Matoupris tells us a story: Stu Ungar, from heaven to hell
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Matoupris tells us a story: Stu Ungar, from heaven to hell

The world of gambling, especially card games, is a special place for many reasons. First of all, bankroll management is a key point, as players who do not adjust their bets will quickly find themselves out of pocket. Secondly, a lot of mental work is needed to avoid being overwhelmed by emotions. Finally, luck and variance are factors too often taken into account by gamblers who believe in their lucky star but forget that in certain card games, it is also work and perseverance that make the difference.

However, for a handful of players, talent is innate. This is the case of Stu Ungar, who is considered by many to be the best player in the history of Gin Rummy, but who also went on to become a true Poker legend. From an early age, the man known as "The Kid" realised that he had an aptitude for certain card games, which are nowadays considered to be real brain sports. After deciding to make a living out of it, Ungar went on to earn tens of millions of dollars in his lifetime. Unfortunately, the man who was called "the genius" by his opponents lacked the intelligence to fight his old demons.

Lucky7Bonus takes a look at the incredible story of Stu Ungar, one of the most talented Gin Rummy and Poker players in history! This unusually intelligent kid lived every gambler's dream by standing head and shoulders above the rest of the game and mastering it to the hilt. Ungar also gave us a real life lesson by showing the world how easy it is to lose everything, and we're not just talking about the financial aspect. Sit back, Matoupris, the famous mascot of L7B, will tell you all about it!

The Stu Ungar Story

A turbulent youth and the discovery of gambling

Stu Ungar was born in New York City in 1953 and spent most of his youth in the notorious Manhattan area. A child of rare intelligence, he was highly gifted in school and successful in many areas. His father, nicknamed "Ido", owned a private club where many businessmen, politicians and even gangsters came to share a drink, watch shows and play games. That's how this kid discovered what gambling was all about, a world that immediately appealed to Stu.

Despite his father's efforts to keep his son as far away from these potentially destructive temptations as possible, the young Stu began to learn to play cards at an early age, especially Gin Rummy, a very popular game at the time. Ungar proved to be a talented player, as he quickly realized that the game had nothing to do with luck, unlike other players who thought that chance was the key element of the game. With an above-average visual memory and a keen eye for numbers and statistics, Stu Ungar had an advantage over all his opponents, which he put to good use from an early age.

First successes and first addictions

Indeed, the young prodigy won his first Gin Rummy tournament at only 10 years old, beating opponents much older than him. His talent was quickly seen by all, as was his arrogance, his contempt for bad players and his hatred of defeat. It was only after the death of his father that Stu decided, at the age of 13, to take up Gin Rummy. What started out as a passion soon became a profession as during his teenage years, Ungar was able to support his ailing mother and sister financially solely through tournament winnings.

A second youth in Las Vegas

The end of the Gin Rummy adventure

Stu Ungar was soon considered the best Gin Rummy player on the East Coast of the United States. His reputation quickly spread across the country, to the point where he could not find any opponents to challenge him. Challengers who were supposed to be the best players in the country were largely beaten, and even foreigners who had come especially to challenge Stu were leaving stripped and discouraged. However, only one place continued to offer Gin Rummy tournaments and accepted Stu Ungar, and that was of course Las Vegas, the gamblers' paradise!

The young man set foot in the city of sin for the first time in his life during the year 1977. Only 24 years old, Ungar was already the best player in the country and won every tournament he entered in Vegas. Once again, many casinos would not allow him to enter because he was too good and other players would not enter, preferring not to play rather than face Stu. The young New Yorker quickly realized that Gin Rummy was over for him, and quickly turned to a new and equally interesting card game.

Discovery of poker and immediate success

The word Legend can sometimes be misused, but it seems that for Stu Ungar this appellation is not strong enough. Indeed, after proving himself to be one of the best players in the history of Gin Rummy, the young man has become over the years a poker player known and recognized by the whole profession. Stu learned the basics of this card game at an incredible speed and quickly became a formidable player. His style of play was based on thinking and probabilities rather than on the cards themselves, which made it very difficult to beat Ungar.

After a few heads up wins against poker icons, Stu Ungar decided to try his luck in various Texas Hold'em tournaments. And the prodigy didn't have to wait long for his first success as Stu won the first tournament he ever played in. What's more, it's not just any event he's won, as Ungar finished first in the Main Event of the 1980 World Series of Poker (WSOP), earning his first bracelet in his first tournament appearance! It was a media storm for the recent champion who won $385,000 after paying $10,000 for his entry.

But the love affair between Stu Ungar and poker did not end there. The following year, in 1981, the card game's new poster boy repeated the feat by winning the WSOP Main Event, which remains the world's most prestigious poker tournament to this day! This exceptional performance allows Ungar to enter the legend of the card game and proves to all observers that his victory last year was by no means a coincidence. He was later nicknamed "The Kid", because of his small size, youthful face and carefree attitude which was a real asset to Ungar when he was bluffing.

Descent into hell and redemption

Drug problems and gambling addiction

As we said at the beginning of this article, to stay at the top of the game for as long as possible, you need exceptional mental strength, but you also need to resist temptations and addictions. And the least we can say is that these golden rules have unfortunately not been respected by the New York genius. Indeed, Stu Ungar was a great lover of alcohol but also a very regular user of cocaine. According to him, the world poker champion used the drug to stay at the tables longer. However, this addiction quickly became a real ordeal that plagued the prodigy for the rest of his life.

Although Ungar won several million dollars at the tables for many years, the natural born gambler often fell back on his addiction, losing all of his winnings on the racetrack. This addiction to horse racing ruined him several times, and he even started to have gambling debts again. His defiant attitude to some was also a problem during his pro career, creating tension with his opponents of the day and disrespecting dealers and casino staff.

The Return of a Lifetime

A few years later, Stu Ungar was up to his eyeballs in debt and his addiction could not have been stronger, even to the point of affecting his physical appearance. His reputation still allowed Ungar to be loaned $10,000 to play in the Main Event of the WSOP in 1997 once again. And the player became even more legendary as the American genius once again won this prestigious tournament, against more than 300 opponents!

This unexpected victory made Stu Ungar the most successful player in the World Series of Poker Main Event, tied with Johnny Moss (also with 3 wins). The $1 million prize money for the winner had to be shared with Billy Baxter, his friend who loaned him the money to play in the tournament. As usual, Ungar lost the $500,000 he had earned in poker in just a few months, mostly in sports betting.

Tragic end and posterity

The disappearance of a legend

Following this victory, depression and anxiety began to take hold of Ungar. He had to stop using cocaine because his septum collapsed. But instead of stopping the drugs for good, the three-time Main Event winner decided to switch to crack cocaine to ease his psychological pain. The consequences were terrible for this gambler par excellence who gradually lost his mind and could not even show his face in public, let alone play cards.

All his life, Stu Ungar has gambled, but this time it was drugs and addiction that won. Some time later, in November 1998, the Gin Rummy and poker legend was found dead in a seedy Las Vegas hotel. Traces of drugs were found in his system, but it was a heart attack that caused his death. The kid who dreamed of becoming one of the best card players in the country succeeded, while the man who wanted to get back on the right track to please his beloved daughter unfortunately failed.

An example not to follow

To this day, Stu Ungar is considered the best Gin Rummy player in history and one of the best poker players the game has ever seen. "The Kid" was even inducted into the WSOP Hall of Fame in 2001, thanks in part to his 3 wins in the Main Event, but also because of his other tournament victories in various variants, making him one of the most complete poker players in history. This genius with a whimsical personality is also remembered as a role model when it comes to drugs and other addictions.

Stu Ungar lived every gambler's dream during his lifetime, becoming a legend in two different cash games. But he passed away far too early. However, he did everything he could.

About the authorClaude Gillet
277 articles
✅ Reviewed by Head of Content
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Since 2019, Claude has been editor-in-chief. His role is the most comprehensive, as he is responsible for publishing, editing and proofreading. All articles published on the site have been checked by him.

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