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.”