The poker world woke to shocking news this morning, the unexpected death of poker legend David 'Chip' Reese. Reese passed away suddenly after being hospitalized in Las Vegas last night; he had been being treated in recent days for what he described as "mild pneumonia. Unknown at this point is whether Reese's passing was due to this pneumonia or to other medical causes. Reese suffered rheumatic fever as a child and may have had some organ damage, and he also underwent gastric bypass surgery several years ago, a procedure that increases the lifetime risk for blood clots.
Reese's death produced both a wave of shock and a rapid outpouring of condolences and statements from close friends, though one of Reese's closest friends, Doyle Brunson, asked for a break after being besieged by media inquiries for a statement. Brunson was reportedly with Reese's family soon after news spread, with the first public note perhaps being a brief message by Daniel Negreanu --- like Reese and Brunson, a frequent 'Big Game' participant --- on the forums at Full Contact Poker.
Other public expressions of grief and sympathy soon popped up from major pros around the globe, perhaps none more pained than an eight-an-half-minute audio blog from Barry Greenstein at ThePokerRoad.com. Mike Sexton quickly offered a statement for PokerNews, and Nolan Dalla, media director for the World Series of Poker, quickly issued a statement offering condolences from WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack:
Harrah’s Entertainment, Inc. and the World Series of Poker® issued the following statement today to express condolences to the family, friends and fans of poker great David “Chip” Reese, who died today following a brief illness.
“Many consider Chip the greatest cash-game player who ever lived, but he was also a World Series of Poker legend,” said WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack. “His victory in the inaugural $50,000 buy-in HORSE championship in 2006 won him his third WSOP bracelet.and made him a part of WSOP lore forever.
“On behalf of the WSOP and Harrah’s Entertainment, I want to extend to his family our deepest sympathies,” Pollack said.
Reese's victory in the '06 H.O.R.S.E. championship was a landmark for a player who ha eschewed the bright lights and notoriety of the tournament scene in favor of being perhaps the most dominant cash-game player of all time. The 'Big Game' at the Bellagio was generally recognized as Chip's game, as had all major cash games in Vegas since Reese's arrival three decaded prior. Reese, a graduate of Dartmouth --- where the fraternity room where he victimized his frat brthers at poker was renamed the David E. Reese Memorial Card Room in his honor, following his graduation --- never made it to Stanford, where he planned to pursue his law degree. Reese stopped by Vegas to try his hand at poker before school began, quickly made $40,000, and soon scrapped the idea of becoming a lawyer altogether. From such auspicious starts are legends born, but Reese followed it up by consistently besting the world's toughest players for more than 30 years.
Still, it wasn't until he claimed the bracelet in the 2006 WSOP H.O.R.S.E. event that Reese began receiving more acclaim from the general poker public. Reese once went years without playing a WSOP event an doubtless would have won more than the three bracelets he collected, had he chosen to pursue that path; it was only at the urging of his children that Reese, in recent years, decided to give tournament poker a whirl.
The H.O.R.S.E. win, of course, will stand as an important part of his legacy. The new $50,000 event was already cited by many major Vegas pros as being the real 'professional' championship of the WSOP, given the overly large fields and crapshoot nature of the modern WSOP Main Event. The 2006 H.O.R.S.E. tourney featured table after tables stuffed with poker's biggest names, but when the cards finally ceased being shuffled several days later, it was Reese who emerged as the champ, the survivor of a legendary, seven-hours-plus heads-up duel against Andy Bloch. The $1,784,640 first prize was by far the largest tournament cash of his career --- in fact, Reese never made a WSOP Main Event final table --- but he won untold millions in cash games.