If you have been acquainted with the world of poker, it is unlikely that you have never heard of the name ‘Stu Ungar.’ Ungar is a name that has to come up if you talk about the poker universe. The poker legend lived a short life but created a rich legacy that will be written down and spoken about in the history of the game. Apart from poker, Ungar was also a professional blackjack and gin rummy player.
Ungar holds five World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelets to his name. Moreover, he has 15 in the money (ITM) finishes at the WSOP. Regarded as one of the best players of all time, his accomplishments also include::
Born on September 8, 1953 in Manhattan, New York, Ungar’s father Isidore Ungar ran a bar cum social club named, ‘Foxes Corner’. This led to Unger’s exposure to gambling at an early age. His father tried to keep him away from the influence of gambling after witnessing how its addiction affected his regular customers. Yet, Stu began with playing underground gin rummy and eventually made a name for himself.
He won a local gin tournament when he was just 10. Following his father’s demise in 1967, he began drifting around New York, gambling in gin rummy to monetarily support his mother, who was left incapacitated due to stroke. He regularly won tournaments, earning upto $10,000 or more. By 1976, he became one of the best players in New York City.
Stu Ungar’s social profiles 🌐
Later, he befriended Victor Romano, a reputed organised crime figure, who tutored and mentored him. Ungar’s mounting gambling debts at local race tracks forced him to flee New York and move to Miami, Florida. Later, he relocated to Las Vegas in 1977, where he took to poker.
Due to his immense reputation as the ‘Master of Gin’, Unger found no challengers to him in the game as they steered away knowing they would be destroyed if they dared to take upon him. He was even feared by Harry Stein aka ‘Yonkie’, a seasoned professional who was widely regarded as the best gin player of that generation. Stein lost to Ungar 86 games to none during a high-stakes game of Hollywood Gin. After the loss, Stein was not seen in gin circles and eventually stopped playing professionally.
His foothold over the game was such that in Las Vegas that he was banned from participating by several casinos because many players would not enter if they knew Ungar was playing. Shortly after arriving in Las Vegas, Ungar beat professional gambler Billy Baxter, for $40,000.
All the stats in this article are updated as of 31st March 2022!
Following his mother’s death in 1979, he started consuming cocaine to stay up and energized during poker marathons. Sooner, his addiction consumed him to such an extent that during the WSOP 1990 Main Event, he was found unconscious on the floor in his hotel room, from an overdose. Interestingly, his great chip lead ensured that he made it to the final table and finished ninth, cashing $25,050 even though the dealers kept taking his blinds. He spent most of his winnings on sports betting and drugs.
During the WSOP 1997, in spite of his deep debts and physical damage due to drugs, Billy Baxter paid $10,000 for Ungar’s buy-in to the WSOP Main Event, just seconds before the registration closed. Before the tournament, he had been up for more than 24 hours trying to raise money to enter the tournament. Because of exhaustion, he almost fell asleep during the game on Day 1. However, Mike Sexton and Baxter encouraged him and he made it through Day 1. Ungarkept looking at his daughter, Stefanie’s picture in his wallet. Post Day 1, following enough rest he played Day 2 and accumulated enough chips to go in the FT as the chip lead. He went on to win that event and dedicated his win to his daughter. The media hailed him as ‘The Comeback Kid’ because he claimed the WSOP Main Event after 16 years.
He attempted to give up drugs several times for the sake of his daughter but only managed to stay clean for a few weeks. On 20th November 1998, he checked into a room at the Oasis Motel, a budget motel on the Las Vegas Strip for two nights, priced at $48 per night. . Two days later, he was found dead, lying on the floor, in the room. . The medical examiner announced that a rare heart condition following years of drug abuse was the cause behind his death. He won an estimated $30 million during his poker career. However, he died with no assets. Bob Stupak took up a collection at Ungar’s funeral to raise funds for the services rendered.
Ungar was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2001 posthumously. ‘High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story,’ a movie based loosely on Ungar’s life, was made in 2003. In 2005, his biography, ‘One of a Kind: The Rise and Fall of Stuey ‘the Kid’ Ungar, the World’s Greatest Poker Player’, by Nolan Dalla and Peter Alson, was published. A documentary based on his life ‘One of a Kind: The Rise and Fall of Stu Ungar’ was broadcasted in 2006.
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Amarylisa Gonsalves is a Content Writer at Gutshot Magazine. Advancing from a marketing background, she found her calling in writing. She takes delight in exploring genres and is a curious learner. Patient and ambivert, she believes in letting her work speak for itself. Apart from content writing, she finds solace in writing poetry by expressing herself through words. Additionally, she adores indulging in anything that satisfies her creative self, like drawing and DIY crafts.
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