Chip Reese, considered by some the greatest poker player ever, died of a heart attack on Tuesday. Chip was a three-time winner of the World Series of Poker, but preferred to play in private high-stakes games. When he was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1991 at age 40, he became the youngest inductee ever.
Chip attended Dartmouth with us. He had been a star debater in high school and joined the Dartmouth Forensic Union, where John and I got to know him. I don’t remember him debating much at Dartmouth, but he liked to hang around the DFU as a freshman, and we talked a lot about sports and became friends.
I was only vaguely aware of his blossoming campus reputation as a poker player, but I could tell he was a shrewd sports bettor. Early one college football season (probably 1970) he advised me to bet heavily on Ohio State in the Michigan game that would take place many weeks later. Michigan had defeated Ohio State the year before, ending a long OSU winning streak, and was widely considered the nation’s best team. Chip told me that his grandfather was a friend of Woody Hayes (Ohio State’s legendary coach) and that Hayes been gunning for Michigan since the end of the previous year’s upset defeat. Hayes had privately expressed confidence that his Buckeyes would beat the Wolverines. Ohio State won the game, Chip made a ton of money, and I won a few bucks.
Chip must have done very well academically too, because he was admitted to Stanford law school. That summer, though, he visited Las Vegas and parlayed $400 into $66,000. He never made it to Palo Alto.
Years later, I read that Chip had contemplated going to law school in his late 30s, after he had conquered the poker world. On a trip back to Ohio, though, he again turned his back on a law career after talking to several successful lawyers at a party. They all told him he would be crazy to give up his poker career for the law and that, if they could, they would make the reverse move in a heartbeat.
Chip figured out that they weren’t bluffing and that he had the winning hand.
JOHN adds: I didn’t know Chip well at Dartmouth and it was only long after the fact that I realized that he was one of the greatest gamblers of all time. In the early 1980s, an associate in my law firm who had known Chip at Dartmouth participated in a wedding of a college classmate that was held in Las Vegas. He returned with colorful stories about Chip, who had set the record for winnings as a Las Vegas rookie by earning something like $3 or $4 million in his first year there. I believe it was around the same time that the New Yorker magazine, which I subscribed to then–hard to imagine now–did a three or four part series on the World Series of Poker, in which Chip was one of the principal players.
Some years after that, I did a lot of legal work in Alaska. I worked with a lawyer in the Matanuska Valley who, like so many Alaskans, was a bit of an eccentric. He was both a chess champion and a poker champion, and had played in the World Series of Poker himself. One day, eating lunch somewhere in Alaska, I casually mentioned that I’d known Chip Reese in college. That was the first thing I ever said that impressed my friend.
In still later years, my son became a remarkably good poker player. He studied the history of the game and was impressed by the fact that I had known one of poker’s greats. Of course, all I knew at the time was that he wasn’t a particularly good debater. I misjudged a number of others in the same way, but that’s another story.
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