A tribute to Chip Reese: “I soon realized that a big part of and what I have grown to be also died with Chip that day”

John ‘The Greek’ Leontakianakos’ tribute to poker legend Chip Reese

The month of December is always a very difficult time for us in the business world. Everyone is running around trying to close out the fiscal year, finalize last minute details and push to a close any last minute transactions that still linger. This December was no different as I found myself at my desk for the 10th straight 14-hour day, trying to keep up in hopes of enjoying the Holidays and getting back to the tables for a much needed break.

As I turned on my computer one morning my jaw dropped at a story that I found in my inbox. The story was an interview with Doyle Brunson on the recent death of Chip Reese. A sudden numbness came over me, as time appeared to stand still for a moment. Trapped in a state of disbelief facing my own mortality, I soon realized that a big part of and what I have grown to be also died with Chip that day.

Chip was far more than a poker player. He was the standard by which all other modern day players will be measured. To have your name mentioned in the same sentence as his is the greatest compliment a cash game player can ever hope for.

Chip though, represented far more than just success at the tables. He was the epitome of what a player should be. His reading ability was second to none. He could dissect you from across the table like a skilled surgeon with a scalpel peeling back one layer at a time until there was nothing left. His ability to avoid danger was uncanny. He reminded me a lot of Rocky Marciano. It did not matter how bad you cracked him or how good you thought you were. He was there for the long haul and just kept firing. Few men have sat at the felt with his endurance and discipline.

His greatest trait of all though had to be his demeanor. I cannot find a single witness that can attest to witnessing him raise his voice or lose his temper. There is an old Russian proverb that states “A hammer breaks glass, yet it forges steal” never had this saying been as true as in the case of Chip Reese. In all his years at the tables he faced every bad beat imaginable, even one at my hands, and he became stronger with each beat. The great ones always persevere and get stronger with time, as the weak fall apart and dwell on their misfortune.

As I sat dwelling on the moment, thoughts of one of my first trips to Las Vegas came to mind. I remember the first high stakes stud game I had sat at. Young, cocky and immature as can be, in my early twenties, yet experienced and disciplined as much as any seasoned veteran. I found myself at the table, expecting to run over the competition and claim my prize. However, I had not counted on being outskilled and outclassed.

One specific opponent was giving me a lot of trouble. I threw everything at him I had. I played tight; I played loose; I tried trapping him; bluffing him; running him over. Nothing seemed to work. When I had the hand, he always got out of the way. If I slow played the hand, he would simply check – fold and move on. Whenever I was bluffing he called.

Frustration began to get the better of me and I started chasing hands. Pot odds and mathematics went out the window along with my composure as I chased my opponent down every chance I had. In once instance I hit a one-outer on him on the river cracking his full house. As satisfying as it was to take his money I realized that it was at the expense of the respect I could have earned instead. Bad beat and all, he never even flinched. He simply mucked his cards like any other hand and moved on. I thought at the very least I would tilt him. On the contrary, I was almost tilting at the lack of reaction I got from him.

After about 8 hours of this I decided that it might be in my best interest to stay away and limit my hands with him. I could not understand what was happening, or how for that matter. No one to date had played against me like that. As I avoided my arch nemesis that day, I began to settle down at the table and find my game again. As time went on the chips kept coming. I ended the session with a significant profit and exited the room, early morning the following day.

As I walked out the player that gave me all that trouble was coincidently walking out with me. I looked at him and complimented him on the game. He simply nodded and wished me good night as he left.

Later on that day I ran into a few of the guys from last night’s game having a late afternoon breakfast. They were all too quick to comment on the Bad Beat I put on that guy last night. The guy I could never catch up to in that game. The one that had earned my respect; even though I was a decade or two away from earning his. That guy was Chip Reese.

I ran into him a couple of more times in my lifetime and, even till this day, he never ceased to amaze me. It did not take one long to realize that Chip was at a level all on his own. A level that would take decades of work and discipline for some of us to reach, and a lifetime of effort to attempt to maintain, what to him, seemed so effortless and came so naturally.

As much as we all feel his loss, the biggest loser of all on this is the game of poker. Not because it lost its greatest player of modern times, but because all of the young guns of today lost the best role model that they could ever hope to mimic. A true class act. Chip won his fair share of cash and major tournaments but all that is insignificant in what truly would have mattered to him.

The greatest victory of Chips Reese’s career was the respect of his peers. The people that played with him, and knew him. Those that feared his play and admired him. His fellow poker players that he always had respect for. Even in death, that has survived.

Farewell brother.

PokerPlayer magazine is a great place to get poker strategy and interviews on a monthly basis.

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