|Stu Ungar was born and raised
in New York in 1953. Mr and
Mrs Ungar quickly realized that
little Stu had a special talent.
In fact, at the age of ten, he
proved that he was a real
prodigy after winning a local
gin tournament. At the age of
15, he was considered to be
one of the best gin players in
Life can sometimes be cruel and ironic. To some, life is like a bad suit;
something doesn’t feel right and won’t fit you well. Despite this, you just do
not want to get rid of it. We often hear about Hollywood stars who have
looks and money, yet something goes wrong only because success is a
difficult task to deal with.
If you are a successful poker player, you have to deal with a number of
issues that some people are not meant to play with. You toss in a few
thousand bucks and walk out with millions more. This is what Stu Ungar’s life
looked like on a daily basis. He was widely considered to be the best poker
player in the world and was unchallenged with his three World Series of
Poker main event wins. He also had a large number of other
accomplishments, with winnings exceeding a mind-boggling $32 million
throughout his whole life. But no money can buy true happiness and Stu’s life
is in large part a sad chapter in the history of professional poker.
Stu Ungar was born and raised in New York in 1953. Mr and Mrs Ungar quickly
realized that little Stu had a special talent. In fact, at the age of ten, he
proved that he was a real prodigy after winning a local gin tournament. At
the age of 15, he was considered to be one of the best gin players in New
York. His earnings pulled him out of school as he quickly realized that he
could make hundreds of thousands of dollars playing the game. In 1968, he
moved south to Miami, Florida, to find more games. After a year, he came to
the conclusion that he had to move to Las Vegas, Nevada, to find the
competition he was looking for. At first, it seemed like a bad call; the casino
owners quickly banned the young kid from all games after they had
recognized his special card-counting skills.
After spending a year in Las Vegas, he entered the main event of the World
Series of Poker. During the third day, Stu attracted large crowds who
watched the young kid play all the way to the final table. Hours later, he won
a sensational heads-up match with Doyle Brunson, who was defeated with 5-
4 of spades, as the community cards popped up an ace, deuce and three.
The following year, Stu participated once again at the main event, and was a
big favourite to win. The runner-up Perry Green stood little chance against his
A-Q of hearts, and by now Stu was declared a millionaire for the first time in
Sadly, reality knocked on Stu’s door. His addiction to sports betting combined
with the sudden spotlight attention led him to drugs. For the next sixteen
years, Stu would combine a very unhealthy drugs habit with poker, but his
perfect play was always apparent at the tables. As soon as the green sheets
were gone, he would spend all of his time alone at hotel rooms. Despite all
his winnings, he was usually broke and had to borrow money from his friends
to participate in tournaments.
In 1997, Stu made a comeback and decided to play at the World Series of
Poker main event once again. Like so many times before, he borrowed money
from friends and started playing. Stu Ungar stunned the world once again
and shut the critics who claimed that his comeback would be nothing but a
failure. His skills in poker were as deep as his instincts and despite all the
drugs abuse, Stu never lost his mind during the game.
Unfortunately, even sad stories come to an end. The poker players witnessed
a physically and mentally deteriorated Stu Ungar, who started wearing
shades, not because he wanted to improve his game play, but to prevent
others from seeing his damaged nostrils, permanently damaged from cocaine
and other drugs. In November 1998, he was found dead at a hotel room. The
official cause of death was not an overdose, but coronary atherosclerosis.
The doctors found mixtures of drugs in his blood, including percodan, cocaine
and methadone, but only in small amounts.
Despite this tragic event, Stu Ungar will be remembered as one of the
greatest poker players of all time, and possibly the best gin player who ever
lived. Or as his friend Bob Supak put it, “He was the best. You can't expand
on that. The best says it all.”
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