Legend of Gin Rummy - Stu Ungar
Legends of Rummy
Stuart Errol Ungar
Stuart Errol Ungar, commonly known as "Stu Ungar", is a legend among Gin Rummy players, as well as poker players. Stu is considered by many aficionados to be the best in the world at both poker and Gin Rummy. By the age of 10, he had won his first Gin Rummy tournament, and is the only poker player to win the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event 3 times.
Stu was born September 8, 1953. After winning his first Gin Rummy tournament in 1963 at the ripe age of 10, Ungar dropped out of school to play Gin Rummy full time, helping to support his mother and sister when his father passed away in 1968. Tournament play was awarding the young Ungar $10,000 and up per event.
At the age of 18, Ungar met and befriended a notoriously alleged criminal by the name of Victor Romano. Known for his amazing memory, Victor had done jail time where he became so familiar with the dictionary it is said he could recite every word and definition in the book. Romano spoke four languages and had a lucrative knack for calculating gambling odds, the same as Ungar. Victor Romano became so close to Stu Ungar that he became a father figure to him.
Stu was not a modest man. He was actually known for frequently criticizing other players he felt weren't up to his standards of game play. His style of play has been called assassin-like in nature, and many gamblers did not take well to his attitude. Ungar's relationship with Romano was the only thing that held other gamblers back from retaliating against his aggressive, unfriendly style.
Ungar became well known and reputed as the best player in New York by 1976. Unfortunately for him, he had begun wagering heavily at the local horse racing tracks, and was losing more than he was winning in Gin Rummy. He was forced to leave New York due to horse track gambling debts, thus taking up residence in Miami, Florida, followed by another move to Las Vegas, Nevada in 1977. While in Vegas, Stu met his future wife, who already had one child and soon delivered a second, fathered by Stu.
Ungar's immense success at Gin Rummy became too well known and he was forced to commit himself to poker, trailing off his Gin Rummy activities. No one could defeat Ungar, even Harry "Yonkie" Stein, who was well known as one of the strongest professional Gin Rummy players of his time. It is speculated that Stein's high-stakes Gin Rummy loss, in which he was terribly beaten by Ungar, caused him to drop out of the Gin Rummy scene and stopped playing Gin Rummy professionally altogether. An observer stated that Stein "was never the same after that night."
Having defeated Stein and a host of other professional, no one wanted to compete with Ungar anymore. Not only was he incredibly skilled, he gave his opponents the impression he simply could not be beaten. Stu even offered handicaps to his potential opponents - letting them see the last card in the deck, offering them rebates on losses, even willing to play in the Dealer position for every hand - this distinct disadvantage to Ungar was still not enough to sway players into competing against him. Las Vegas Casinos eventually asked Ungar not to participate in Gin Rummy tournaments as the other players were declining to enter due to his presence.
Stu Ungar moved on to playing poker, since Gin Rummy left him little options. In 1980, Ungar defeated Doyle Brunson to claim first prize in the WSOP Main Event, becoming the youngest player to ever win the WSOP (later taken over by Phil Hellmuth in 1989). He then defended his title the following year, defeating Perry Green in heads-up play at the 1981 WSOP Main Event final table.
A renowned Blackjack player as well, Ungar had an eidetic memory and genius level IQ, allowing him to remember every single card played from a 6-deck shoe. Casino owner and designer, Bob Stupak, actually wagered Ungar $100,000 in 1977 that he could not count down the remaining 2 decks of a 6-deck shoe - Ungar pocketed the $100,000 with ease. His Blackjack skills became so well known, he was practically unable play Blackjack in Vegas or anywhere else for that matter, having been banned from so many casinos.
Ungar's legendary Gin Rummy, Poker and Blackjack abilities took a devastating turn in 1986 when he and his wife Madeline divorced, following his adopted son Richie committing suicide at 18. Ungar began using cocaine, according to his biography, on the suggestion of a fellow poker player who noted the drug's ability to keep a player energized throughout the longest of poker tournaments. Ungar's professional cocaine use soon led to recreational use as well, resulting in addiction.
Ungar's close friend, Billy Baxter, had staked the money for Ungar to compete in the 1990 WSOP, but 3 days into the tournament, he was found unconscious in his hotel room from a drug overdose. Even though Ungar was unable to finish, the dealer at the table he should have been playing continued taking his blinds out. Ungar's chip lead prior to the overdose was so significant, he still finished 9th place, earning him $20,500.
Ungar spent all of his poker winnings on drugs, then Baxter would loan or stake him the entry fee to another tournament. Upon winning, he would again spend the money on drugs. This became a vicious cycle throughout the latter years of Ungar's life.
In 1997, with evident signs of dilapidation from years of drug addiction, Ungar won his third and final WSOP Main Event championship, dubbing him 'The Comeback Kid'. Ungar refused a loan to enter the '98 WSOP Main Event, stating to appear in his current condition (due to weeks of drug abuse before the tournament) would be more embarrassing than to not show up at all.
Stu Ungar was found several months later, on November 22, 1998, dead in his Las Vegas motel room. According to the autopsy report, Stu Ungar died from a heart condition resulting from his years of drug abuse.