Stu Unger was a professional poker, gin rummy, and blackjack player, widely regarded to have been the best Texas hold 'em and gin player ever. He is one of two individuals in poker history to have clinched the World Series of Poker Main Event three times.
Ungar was an enigmatic New York native and son of bar owner. A generous reprobate with a sharp mind and a supernatural instinct for reading the game, his talents extended much beyond the poker table. He was indomitable at gin rummy and destroyed even his closest rivals with such ferocity that the queue of challengers dwindled to zero.
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The fast-talking gin prodigy quickly settled in Las Vegas during the late 1970s and was soon a regular in the high stakes poker cash games. Despite having quite limited experience, Ungar took to poker with lightning speed. Poker legend Doyle Brunson later stated that he’d never seen anyone pick up the game as quickly as Stuey had. In 1980 he became the youngest ever victor of the WSOP Main Event and was christened with the nickname, “The Kid”, a reference to his slight age and scrawny appearance. He successfully defended his championship title the following year.
Ungar’s talent for poker was equally matched by a capability for self-annihilation. Money won from cards was usually wasted on sports bets. In the eighties he developed a cocaine addiction that would pester him for the rest of his life. He consistently went from millionaire to bust and would often solicit loans for illegal means under the pretence of rejuvenating his poker bankroll.
In 1997, gaunt and emaciated, Ungar begged a fellow poker player to lend him £10k needed to participate in the WSOP Main Event. He came first, devouring a field of 312 players and announcing his comeback as the king of the card room. Eighteen months thereafter, having rejected to defend his title, Ungar was found dead in a Las Vegas motel room.
At his zenith, Ungar played poker with creativity and an aggression that was years ahead of its time. Unfortunately, we’ll never know how far his potential could have taken him.
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