Stu “The Kid” Ungar
Stu was born in New York City and raised on the city’s Lower East Side, an incredible gin rummy player. At age 10 in ’63, he won his first gin rummy tournament. 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 even losing 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.
Stu moved to Miami where he did well but his weakness for sports and track betting drained him of any success. In 1976 he 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.
In 1980 with virtually no experience at No Limit Hold’em, Stu entered the $10,000 buy-in World Championship event at Binion’s Horseshoe for the first time. He won it. He returned the following year and repeated his success. In 1990 Stu 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 nowhere 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, but his stack was big enough for him to still make the final table before being blinded out in 9th place. Most agree he would have been a good bet to win the tournament if he had of been fit to play.
Stu made his final appearance in 1997, 16 years after his first win, after winning and losing millions of dollars Stu was broke and needed the help of a friend to pay his entry to the main event. Fittingly just as he won in is first try he also won in his last, taking home the $1 million first prize. Two months later, after paying off some of his mounting gambling debts and after suffering heavy losses on horse and sports wagers, Stu was broke again.
In late 1998 he signed a deal with long time supporter and friend Bob Stupak, who paid off Stu’s gambling debts, giving him a fresh start. Stu, in turn, was to gamble with Stupak’s money in hopes of reaping a profit on that investment with tournament victories and big scores in high-stakes side games.
With $2000 of Stupak’s money in his pocket (spending money) he checked into a cheap downtown hotel. Two days later, Nov 22nd, 1998, he was dead. The Clark County Coroner’s office ruled Stu’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 Stu’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 Stu’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.”
Stu’s winning WSOP hands:
Doyle Brunson’s A7 became 2 pair when the flop fell A72, the turn was a turn for the worst for Doyle when a 3 fell completing Stu’s 5 high straight. When a harmless 2 came on the river Brunson pushed all in, Stu called and won his first World Championship.
Perry Green held T9 and with the flop showing 874 he was chasing a straight, a second four came on the turn putting a pair on the board. Perry then pushed all in and Stu called, the river delivered Stu a queen and his second World Championship.
With John Strzemp holding A8 the flop of A53 delivered both players the same pair. The turn helped no one with a second three. Feeling John didn’t have the strongest kicker since he didn’t raise at pre-flop Stu moved all in. Sitting in the best position at this point John called and also went all in but was eliminated when a 2 on the river made Stu a 5 high straight and made him the only person to win his way to 3 world championships.
In his own words:
“If every hand from start to finish was filmed — every bet, every raise, even every fold — players would witness a classic performance. It was a no-limit hold’em clinic” (His 1997 win)
“I never want to be called a good loser;
if you’re a good loser, you’re still a loser.”
“I just know things. I don’t know how, I just do.”