The Story of Stu Ungar, Undisputed Poker Genius

Blackjack, rummy, poker, nothing could resist him. Despite a turbulent life and a tragic end, "The Kid," as many called him, remains one of the greatest players of all time. Discover, with GAMRFIRST, the story of the great Stu Ungar.

The Life of Stu Ungar

From his difficult childhood to his death in 1998, Stu Ungar led a tumultuous life and forever left his mark on the history of poker.

The Childhood of Stu Ungar

Born in 1953, in a New York family, Stu Ungar showed an early appetite for card games. From a very young age, his talent was evident. At the age of just 10, he easily defeated experienced players in gin rummy in the neighborhood game clubs. Quickly, the young boy developed remarkable skills. He cashed in gains of over $10,000, gained some notoriety, and left school at 16, certain of his destiny.

However, Stu Ungar's childhood was not a joyful one. His parents paid little attention to their son. Stu learned to fend for himself at a very young age. His father, Isadore Ungar, a usurer by profession, died of a heart attack in 1966. His mother could not handle the household expenses alone. To provide for the family's daily needs, the young boy started frequenting underground clubs, where he worked as a dealer for some time. There, he refined his gaming technique and quickly developed a reputation as an intelligent and methodical player. At the age of 18, he formed a friendship with Victor Romano, a member of the underworld. Romano became Stu's mentor and protector.

Stu Ungar's Early Steps in the World of Casinos

The native of New York was not content to stay on this path. Illegal tournaments, organized in the back rooms of New York, were no longer enough for Stu Ungar. He aimed high. In debt, he eventually left his hometown, heading to Miami, Florida, and then Las Vegas, where he frequented the casinos. He participated in gin rummy tournaments and achieved victories. Frightened by this talented player, no one dared to challenge him anymore. Soon, the casinos denied him entry. Stu then turned to poker... where he would soon excel.

In a matter of months, the young boy forged a reputation as a talented, arrogant, provocative, and competitive player. One of his statements sums up his mindset quite well: "I don't want people to say that I am a good loser. A good loser is a loser, first and foremost."

Interesting Fact: Stu Ungar vs. Billy Baxter
Upon his arrival in Las Vegas, Stu faced Billy Baxter, then considered one of the best professional players of his time. Baxter did not suspect this fragile-looking young man. However, that evening, he lost $40,000 to Stu Ungar.

Finally, in 1980, Stu Ungar participated in the World Series of Poker and won the Main Event, the competition's most important event, against the then-star Doyle Brunson. This was the first of a very long series of victories and the beginning of his worldwide reputation.

At just 26 years old, Stu Ungar became the youngest player in history to win this tournament. He impressed onlookers with his sharp technique, unwavering confidence, colorful personality, and rebellious temperament. Quickly, the media became interested in this irresistibly talented kid they dubbed "The Kid." In just a few years, Stu Ungar became one of the iconic figures in the world of poker.

A Poker Legend with a Tragic Fate

Stu Ungar continued to rack up victories. In 1981, he defeated another poker legend, Johnny Moss, thanks to a daring bluff, and they maintained a friendly rivalry throughout their lives.

Despite his successes, in the 1980s, Stu Ungar also experienced some bitter failures due to his drug problems and compulsive gambling. Addicted to adrenaline, he continued to bet more and squandered a lot of money. He lost nearly $1.2 million to Archie Karas.

In 1982, he was prematurely eliminated from the Main Event. That same year, he married Madeleine, his childhood love. She gave birth to their daughter, Stephanie. Shortly after, he adopted Ritchie, Madeleine's son from a previous marriage. Unfortunately, Stu's dissolute life led to their divorce in 1986. Stephanie was entrusted to her mother. Stu considered this event the biggest failure of his life.

In 1988, he lost another tournament to Johnny Chan. The following year, Richie, his adopted son, committed suicide. His drug consumption became uncontrollable, leading to numerous health problems. In 1990, weakened by years of excess, he dropped out on the third day of the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event. His many addictions and complex personal situation ultimately forced him to leave the world of poker. For 7 years, Stu Ungar made little news, except in the crime section.

However, in 1997, the legendary player made a comeback. He participated in the World Series of Poker and achieved numerous victories. In the Main Event final, facing John Strzemp, a professional poker player with a solid reputation, he displayed exceptional gameplay. He won his third and final title after an epic confrontation, pocketing $1 million.

But behind this success, "The Kid" still concealed a tumultuous personal life marked by too many dependencies. In 1998, he decided not to participate in the World Series of Poker. Shortly after, he was arrested for crack and cocaine possession.

On November 22, 1998, at just 45 years old, Stu Ungar succumbed to a heart attack in a room at the Oasis Motel on the outskirts of Las Vegas. The circumstances of his death remain murky. Only $800 of the $25,000 borrowed from Bob Stupak a few hours earlier was recovered.

This tragic end did not erase the legacy of this exceptional player, admired as much for his technique as for his bluffing ability.

The Influence of Stu Ungar in Poker History

Despite his many demons, Stu Ungar left a major legacy in poker history. Many players later tried to imitate his technique and strategies.

The Stu Ungar Method

Stu Ungar was above all a poker player with incredible talent and an exceptional IQ. His memorization ability allowed him to remember the cards already played and calculate the probabilities of future draws. This impressive memory was undoubtedly Stu Ungar's main weapon. But it wasn't the only one, far from it.

The young prodigy knew how to unsettle his opponents. His youthful and detached appearance made his game difficult to decipher. He was known in the poker world for mastering the art of bluffing to perfection. In return, Stu Ungar was able to perfectly interpret the expressions and gestures of his opponents, deducing their cards and intentions.

Stu Ungar was one of the aggressive poker players. He bet big and fast to take control of the game and unsettle his opponents.

This style of play, based on bluffing and intuition, influenced many players, leaving a lasting mark on the history of poker.

Stu Ungar's Accomplishments

Stu Ungar was undoubtedly the greatest No-Limit Hold'em player. He is said to have earned nearly $30 million in winnings during his lifetime and won no fewer than 13 major tournaments.

His track record is impressive. Stu Ungar won:

  • Five World Series of Poker bracelets;
  • Ten major No-Limit Hold'em events with buy-ins of $5,000 or more;
  • Three World Championships.

He was the only player in history to win both the WSOP and the Amarillo Slim's Super Bowl of Poker, three times each.

Stu Ungar's Achievements

Year Tournaments Prize (USD)
1997 WSOP $1,000,000
1991 Queens Poker Classic $190,000
1989 Amarillo Slim's Superbowl Of Poker $205,000
1988 Amarillo Slim's Superbowl Of Poker $210,000
1987 America's Cup Of Poker $55,000
1987 America's Cup Of Poker $55,000
1987 America's Cup Of Poker $150,000
1984 America's Cup Of Poker $150,000
1984 Amarillo Slim's Superbowl Of Poker $275,000
1983 WSOP $110,000
1981 WSOP $375,000
1981 WSOP $95,000
1980 WSOP $365,000

Stu Ungar, a Posthumous Recognition

While Stu Ungar was undoubtedly a pokerlegend, it took until 2001, three years after his death, for his name to be inscribed in the Poker Hall of Fame.

In 2003, A.W. Vidmer dedicated a film to him, "High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story," with Michael Imperioli in the title role.

In 2005, Nolan Dalla dedicated a biography to him titled "One of a Kind: The Rise and Fall of Stuey, The Kid Ungar."

Stu Ungar remained one of the most talented Gin Rummy and pokerplayers in history! His extraordinary intelligence allowed him to shine in the world's biggest tournaments. But Ungar's life also serves as a lesson for all enthusiasts of games of chance and money. While winning can be exhilarating, losing everything is just as easy. So, play responsibly, and above all, have fun!