|Stu Ungar (1953 - 98)
|Stu 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
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
| 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.
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 $1,000,000).
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 (which just so happens to be the year the
poker boom started) and is called High Roller or sometimes Stuey.
The review is available
1998 - Oasis Motel, 1731 S. Las Vegas Blvd - Stu Ungar found dead.
Clark 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.