I didn't know Chip Reese all that well. I might have played a grand total of a hundred hands with him at the table, always in tournaments, never in a cash game. I spent a grand total of about four hours in my life talking to him. And yet, his early death affected me in a much more profound way than I would have expected. Described as a "poker player's poker player" by many, revered as the greatest player in the game, and winner of one of the most publicized and important poker tournaments in the history of the game, Chip had it all: respect, money, fame, devoted friends and a loving family.
Three hundred-plus people showed up for his funeral in Las Vegas a week ago. I recognized many. The eulogies were heartfelt, sincere, and there was a sense of astonishment and vulnerability in the crowd. The unvoiced sentiment: If Chip, the best of the best, can go too soon, any of us can go.
In story after story, it struck me that two attributes kept creeping into descriptions of Chip's mastery of the game and life: commitment and consistency.
"Chip was the most levelheaded guy I've ever met."
"Chip had nothing but his A-game all the time."
"Chip never went on tilt."
"I never heard Chip raise his voice."
"Chip would beat you out of your whole bankroll and then loan all the money back to you knowing that he would probably never see a dime of it."
"Chip may not have been the most talented player, but his D-game was way better than almost everyone else's A-minus-game."
"Chip never missed his son's baseball game or practice. He was the most committed family man I've ever known."
In a game where the variance is ridiculously high, the swings monstrous and the opportunities for self-destruction are around every corner, it is not at all surprising that the biggest winner in the game, the guy most respected for his ability to take down the cash, is none other than a guy who embodied those two traits.
Would it have been possible for Chip to survive 30-plus years as the best in the game if he were inconsistent or uncommitted to playing his best game all the time? Could he have weathered the storms of variance without going broke if he didn't have his levelheaded approach? I sincerely doubt it.
As I said out the outset, I didn't know Chip well. But, I'm certain that I'll be a better player because of him. The game will be better because of Chip, as well.
On Monday, just three days after the funeral, I went to the Bellagio poker room. The Five Diamond classic was on and the $5,000 no-limit tournament was in full swing. There in Bobby's Room were the usual suspects -- Harman, Brunson, Elezra, Benyamine and more. The game was a bit quieter than usual, perhaps Chip's memory still fresh in the minds of the gamblers. Thousand-dollar chips stacked high in the middle of the pot, Doyle sweated a call on the river and then dragged the $40,000 pot after having his two pair hold up. Seems like some things never change.
Some Random Thoughts
For those who haven't seen Annie Duke's testimony in front Congress, believe me, it was very powerful stuff. You can find a complete video on the Web with a little work. She did a great job of presenting the issues and going head-to-head with Congressman Bob Goodlatte. Annie was the perfect choice by the Poker Players Alliance for this assignment: It's hard to criticize a woman with four kids; she doesn't come across like a typical degenerate gambler, and she's extremely smart. The only other person I think could have done as well: Chip Reese -- he was a former Dartmouth graduate and a debate champion. Still, if you see Annie, make sure you let her know how much we all appreciate what she's doing for the game and our chances of seeing this legal, taxed and regulated in the United States.
As announced on ESPN.com, the WSOP schedule for 2008 has been announced. The multitude of big buy in events will undoubtedly have a dramatic impact on the bankroll of the pros. It looks like it will take $200,000 to compete in all the big tournaments this year. Fortunately, that won't be much of a problem for me: My wife is due with our first baby (a boy!) on June 1st. I anticipate playing in very few tournaments at this WSOP as a result. Friends are currently setting the line at my kid winning a bracelet before me at about 50/50.