Stu "the Kid" Ungar, known for his unconventional poker strategy and for his flamboyant lifestyle, was one of the greatest No Limit Hold ’em poker players of all time.
Stu Ungar was born in Manhattan in 1953. His father, Isador Ungar, ran a bar that doubled as a gambling establishment, so Stu was exposed to gambling from an early age.
When Stu Ungar was 10 years old, he won a local gin rummy tournament. He later dropped out of school to play gin rummy full time. By 1976, he was seen as one of the best players in New York, and it’s said that his supremacy at the game meant he struggled to find opponents willing to take him on.
At age 18, Ungar was befriended by the infamous Victor Romano, who shared his interest in gambling and is rumoured to have protected Ungar from other players who didn’t take kindly to his aggressive style.
In 1977, at age 24, Stu Ungar moved to Las Vegas and started a career in poker. Ungar went on to win both the World Series of Poker and the Amarillo Slim‘s Super Bowl of Poker a phenomenal three times each, becoming the only poker player to win both events, much less to win them three times over. His first World Series win came in 1980, when he beat Doyle Brunson. At that time, he was the youngest ever player to become a world champion. Eventually his skill was such that many Vegas casinos banned him from playing.
With his genius-level IQ and phenomenal memory, Stu Ungar was also able to track all the cards in a six-deck blackjack shoe. He was once accused of cheating at blackjack, but successfully defended his claim of innocence in court.
By the late 1980s, Stu Ungar had developed a cocaine addiction and regularly squandered all his money on drugs. However, he earned the title "the Comeback Kid" when he played and won the 1997 World Series of Poker, beating the legendary Johnny Moss.
After his win, Stu Ungar continued using cocaine and progressed to crack, often bankrupting himself. He eventually died of a heart attack in the Oasis Motel in Las Vegas, at the age of 45.
Over the course of his poker career, it’s estimated that Stu Ungar won a total exceeding $30 million. He is still remembered as one of the greatest poker players ever to have lived.