Introduction If there was one word to describe Stu, it would have to be LEGEND. He was the best tournament no limit holdem player ever. According to Barry Greenstein Stu Ungar was more aggressive and twice as loose as any other player. A genius and a legend who died tragically as the result of his 20 year long drug habit.
Profile Stuart Errol Ungar (September 8, 1953 – November 22, 1998) was born in Manhattans Lower East side.
His father, a loan shark, ran a bar/social club, where illegal sports betting took place. Because of this Stuey was exposed to gambling at a very young age. He also showed a remarkable talent: at the age of 10 he won his first gin rummy tournament and when he was 15 he was already considered one of the best gin players in New York.
Stueys mom played 7 card stud poker and used to let him watch the game:"She was terrible. She played every single hand - and I do mean every single hand. It didn't matter what her first three cards were... she was in. I watched my mother lose, saw the faces of the other players, how smug they were, the way they'd laugh at her behind her back and tell wisecracks. They really thought they were hot shit. But they weren't any good, either. Even back then I could see they were horrible. The only reason they won her money was that she played even worse than they did. It made me want to get back at them."
Ungar is now known for his performance in tournament poker, but he started out as a gin rummy player. Victor Romano, alleged member of the Genovese Crime Family, took him under his wing and provided the money to allow him to play high stakes one-on-one gin, or tournaments. This in return for part of the profits. Romano and Stu became so close Romano was like a father to him after his own father had died in the arms of his mistress.
Stuey started playing poker out of necessity. Nobody wanted to play gin
rummy against him anymore, not even after he offered absurd handicaps
to his opponents. So Stu decided to enter the World Series of Poker in
1980, even though he hardly had any experience in no limit hold'em. He
won the main event. By eliminating Doyle Brunson he won $365,000 and
became the youngest player in history to win the title. People were
calling him the luckiest man of the century. To this Doyle responded:
"He won this thing fair and square. He deserves to be the champion".
The next year Stuey won the main event again. Nobody mentioned luck
Ungar had a genius level IQ and a fenomenal talent for card games, but was also a compulsive gambler with a bad drug habit. If he had the money he would bet on every sporting match of that day and every race at the horsetracks. Even the enormous amounts of money Ungar won in gin and poker tournaments couldn't cover the losses he made with his gambling. This resulted in him being constantly broke, then earning millions again. When it came to tournaments Stuey was busy as ever: he won the main event of Amarillo Slim's Super Bowl of Poker, the second biggest poker tournament after the WSOP.
In 1990 Baxter had paid another $10,000 to let Stu, who was broke
again, participate in the WSOP main event. in exchange for a share of
the profits. At the third day of the tournament Stu was found
unconscious in his hotel room, after taking an overdose of drugs. While
Stu was in hospital all Baxter could do was watch the dealer take the
blinds and antes from Stu's stack and see it getting smaller and
smaller. However, Ungar had so many chips he eventually made it to 9th
In 1997 Stu entered the main event of the WSOP again, much to the
surprise of most people as they hadn't seen or heard from him in a long
time. His nose had litterally collapsed from his excessive drug abuse
and he tried to hide it by wearing sunglasses. Despite all this, and
the 311 opponents, he won the event for the third time, this time
winning $1,000,000. In the interview following his victory Ungar
described his life in these 2 sentences: "There's no one that ever beat
me playing cards, the only one that ever beat me was myself." His
astonishing performance 16 years after his last success made the media
call him "the comeback kid" and this seemed to be the perfect
opportunity to get his life back into shape. Six months later he was
On the 22th of November, 1998, Ungar was found dead in a motel room in Vegas. During the autopsy the coroner found traces of drugs in his body, but not enough to kill him. Stu Ungar died of a heart attack caused by years and years of drug abuse.
If Stu hadn't died this young, if he had managed to keep his habits under control, who knows how many more titles this legend would've won?