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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."