David "Chip" Reese, whose mix of intellect, poise and nerve propelled him to renowned eminence among the minuscule club of those who convene to wager millions on poker games, died Dec. 4 at his home in Las Vegas. He was 56.
His friend Doyle Brunson, also a renowned poker player, said Reese appeared to have died of a heart attack the same day he learned he had pneumonia.
At age 6, Reese was beating fifth-graders at card games. He so dominated poker play at his Dartmouth fraternity that it named the card room after him. He was admitted to Stanford Law School but gave up plans to go there after stopping in Las Vegas and turning $400 into $66,000. His placid sans-souci mien was a professional gambler's dream.
"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 won three World Series of Poker events, the crown jewels of tournament poker, but his preference was for high-stakes private games with high rollers.
Even as better-known poker players appeared under bright lights for television, he lurked off camera in games with considerably more remunerative potential.
"Many consider Chip the greatest cash player who ever lived," said Jeffrey Pollack, commissioner of the World Series of Poker.
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 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.
David Edward Reese was born March 28, 1951, in Centerville, Ohio, and attributed his later success to contracting rheumatic fever during his first year of elementary school. His mother stayed at home and taught him card games. Once he was well, he won almost every baseball card in the neighborhood.
In high school, he played football and debated, winning an Ohio state championship and advancing to the national finals. At Dartmouth, he vanquished professors as well as students at bridge, gin rummy and poker.
It was in 1974 that Reese visited Las Vegas with $400 in his pocket and slowly built his bankroll to $20,000 in moderate-stakes poker games. One evening at the Flamingo Hotel, he decided he could beat the high rollers at seven-card stud, his game. He left with $66,000 and the beginning of a reputation. His first World Series victories were in 1978 and 1982.
Reese also won big and regularly in other forms of gambling, including backgammon, chess and sports betting; he and Brunson also ran a successful sports-betting tout service for a time, until the Securities and Exchange Commission tightened rules for 900 phone numbers.
Unlike many, Reese could leave a table when he was losing: He was once $700,000 behind when he left to watch his son's Little League game.