None other than Doyle Brunson himself referred to his longtime friend David “Chip” Reese as “arguably the greatest poker player who ever lived,” and that praise has been echoed by the game’s most respected figures over the years.
Born on March 28th, 1951 in Centerville, Ohio, poker became an integral part of David Edward Reese’s life almost immediately. Reese began his poker education at the tender age of six, after a year spent indoors while suffering from a bout of rheumatic fever gave him plenty of time to spend playing board games and cards with his mother.
During his first year attending elementary school Reese discovered a group of fifth-graders playing in their very own poker game. The stakes at the time were baseball cards, a commodity even more valuable than cash to a young boy, and Reese put his mother’s teachings to work. Within a few weeks Reese had cleaned his elders out, building the biggest baseball card collection on the block by virtue of his natural poker talent. Later in life Reese would look back on the time spend studying new games with his mother fondly, telling friends “I’m really a product of that year.”
In addition to poker, Reese had several other interests as a young man, playing football and standing out as a star member of his high school debate team. Reese’s debate team ultimately captured the Ohio State Championship and attended the National Finals. His success as a student led Reese to gain acceptance to Harvard University, but he decided to attend Dartmouth College instead. It was there that Reese earned a degree in Economics, but poker never strayed far from his mind, and he became a regular in private games on campus, many of which pitted him against his own professors. Reese’s fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, eventually christened its card room the “David E. Reese Memorial Card Room” in his honor.
Reese planned to continue his education by enrolling in the Stanford School of Law, but a fortuitous side trip to Las Vegas in 1974 changed his life – and the world of poker – forever.
Arriving in town with $800 between himself and friend Danny Robison, who went on to become Reese’s longtime staking partner, Reese quickly lost his $400 at the blackjack tables. By securing a part-time job selling land, however, Reese was able to rebuild a small bankroll, and he quickly put it to work at Sin City’s small-stakes Seven-Card Stud tables. Within days Reese was crushing the competition and moving up in stakes, drawing the attention of legendary poker pro Doyle Brunson in the process. As Brunson described in his famous instructional tome on all things poker, 1978’s Syper/System, Reese caught his eye almost immediately:
“It was in the Card Room in the Flamingo Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas in 1974 when I first saw Chip at a poker table. He looked like some kid right out of college (which he was). Like all of the local pros, I looked his bankroll over and ‘licked my chops.’ We (the local pros) are used to seeing ‘hometown champions.’ Little did I realize as I drooled over the prospect of winning his money, I was looking at one of the two finest young (under 30) all-around poker players in the world.
That night, and the many nights that followed, Chip won my respect grudgingly and then my admiration as I watched him consistently beat the top players in town (which means the top players in the world).”
As evidenced by Reese’s inclusion as a contributor to Brunson’s Super/System – still the highest-selling poker book ever published – the two rounders became fast friends after this initial meeting. Brunson instantly recognized Reese’s innate talent for poker, and especially for the Seven-Card Stud variant which was favored in the high-stakes games at the time:
“In addition to being a fundamentally sound player, he has the best natural instincts about what to do in difficult situations than any card player I’ve sat at the table with.
Although he’s a super all-around card player, at his specialty – Seven-Card Stud – Chip appears to be on a different plateau from everyone else. And by everyone else, I mean the best Seven-Stud players in the world. Without a doubt, Chip’s the best Seven-Card Stud player I’ve ever played against.”
As his first summer in Las Vegas wound down Reese decided to dabble in the tournament scene, parting with $500 to enter an event at the Sahara Casino. When the final pot was played it was Reese who captured every chip in play, along with $40,000 in cash for his efforts. By the time school was starting back up at Stanford, Reese had built his bankroll to over $100,000 – convincing him once and for all that Vegas was where he would call home.
Over the next few years Reese became a fixture in the high-stakes games populated by poker icons like Brunson and Johnny Moss. His reputation as a straight shooter with integrity to spare led him to accept a position as Poker Room Manager for the Dunes Casino in the late 1970s. There, Reese helped to cleanse Las Vegas’ high-stakes circuit of the widespread cheating that plagued big games at the time, and eventually the Dunes became a sanctuary for big-name players looking for a fair game.
Reese won his first gold bracelet at the 1978 World Series of Poker, taking top honors in the $1,000 buy-in Seven-Card Stud Split event. While the high-stakes cash games remained his focus, Reese continued to excel at the annual tournament series, reaching three final tables at the 1981 WSOP alone. Reese earned his second bracelet in 1982 by winning another Seven-Card Stud event – this time the $5,000 buy-in version which boasted a $92,500 first-prize payout.
In 1991 Reese was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame, becoming the youngest living inductee at the time at the age of 40.
During the next 20 years Reese continued to dominate the biggest poker games in the world, standing as a consistent winner in a city where many of the game’s best players managed to go broke. Cash games remained his bread and butter during this time, but Reese still managed to accumulate more than 50 tournament cashes, good for more than $2 million in live earnings by 2006. Along the way he started a family at the age of 35, while settling down a bit and playing less poker. A series of successful sports betting systems allowed Reese to reinvest his poker income and maintain a comfortable lifestyle, so much so that he never left Las Vegas.
In 2006 achieved by far his most momentous poker milestone, at least in the general public’s eye. That year featured the WSOP’s inaugural Poker Player’s Championship event, a $50,000 buy-in H.O.R.S.E. tournament designed to test all-around skill in five distinct poker variants. A total of 143 entries were recorded for what many believed to be the most prestigious poker tournament in the world next to the $10,000 buy-in Main Event. By the time the final table was set, Reese found himself sitting alongside his old pal Brunson, some 30 years after the pair first met. Brunson bowed out in 8th place, while Reese closed the deal to become the event’s first champion. He earned an astounding $1.78 million for the win, along with his third gold bracelet and the enduring respect of the poker community.
Just one year later that community came together to collectively mourn Reese’s sudden passing, after he died in his sleep on December 4th, 2007. While Reese had been suffering from pneumonia at the time, his passing was nonetheless a shock to friends and family, coming only a year after his crowning achievement took place. Many friends speculated at the time that a recent gastric bypass procedure Reese had undergone may have caused a blood clot or similar complication. Nonetheless, Reese’s best friend offered a fitting tribute upon learning the sad news, as Brunson declared, “He’s certainly the greatest poker player that ever lived.”
In 2008 the WSOP paid tribute to Reese by naming the Poker Player’s Championship trophy in his honor. To this day the game’s most skilled players compete for the “David ‘Chip’ Reese Memorial Trophy,” and many in the game consider the event as poker’s true championship.