Stu Ungar – Gambler, Addict, Loser, Legend

If you chance upon a cluster of people at a party chitchatting about great poker players, there would be no doubt that you would hear the name Stu Ungar come up at least once. There are a lot of people in the poker world who actually consider Stu Ungar the greatest poker player of all time – second to none. Of course there would be those who would contest that but the greater majority would agree that Stu Ungar was one of a kind.

Born in September 8, 1953 as Stuart Errol Ungar, he was nicknamed “The Kid.” He was born to Jewish parents in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Though Stu is most known for being a poker player, he actually started out playing gin rummy. His skills were such that at the age of ten, he won a local tournament. Four years later, he was already one of the best gin rummy players in New York. As his father had died in 1968, he dropped out of school to focus on playing at gin rummy tournaments to help support his family.

Stu’s genius in gin rummy proved to be too much for his opponents. Eventually, no one would want to play with him anymore as he beat them too badly. He soon moved Las Vegas and proceeded to make his reputation in gin rummy there as well. After a while, the same situation evolved – no one would set up a match with him as he would just grind them to pieces. That was when he channeled his attention to poker.

In 1980, Stu made a name for himself in poker when he beat Doyle Brunson, a poker legend by his own rights, at the World Series of Poker. Stu is the only poker player to have won both the WSOP title and the Super Bowl of Poker three times! In fact, by the time he was 25 years old, Stu had won the WSOP twice already. He earned his last title in 1997 when he played at the WSOP for the last time.

Stu was not only into gin rummy and poker but was a great blackjack player as well. This could be attributed to the fact that he had a very high IQ – a genius, that is – and he had a photographic memory as well. This served him well in card counting and he was eventually barred from a lot of casinos because of this skill.

Not all was rosy in Stu’s life, though. He was known for his drug abuse and troubled marriage. In those days, professional poker players were not known for their polite behavior as well. Stu was quite well known for dealer abuse. This poker great’s life ended in 1998 when his body was found at the Oasis Hotel. Autopsies recorded that he had drugs in his system though they were not indicated as the main cause of death. However, records showed that the heart failure that killed him was a result of years of drug abuse.

I think the best thing to remember Stu by would be one of his quotes: “Some day, I suppose it’s possible for someone to be a better no limit hold ’em player than me. I doubt it, but it could happen. But, I swear to you, I don’t see how anyone could ever play gin better than me.”

Las Vegas and the Underage Gambler

Going back to when I was a hot wee lass of 19 years old… and I’m not saying how far back that is!

I went to Vegas for the first time with a guy “friend” of mine. I took care of making our reservations at the Hard Rock Hotel which had just had their Grand Opening! And “he” made our reservations on Greyhound.

It was obvious that this guy had the hots for me… and yet this is how he was trying to impress?! Eeeek.

Anyhow, I had my bags, was all packed up, I was dressed to the nines (still very excited) and ready to hit the road.

The bus ride seemed like it took forever and a year (which only takes 3.5hrs by car). We made a pit-stop in good ‘ol Barstow – ya know… where you go to get your “kicks on route 66″… Well I don’t know who wrote that song or what “they” do to get their “kicks”, but I’ll tell ya where it’s not happening for me… in BARSTOW! Sorry Barstownions – no offense.

Then the lovely bus ride (full of weirdos) continued; finally we pull into downtown Las Vegas – which is waaay the hell off of the strip and Mister Cheapie Pants here doesn’t want to split a cab. If he could split a penny – he would – I’m so SERIOUS! So on foot we go. I’m a big fan of walking, so it’s really not a problem – aside from lugging around all of my bags and that I’m in high heels (I’m not that tall), and like I previously mentioned “dressed to the nines”! So we walked and we walked, and you’d never think that these hotels are so freakin far away from each other until you walk the strip, and realize just how long it took you!

Finally we arrived at our hotel. Time to check in. As usual with any check in process, they ask to see my identification and credit card. However unlike any other check in process, once I handed everything over, there was a PROBLEM. It’s explained to me that they can’t check me in because I’m under 21!

Nice… because they didn’t seem to think it was a problem when I prepaid for the room.

Well luckily my buddy over here was over 21, so we used his ID. But talk about the nerve – they had absolutely no problem taking money from someone who was under 21, yet now I was a second class citizen or something!

All checked in, we grab our bags and make a beeline to check out our room, and then get ready to paint the town and of course do a little bit of gambling.

Our schedule for the rest of our time was Shows, Food, Gambling, Shows, Food, Gambling, etc, etc, etc..

I was a bundle of nerves, each and every time I went to a table to play cards all I could think about was getting carded – asking to see checking my ID. I was so focused on that, I didn’t really care at all about losing my gambling money – and I hate losing money!

I made out with more than I started with and more than enough to pay for my portion of the entire trip! I’m not treating this Dud!


Things didn’t go quite as smoothly in a few of the many trips to come —

I was thrown out of casinos, stranded in the middle of the desert, left sitting on curbs, got into my share of fights, hung out with the whales, got comps at every turn, had my ‘Indecent Proposal’ experience…

BUT – I simply never lost, I always won $$$ – bring me the money!!!

So of course I kept coming back for more!

And then it happened – I turned 21 and now being totally relaxed and at ease about having my ID checked, (I almost wanted to flash it around just for the heck of it) the only concern I had was about losing my money and guess what happened next…

YUP, I lost every single last dime that I came with… I left town in a state of shock!

What the heck just happened there?! This doesn’t happen to me – I don’t LOSE!!!!!!

To this day I still can’t seem to get enough of this place.

I just don’t gamble these days..unless we are talking penny slots!

Change your outlook change your outcome!