David "Chip" Reese, a three-time World Series of Poker champion who was widely considered the best all-around poker player in the world, has died. He was 56.
Reese, who had been suffering from symptoms of pneumonia, died in his sleep at his home in Las Vegas and was found by his son, Casey, early Tuesday, poker great Doyle Brunson, a longtime friend, told The Times on Wednesday.
"Chip was the best poker player that ever lived," Brunson said.
A 1991 inductee into the Poker Hall of Fame -- the youngest player so honored -- Reese won the World Series of Poker championships in 1978, 1982 and 2006.
The 2006 event was a three-day H.O.R.S.E. tournament that combines the five most popular forms of poker. It attracted 143 players and had a record buy-in of $50,000.
As champion, the low-key Reese walked away with his biggest payday ever in tournament play: more than $1.78 million.
Reese, however, preferred to play high-stakes cash games with buy-ins as high as $1 million, which made tournament poker seem inconsequential by comparison.
"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," said Nolan Dalla, World Series of Poker media director. "But fame was never at the top of Chip Reese's list of priorities. He cared only about the money."
Dalla said Reese "had almost no ego, which is a very unusual character trait in the contemporary poker world. . . .Up until the last day of his life, Chip Reese could walk through an airport or sit in a restaurant and be completely unrecognized, which is an odd irony considering he may very well be the best to ever have played the game."
Brunson agreed that Reese didn't seek the spotlight.
"He's what I call the poker purist," Brunson said. "He enjoyed poker for itself, and he didn't go around trying to make a public fool of himself like some of these guys I see do."
World Poker Tour commentator Mike Sexton told The Times that "besides probably being the most successful player in the history of poker, Chip also was viewed as having the best demeanor at the table. He always stayed calm, even when he took a bad beat. And he never got upset at the dealer and never criticized opponents for the way they played their hand."
Unlike many high-stakes poker players who win a lot of money and then blow it, Sexton said, Reese once told him that "the object of the game is to increase your wealth, improve your lifestyle and provide for your family."
"Most poker players don't really understand the object of the game," Sexton said. "Chip understood it better than anybody."
Born in Centerville, Ohio, on March 28, 1951, Reese began playing poker at age 6, using baseball cards as chips.
He continued playing in high school. And he was such a formidable poker player in his fraternity house at Dartmouth College that when he graduated with a degree in economics in 1973 his classmates dedicated the card room in his honor.
Reese was planning to go to Stanford Law School when he and another phenomenal young poker player from Dayton, Ohio, Danny Robison, visited Las Vegas in 1974.
As recounted in a 1980 Washington Post story, Reese arrived in town with $400; and after slowly building his bankroll to $20,000 playing in moderate-stakes poker games, he joined a group of top gamblers playing hi-lo seven card stud at the Flamingo Hotel one night. He left the table with a $66,000 profit.
And, as the story goes, after arriving in Las Vegas for what was intended to be a weekend stay, Reese never left.
Over the years, he partnered with Brunson on nearly a dozen unsuccessful business ventures, including racehorses, TV stations, oil wells, mining and searching for the Titanic and Noah's Ark.
"We just took shots at everything," Brunson said. "Unfortunately, we always had to come back to poker to rescue ourselves."
In addition to his son, the recently divorced Reese is survived by his daughters, Taylor Reese and Brittney Shea; his sisters, Nancy Clark and Laurie Rockhold; and a grandson.
A funeral service for Reese will be held at 2 p.m. Friday at the Palm Mortuary, 6701 N. Jones, Las Vegas.
A memorial service for Reese will be held sometime next week at the Bellagio hotel.