Poker prodigy, degenerate
gambler, drug abuser – Ungar’s
life was jam-packed with high
risk action from start to finish
For most poker players and fans Ungar is the best no-limit Hold’em player of all time, having won the World Championship a record three times. Son of a successful bookmaker, gambling was a part of Stu’s life from a young age. At 10 he started playing Gin Rummy and as a natural born hustler began taking money from middle-aged men all over New York, before winning $10,000 in a Gin Rummy competition at just 15.
He moved to Las Vegas at 22 and, as a relative unknown, the diminutive figure of Ungar suckered many a card shark into playing him at Gin Rummy for astronomical stakes. But with his reputation growing, he had to find a new game to play. So it was that in 1980, having never played Texas Hold’em before, he won the WSOP Main Event at the first time of asking. He successfully defended his title a year later before the coke-addled, high stakes gambling of the 1980s took over his life and threatened to destroy it.
But his finest hour came with his third World Championship win in 1997, 16 years after his previous title. Alas, Stuey slipped into his old vices and just over a year later on November 22, 1998, was found dead in his room at the Oasis hotel, Las Vegas, the drugs having consumed him.
A flawed genius, Ungar had an unparalleled ability to put people on hands and calculate with absolute precision his chances of winning. If he’d applied such a measured approach to the rest of his life we might still see him now making a fool of the likes of Ivey, Hellmuth and Negreanu.