts at balancing his personal and professional relationships always inspired respect and admiration away from the green felt.
Barry Greenstein on Chip Reese:
"I consider Chip to be the Jack Nicklaus of poker. He took on all comers for 30 years and won the most money. If an opponent is struggling, Chip will stay and gamble with him and make a big score.
If Chip isn’t doing well, he will minimize his losses and may even put his ego aside and quit and wait for another day. His skill and control make him the prototype successful big-limit player.
Before I played in the biggest games with Chip, I used to stop by the game and take a look at who was playing. I wanted to play, but it would have taken my entire bankroll.
Chip would always try to entice any potential players into playing in the game. He was the king of the hill. He used to say to me in his somewhat patronizing way that we now teasingly call Chip-talk, 'Buddy, we’ve got the perfect game for you. We’re playing all of your best games. I can’t believe you’re not gonna take a shot.”