|Stu Ungar (1953 - 98)
Ungar (1997 WSOP Champion)
Ungar, who was born in New York City and raised
on the city's Lower East Side, became a professional gambler at age 14, a year
after his father, who was a bookmaker and bar operator, had died.
was an incredible gin rummy player. At age 10 in '63, he won his first gin
rummy tournament in a Catskill Mountain Resort while vacationing with his
parents. At age 14, he was regularly playing and beating the best players in
New York. At 15 he dropped out of school when a well known bookie staked Stu to
the $500 buy-in in a big gin rummy tournament. Stu won the $10,000 first prize
without ever loosing a hand, a record still held in the card rooms of New York
City. A week later, after giving his parents $1,000, he lost the rest on horses
at the Aqueduct racetrack. It was a sign of things to come.
Ungar moved to Miami where
the juiciest Gin games were. He did well but his weakness for sports and track
betting drained him of any success. In 1976 Stu reached Las Vegas, broke and
just about beaten. Somehow he found the money to enter a $50,000 tournament. On
the last two hands he forecast the losing player's cards - correctly. This
bravado was another bad career move as it meant other players feared his
skills. As a result, he could no longer find any games outside the tournaments.
It wasn't long before he decided to try his luck at blackjack. He'd
cleaned up on poker tables from Nevada to New Jersey and the time was right to
move on. One night at Caesars Palace he won $83,000 but the manager stopped the
play. Stu retaliated by correctly forecasting the last 18 cards left in the
single-deck shoe. That was the beginning of the end for single deck blackjack
tables. They were removed from Caesars and later from other casinos, and Stu's
picture was posted up in the security rooms of dozens of casinos. Result: Stu
was banned for life.
His next feat was to bet any takers $10,000 that
he could perform yet another memory miracle: he offered to count down the last
two decks in a six-deck shoe! There were no takers. Then in January 1977 a
former owner of Vegas World and designer of the Stratosphere Tower stepped into
his life. Stu Ungar met Bob Stupak. The new taker offered Stu $100,000 to count
down the last three decks, half-way through a six-deck shoe. If Stu lost he'd
owe Bob $10,000.
Memories of this amazing feat still linger on today in
Las Vegas. To the astonishment of onlookers, and Bob, Stu didn't miss a single
call from a total of 156 cards. When Bob handed him a check for $100,000, it
marked the beginning of a lasting friendship between them. All over the world,
Stu Ungar was now a household name in the gambling community.
| In 1980 at 24,
Ungar entered his first world championship. He won and to silence the critics
of his "fluke" he won the next year as well. He wasn't done with pure gambling
though and he lost $900,000 in RAZZ game in an afternoon, $1m in a craps
session and picked up $5m from Larry Flint (the porn king) over many heads-up
sessions. Ultimately his fever for action took everything in the physical world
and his drug addiction was close to taking his life.
In 1990 Ungar was
once again in the fore at the WSOP Championsip. At the start of day 3 of the
event he was a very solid chip leader but when play began he was no where to be
seen. A search was made and his hotel room forcefully entered. He was found
laying on the floor, unconscious. He did not return to play and his chips were
blinded away leaving him to finish 9th, which in 1990 was $20,500 (2005 it was
By the 1997 WSOP
tournament in Las Vegas, Ungar hadn't been in the frame for over 7 years. He
was seen around the gambling Mecca playing in small games but was pretty much
written off by the poker world. He didn't have the money to enter the
Championship event but an hour before play an anonymous benefactor produced the
$10,000 entry. Four days later the greatest comeback in poker history had
occurred and the record of three victories established. In all he won 10 major
No limit Hold'em tournaments out of the 30 he entered!
Two months later
he was broke again. Another year of oblivion and Stu was on the comeback trail
again with his old friend Bob Stupak offering to cancel his debts and signing
him up for commissioned card play. With $2000 of Stupak's money in his pocket
(spending money) he checked into a cheap downtown hotel. Two days later he was
dead. He left behind a 15 year old daughter.
He once said although he
could conceive of a better poker player than himself, not in the next 50 years
of the world would there be a better Gin player.
A film of Stu's life
was produced in 2003 and is called High Roller or sometimes Stuey.
The review is available
|Nov 22nd, 1998 -
Oasis Motel, 1731 S. Las Vegas Blvd - Stu Ungar found dead.
County Coroner's office on Monday ruled Ungar's death accidental based on the
results of toxicology tests that came back from the lab Friday. A mixture of
narcotics and pain killers triggered a heart condition that killed him. The
drugs found in Ungar's system were cocaine, methadone and the pain-killer
Percodan, Clark County Coroner Ron Flud said. No one drug by itself was enough
to cause Ungar's death. "The cause is accidental death by coronary
atherosclerosis". "The heart condition developed over a period of time. The
attack was brought on by his life-style."
atherosclerosis occurs when not enough blood can be pumped through the heart
muscle. It is not uncommon to find a mixture of cocaine, Percodan and methadone
in an autopsy of a drug user. Percodan is often used to bring a person down
from his cocaine high so he can sleep. Methadone is given to heroine addicts to
get them off the drug. It is not known when Ungar, a three-time world poker
champion, took the drugs that contributed to his death. Police investigating
the scene said they found no drug paraphernalia at that location.