The first time Chip Reese took a shot at the big game in Las Vegas was a life-changing event for both Danny Robison and himself. Many poker players who dare to enter the big game end up losing everything, never to be seen again. In 1973 the big game was held every day at the Flamingo Hilton, where the Grand Old Man, Johnny Moss, ran the poker room. Regular players besides Moss were Puggy Pearson, Doyle Brunson, and pool hustler and high-stakes gambler Nicky Vachiano. Chip and Danny had built their combined bankroll up to about $80,000 at this point. As Chip now played $10/20 seven-card stud every day at the Flamingo Hilton, he found himself wandering over to get a glimpse of the big game, where thousands of dollars were being won and lost every day. The main game they were playing was stud hi/lo split. The floor man would look at Chip, who looked like a college kid, so young; he looked like he wasn't old enough to even be in the casino. The floor man would tell Chip he couldn't hang close to the big game, as this was for the high rollers only.
In fact, Chip was 23 at the time, and had just graduated from Dartmouth, and had been accepted into the law school at Stanford University. With his blonde, fair hair and youthful looks, he looked to be way out of his element in the smoke-filled room that featured the biggest game in town. One day Chip decided he wanted to jump into the fire, as it appeared these famous old timers were playing the game all wrong and were trying to give their money away. Chip made the most important phone call of his life, when he woke Danny up (who had been playing all night). Chip asked Danny to bring up $15,000 so he could take a shot in the big game.
Danny said, "Chip, we could go broke. They're playing $400/800 limit in that game!"
Chip said, "Danny, you're not going to believe this. You've got to come up here and look at this game. The way these guys are playing, I honestly don't think I could get unlucky enough to lose." Danny agreed to bring over the $15,000, and they both entered the room. Danny sat behind Chip, and both of their hearts were beating fast. The regular players looked like a hungry pack of crocodiles, salivating over their next feast about to happen. They had seen most of these young hometown champions enter the big game and leave busted time after time. Little did they know that they were looking at a young kid that was destined to be king of the high-stakes cash games and become one of the biggest poker legends of all time.
After the first two hours into the game, Chip was up to about $20,000. As the table was playing wild with all kinds of high hands, Chip kept to his strategy of playing mostly low hands. Then something happened in the game that launched Chip and Danny's destiny in Las Vegas. Chip caught a fabulous low hand, with A-2-3-4 of hearts, and a 6 of another suit. Moss and Brunson were fighting over the high hand, with Moss representing a flush, and Brunson three of a kind. Puggy Pearson showed an 8-7 low made on his board, and a four-way raising war ensued, with the pot being capped on every street. Chip knew he had the lock on the low, the way everyone's board read, and couldn't get his money in there fast enough.
When the dealer gave Chip his last card he didn't look right away, as he was going to get half of this gigantic pot for sure. There was one card though, the five of hearts, that would give Chip a straight flush. This miracle card would give him a scooped pot. Chip slowly squeezed his last card, and couldn't believe his eyes… he had it! He caught a straight-flush wheel in seven-card hi/lo split, the best hand any player could ever dream to catch. Chip proudly displayed his winning hand, and reached forward to rake in a $35,000 pot. This hand launched the Golddust Twins into orbit. After playing in this game over the weekend, Chip had incredibly won $390,000! From there, they won at everything they gambled on, be it golf, poker, or gin rummy.
Chip and Danny were a force to be reckoned with after that first session in the big game, and they never looked back. Their confidence was high, and everything they touched turned to gold. Thus, the legend of the Golddust Twins was born. Chip always said, "In over thirty years of playing poker and millions of hands, that would be the only time I would ever catch a straight flush wheel in seven-card stud hi/lo split." How ironic he did it the first time he ever entered the big game. One can only conclude that this was destiny at its finest.
As I'm writing this column on Dec 19, 2007, my cell phone has just rung, and it was none other than my friend I grew up with from Dayton, Ohio… Danny Robison. It seems he has driven to Las Vegas from LA, where he plays high-stakes seven-card stud every day, to enter a gin rummy tournament over at the Orleans. It is a national event, called the Holiday Classic. He said today he made it to the final round, but had to win every match to land himself into the finals. He did win every match, but in the finals the deck hit his opponent and he ended up in second place. Still, he picked up a nice paycheck doing what he loves to do… play gin rummy. Tomorrow he will drive back to LA to go back to work at the high-stakes poker tables.
While we were on the phone, we talked about him and Chip in the early days of their careers. I once saw Howard Cosell on the "Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson, and Johnny would say one word, and Howard would give a verbal litany of the subject or person. Howard would extrapolate on whatever thoughts came into his head. This would be a fun game to play with Danny, I thought, so I gave him one name and asked him to say the first thoughts about the person. The first name I threw out at him was Nicky Vachiano.
Danny said, "Nicky, he was a connected high-stakes poker player who played gin rummy, pool, and poker. Before Chip and I bought our house, we used to have an apartment right next to his. One time he came over to play gin rummy with us, and brought a marked deck of cards. We sensed something was wrong, and after being up $4,400 I told him we were going to quit the game. He said, 'Quit? You can't quit yet!' 'I said of course we can quit; you're trying to cheat us with a marked deck of cards!' Nicky said, 'What do you mean?' I said, 'Look, we should be up $8,000 and we are only up $4,400 right now, so this game is over.'"
Danny went on to say, "I still remember the telephone message he left us the very next morning, verbatim:"
There were two guys named Dan and Chip,
And they decided to take a trip,
Out to Vegas, they came to play,
And they won, day after day,
Their play became known as being quite tricky,
But they better not f*** with grey-haired Nicky!
Amazingly, Danny remembers that phone message from over 30 years ago. In some upcoming articles, I'll share more colorful stories on Chip and Danny. I'll go into their partnership's breakup, highlight the pressure they felt from Tony Spilotro, reveal how Danny found religion after drugs, and talk about the sad fact that recently shocked the entire poker world: Chip Reese's unexpected passing. So, stay tuned for more Las Vegas lore….
The Cab is Parked,
Tom Sexton is a featured columnist for PokerNews.com. Tom attended the University of Oklahoma on a full gymnastic scholarship, where he was captain of the team four straight years, becoming the first NCAA All-American and Big Eight Champion in OU's gymnastics history in 1968. The Sexton family is well established in poker and includes Tom's brother Mike, the World Poker Tour commentator and poker's "First Ambassador", as voted by his peers. Tom welcomes your thoughts and comments about any of his articles. His e-mail is TSStarbuck1@aol.com.