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Stu Ungar Blacjack

Ungar, who had a genius level IQ and an eidetic memory, was able to keep track of every card in a six-deck blackjack shoe. In 1977 he was bet $100,000 by Bob Stupak, an owner and designer of casinos, that he could not count down the last three decks in a six deck shoe. Ungar won the bet. Ungar was fined in 1982 by the New Jersey Gaming Commission for allegedly cheating while playing blackjack in an Atlantic City casino. The casino said that Ungar "capped a bet" (put extra chips on a winning hand after it was over to be paid out more), something Ungar vehemently denied. The fine for this offense was only $500, peanuts to Ungar, but it would also force him to admit he cheated at blackjack, something he refused to do. Ungar believed that his memory and card counting ability (which was not illegal) were natural skills and thus he didn't need to cap bets or partake in any other form of blackjack cheating.Ungar fought the case in court and won, avoiding the $500 fine however he did pay an estimated $50,000 in legal and travel expenses. Ungar noted in his biography he was so exhausted from the travel and court proceedings that he was not able to successfully defend his WSOP main event title.His skill and reputation were so good that he was frequently barred from playing in casinos. He was virtually unable to play blackjack in Las Vegas or anywhere else.



Stu Ungar Poker Pro' Bio


Stu Uungar Poker Professional

Stu ungar was born to Jewish parents and raised on Manhattan's Lower East Side. His father, Isadore ("Ido") Ungar, was a bookie, exposing Stu Ungar to gambling at a young age. Despite Ido's attempts to keep his son from gambling, Stu began playing tournament gin and quickly made a name for himself.

In 1968, Ido died of a heart attack in his mistress' arms. Following his father's death, with his mother being virtually incapacitated by an illness as well, Ungar was befriended by Genovese family soldier Victor Romano. Romano, whose memory was so sharp he could recite the spelling and definition of any word in the dictionary, shared the same penchant and interest for calculating odds while gambling that Ungar did and the two became so close that Romano acted in a father figure role to him.Ungar was infamous for routinely criticizing aloud the play of opponents he felt were beneath him. However, his relationship with Romano combined with his ability to make money for the Genovese family from gin and poker games gave Ungar's protection from various gamblers who did not take his crass attitude and assassin-like playing style kindly. One man reportedly tried to hit him in the head with a chair in a mafia-run bar after Ungar defeated him. The man was found a few days later, shot to death.

Stu Ungar Gin Rummy

When he was 10 years old in 1963, he won a local gin tournament. By 1967, he was regarded as one of the best players in New York. He dropped out of school to play gin rummy full time to help support his mother and sister after his father died, and began winning tournaments earning him $10,000 or more. He eventually had to leave New York due to gambling debts at the local race tracks; sadly for his case he was losing more than he was winning in gin, and had to get out of town. He later moved to Miami, Florida to find more action. In 1976, he left for Las Vegas, Nevada where he and his longtime girlfriend got married and had a daughter.

One of the reasons Stu Ungar eventually took up poker exclusively was because gin action had dried up because of his reputation. Ungar virtually destroyed anyone who challenged him in a gin match including a professional widely regarded as the best gin player of Ungar's generation, Harry "Yonkie" Stein. Ungar reportedly beat Stein so badly in a high stakes gin match that Stein dropped out of sight in gin circles and stopped playing professionally.

After beating Stein and several other top gin professionals, Ungar was a marked man. Nobody wanted to play him in a gin match because of his superior skill. In the hopes of generating more action for himself, Ungar began offering potential gin opponents handicaps to even the playing field. He was known to let his opponent look at the last card in the deck, offer rebates to defeated opponents and always play each hand in the dealer position, all of which put him at a decisive disadvantage.One story Ungar recalled was when a known cheater at gin called to set up a match with him. Stu Ungar knew the man was a cheater as well but agreed to play him for money anyway. During the match, Ungar's bodyguard (sent by his financial backers because in those days the backers of a losing player at times assaulted or killed a winning player and took their money back) noticed the man was cheating. The bodyguard pulled Ungar aside and was irate while telling him. Ungar calmly told the bodyguard "I know he's cheating. Don't worry. I'll beat him anyway", and he did.

At the time Stu Ungar moved to Las Vegas, gin was still popular in tournament format, much like heads up poker tournaments. Ungar won or finished high in so many gin tournaments that several casinos asked him to not play in them because many players said they would not enter if they knew Ungar was playing. Ungar later said in his biography that he loved seeing his opponent slowly break down over the course of a match, realizing he could not win and eventually get a look of desperation on his face. "It was ****ing beautiful" he noted.

Though he is more well known for his poker accomplishments, Ungar regarded himself as a better gin rummy player, once stating, "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."

Stu Ungar Divorce and drugs

Stu Ungar and wife Madeline divorced in 1986. They bore a daughter, Stefanie, together. Ungar also legally adopted Madeline's son from her first marriage, Richie, who took Ungar's surname. Richie committed suicide shortly after his high school prom, devastating both Madeline and Stu.Ungar's drug problem escalated to such a point that during the WSOP main event in 1990, to which close friend and poker pro Billy Baxter had staked him, Ungar was found on the third day of the tournament unconscious on the floor of his hotel room from a drug overdose. However, he had such a chip lead that even when the dealers kept taking his blinds out every time around the table Ungar still finished 9th and pocketed $20,500.

After early success Stu Ungar squandered virtually all of his winnings on cocaine and other forms of gambling (chiefly sports betting and horse racing). He went from broke to a millionaire four times. A common chain of events for Ungar during this period was to win a sizeable bankroll playing poker then lose all of it on drugs, sports games and horse races.

His addiction took such a physical toll on him that in an ESPN piece on Ungar, many of his friends and fellow competitors said that they thought that he would not live to see his 40th birthday. In the same piece, one friend said that the only thing that kept him alive was his determination to see his daughter Stefanie grow up.

Many of Ungar's friends, including Mike Sexton began to encourage him to enter drug rehab. Ungar refused, citing several people he knew who had been to rehab previously who told him that drugs were easier to obtain in rehab than on the street (the friends said that dealers targeted rehab facilities specifically because there were so many addicts in one place).

Stu Ungar "The Comeback Kid"

In 1997, Stu Ungar was deeply in debt, but he once again received the $10,000 buy-in to the WSOP main event from Baxter. Ungar clearly showed physical damage from his years of addiction, most notably to his nasal membranes. However, he showed that his mental capacities were unimpaired. During the tournament he kept a picture of his daughter Stefanie in his wallet, and regularly called her with updates on his progress.

After winning the main event again, which was taped for broadcast by ESPN, he showed the picture of his daughter to the camera, and dedicated his win to her. He and Baxter split the $1,000,000 first prize evenly. Ungar was dubbed "The Comeback Kid" by the Las Vegas media because of the span (16 years) between his main event wins as well as his past drug abuse.

During the 1997 WSOP, Ungar wore a pair of round, cobalt blue tinted sunglasses (much like John Lennon did during the Beatles Sergeant Pepper days) to, according to co-biographer Peter Alson, "hide the fact that his nostrils had collapsed from cocaine abuse." As legend has it, Ungar had undergone a rhinoplasty to fix the nasal damage that cocaine had caused. Following the surgery, he snorted cocaine again, causing his nostrils to collapse.

Stu Ungar Final years

Stu Ungar lost all of his 1997 WSOP prize over the course of the next few months, mainly on drugs and sports betting. He attempted to give up drugs several times at the begging of Stefanie but only stayed clean for weeks at a time before using again.

Before the 1998 WSOP, Baxter offered to pay his entry fee to the main event, but 10 minutes before play started, Ungar told Baxter he was tired and did not feel like playing. Ungar later said that due to his drug abuse in the weeks prior to the tournament, he felt that showing up in his current condition would be more embarrassing than not showing up at all, In the months following the 1998 WSOP, Ungar was spotted walking around various Las Vegas poker rooms begging for money.

He often said the money was to get him back on the poker tables, but would instead use it to purchase crack. Not long after, many pros, some Ungar's former friends, refused to stake him or give him any money until he cleaned himself up. Ungar was also arrested for possession of drugs during this time.


Seven months after the 1998 WSOP, Ungar was found dead in his room at the Oasis Motel in Las Vegas with $800 on him. The $800 was the remnants of a $25,000 loan he got from Baxter just a week earlier to put him back in action at the poker tables, An autopsy showed traces of drugs in his system, but not enough to have directly caused his death. The medical examiner concluded that he had died of a heart condition brought on by his years of drug abuse.Despite winning millions during his poker career, Stu Ungar died with no assets to his name. A collection was taken up by friend and fellow poker player Bob Stupak at his funeral to pay for it.

Stu Ungar Legacy

Stu Ungar is still regarded by many poker insiders as the greatest pure talent ever to play the game; in his life, he is estimated to have won over $30 million at the poker table. Along with Johnny Moss, Ungar is the only three-time WSOP main event champion. His win in 1997 is considered particularly remarkable as a comeback after 16 years of drug abuse.

During his WSOP career, Ungar won 5 WSOP bracelets and more than $2,000,000 in tournament pay. (Note: Johnny Moss' win at the first WSOP in 1970 was by popular vote, not because he was the winner of a tournament, as has been the case ever since. Because of this, Stu Ungar is actually the only WSOP champion to actually win the title at the table three times.)Ungar also won the main event at the now-defunct Amarillo Slim's Super Bowl of Poker in 1983, 1988 and 1989, when it was considered the world's second most prestigious poker title, As Slim put it: "Stu musta won a jillion dollars in my tournaments."

He won a total of 10 major no limit Texas hold 'em events (events in which the buy-ins were $5,000 or higher), still the most by anyone, One of Ungar's most famous quotes sums up his competitiveness- "I never want to be called a 'good loser'. Show me a good loser and I'll just show you a loser." He was also notorious for dealer abuse, especially when enduring a losing session.

A movie about Ungar, High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story (alternate title Stuey), was made in 2003. Ungar was portrayed by Michael Imperioli. Ungar's daughter, Stefanie, called out the famous words "Shuffle Up and Deal!" at the 2005 World Series of Poker, A character named Joey Frost loosely based on Stu Ungar was played by Lou Taylor Pucci in the April 30, 2006 episode of the Law & Order: Criminal Intent TV series, "Cruise to Nowhere".

Growing up with street smart wiseguys such as Romano often presented Ungar with some interesting situations later on in his adult life. Ungar was once at an airport attempting to fly out of the United States to Europe for a poker tournament with several fellow pros. All Ungar's friends had passports, but he did not. In fact, Ungar did not even have a Social Security number until after his 1980 WSOP win and that was only because he was forced to in order to collect his winnings.

Upon telling the airport customs agent he needed the passport immediately to leave the country, the agent replied that for a small fee, they could push the necessary forms through quicker for him. Ungar misconstrued this as meaning the agent was requesting a bribe, something he was used to back in New York when with Romano. Ungar had no problem doing this and slipped the agent a $100 bill. However the agent was actually referring to a small "expedite fee" that was common for all passport applicants. The agent was going to call the police and have Ungar arrested for attempting to bribe a public official before his fellow poker players stepped in and smoothed things out.

Despite owning several expensive cars, Ungar rarely drove, He preferred to take a taxi virtually anywhere he went, even from his home in Las Vegas to the casinos, a short trip, Ungar was known to be a large tipper to cabbies and casino employees, regardless if he was winning or not, Mike Sexton once noted "Stuey spent what most people make in a year on cab fares", The fact he rarely drove could have possibly come from a time when Ungar purchased a brand new Mercedes sports car and drove it until the vehicle ran out of oil, causing the vehicle to break down, Ungar brought the vehicle back to the dealership and was told by a mechanic it had no oil and thus would not run, Ungar replied "Why the hell didn't you tell me you had to put oil in the car? "Ungar's friends often said he "ate like a wild animal", Ungar saw eating as something that had to be gotten out of the way so he could get back to gambling action. He would often call restaurants ahead of time and place an order for himself and everyone in his party so it was ready at the same time his table was when he got there, Sexton noted that because Ungar would pay for everyone in his dining party, regardless of how expensive the meal was, it was impossible to argue with his method.

Ungar would race in to the restaurant, shovel the food down as fast as he could, throw cash for the entire meal plus a generous tip on the table and be ready to leave, even if the rest of his party had just barely started on drinks or appetizers, The same friends however also noted that Ungar, when he had money, was one of the most generous people they had ever met. He was known to always be willing to help out a friend.

Ungar was once on a hot winning streak and sent his longtime sports betting friend Michael "Baseball Mike" Salem enough money to pay for several months of his mortgage. Salem did not ask for the money and had only mentioned off hand to Ungar he was in the midst of a nasty losing streak.

Ungar also once won large amount of money (over $1.5 million) on a series of horse races. That night, Ungar took all his close friends out to a strip club and paid for the entire evening which included numerous girls, Cristal champagne and a VIP booth. Sexton estimated the night cost Ungar $8,800 and he never once asked or expected any of his group to pay for a single penny of it, Personal hygiene was also something that tended to be lost on Ungar. He rarely washed his own hair, opting instead to pay a professional stylist at The Dunes casino to cut and wash it for him twice a week.

Ungar never had a bank account in his own name, preferring to keep his money in safe deposit boxes in hotels across Las Vegas. He dismissed the notion of a bank or checking account. "You mean I can't go there at midnight and get my money out?", he noted (this was before the advent of ATMs), "That's ridiculous."

Stu Ungar Tournament Prizes

• 1980 $10,000 No Limit Hold'em World Championship $365,000
• 1981 $10,000 No Limit Hold'em World Championship $375,000
• 1981 $10,000 Deuce to Seven Draw $95,000
• 1983 $5,000 Seven Card Stud $110,000
• 1997 $10,000 No Limit Hold'em World Championship $1,000,000

• 1980 and 1981 WSOP titles

In 1980 he entered the World Series of Poker (WSOP) looking for more high-stakes action. He won the main event, defeating poker legend Doyle Brunson, and became the youngest champion in its history (he would later be surpassed by Phil Hellmuth in 1989). Ungar looked even younger than he was, and was dubbed "The Kid". He would defend his title successfully at the 1981 WSOP.

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