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Stuart Errol Ungar September 8, — November 22, was an American professional poker , blackjack , and gin rummy player, widely regarded to have been the greatest Texas hold 'em and gin player of all time.

He is one of two people in poker history to have won the World Series of Poker Main Event three times. He is the only person to win Amarillo Slim 's Super Bowl of Poker three times, the world's second most prestigious poker title during its time. Ungar was born to Jewish parents Isidore — and Faye Ungar — He was raised on Manhattan's Lower East Side.

Ido died of a heart attack on July 25, Following his father's death, and with his mother virtually incapacitated by a stroke, Ungar drifted around the New York gambling scene until age 18, when he was befriended by reputed organized crime figure Victor Romano. Romano was regarded as one of the best card players of his time. By many accounts, the two developed a very close relationship, with Romano serving as a mentor and protector.

Ungar was infamous for his arrogance and for routinely criticizing aloud the play of opponents he felt were beneath him, which included just about anyone. One of Ungar's most famous quotes sums up his competitiveness: "I never want to be called a 'good loser. One man reportedly tried to hit him in the head with a chair in a bar after Ungar soundly defeated him. Ungar would claim years later that the man was found shot to death a few days after the incident, although that has been disputed by others who knew Ungar at the time.

Ungar won a local gin tournament at age By , he was regarded as one of the best players in New York. Ungar eventually had to leave New York due to gambling debts at local race tracks. He later moved to Miami , Florida , to find more action. In , Ungar left Miami for Las Vegas , Nevada , where he reunited with Madeline Wheeler, a former girlfriend who would become his wife in One of the reasons Ungar eventually took up poker exclusively was because gin action had dried up due to his skilled reputation.

Ungar 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 beat Stein 86 games to none in a high-stakes game of Hollywood Gin, after which Stein dropped out of sight in gin circles and eventually stopped playing professionally. As one observer who knew him put it, Stein "was never the same after that night. Nobody wanted to play him in gin. In the hopes of generating more action for himself, Ungar began offering potential opponents handicaps to even the playing field.

He was known to let his opponent professional or not 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 strong disadvantage.

At the time Ungar first visited Las Vegas in , gin was still popular in a 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. Baxter noted when Ungar first entered the room, Baxter did not believe he was his opponent because of Ungar's youthful looks and small stature.

Baxter also said that during their match, a Coca-Cola crate had to be placed on Ungar's chair so he could reach the table. Though he is nowadays 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 finished 34th of 41 players. Poker legend Doyle Brunson remarked that it was the first time he had seen a player improve as the tournament went on. Ungar won the main event, defeating Brunson to become the youngest champion in its history surpassed first by Phil Hellmuth in , then others.

Ungar looked even younger than he was, and was dubbed "The Kid. Ungar was nearly not allowed to defend his title. Several days before the main event, he was banned from Binion's Horseshoe by Benny Binion because he spat in the face of a dealer after losing a sizable pot in a high-stakes game.

It was only when Binion's son, Jack , interceded and convinced his father to let Ungar play, citing the media attention that the defending champion would attract. In the World Series of Poker , Ungar won his fourth bracelet. Ungar's prodigy-level IQ and total recall [3] contributed to his blackjack card counting abilities, which were so sharp that he was frequently banned from playing in casinos; he was eventually unable to play blackjack in Las Vegas or anywhere else.

Ungar won the bet. Ungar was fined in 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 he vehemently denied. Ungar believed that his memory and card counting ability were natural skills and thus he did not need to cap bets or partake in any form of blackjack cheating.

In his biography, Ungar claimed he was consequently so exhausted from travel and court proceedings that he was not able to successfully defend his WSOP main event title. Since Ungar was a known card counter, the casino managers agreed on the condition that his betting would have a high and a low limit a limited spread , which, they presumed would render useless Ungar's card counting ability.

However, in the game of single-deck blackjack, playing strategy i. Ungar's mother had died in It was also around this time that Ungar began using cocaine. He noted in his autobiography that at first he used it on the advice of fellow poker players because of the drug's ability to keep someone up and energized for a long period of time, something that would come in handy during marathon poker sessions.

However, recreational use soon led to addiction. Ungar and Madeline were married in and had a daughter, Stefanie, that same year. Ungar also legally adopted Madeline's son from her first marriage, Richie, who adored Ungar and took his surname. Ungar and Madeline divorced in Ungar's drug problem escalated to such a point that during the WSOP Main Event in , Ungar was found on the third day of the tournament unconscious on the floor of his hotel room from a drug overdose.

His addiction took such a physical toll that in an ESPN piece, many of Ungar's friends and fellow competitors said that they thought that he would not live to see his fortieth birthday.

In the same piece, one friend said that the only thing that kept him alive was his determination to see his daughter grow up. Most of Ungar's winnings at the poker table he lost quickly betting on sports or horses, always looking for "action".

Many of Ungar's friends, including Mike Sexton , began to encourage him to enter drug rehab and offered to pay for Ungar to receive treatment at any facility in the world. 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. In , Ungar was deeply in debt and clearly showed physical damage from his years of addiction. Ungar was exhausted on the tournament's first day as he had been up for over 24 hours straight trying to raise or borrow enough money to play in the event.

At one point midway through the first day of play, Ungar began to fall asleep at his table and told Mike Sexton who was also playing he didn't think he could make it. After encouragement from Sexton and a tongue lashing from Baxter, Ungar settled in and made it through the day. During the tournament, Ungar kept a picture of his daughter Stefanie in his wallet, and he regularly called her with updates on his progress.

Following an up-and-down first day, Ungar showed up for each subsequent day well rested and mentally sharp. He would go on to amass a large chip lead and carry the lead into the final table. Ungar was so highly regarded at this point that local bookies made him the favorite to win the tournament over the entire field, an extreme rarity. Ungar went on to win the main event, joining Johnny Moss as the only three-time winners. After his victory, which was taped for broadcast by ESPN, Ungar was interviewed by Gabe Kaplan , and he showed the picture of his daughter to the camera and dedicated his win to her.

Ungar was dubbed "The Comeback Kid" by the Las Vegas media because of the span sixteen years between his main event wins as well as his past drug abuse. During the WSOP, Ungar wore a pair of round, cobalt blue—tinted sunglasses to, according to co-biographer Peter Alson, "hide the fact that his nostrils had collapsed from cocaine abuse. Ungar spent all of his WSOP prize money over the course of the next few months, mainly on drugs and sports betting.

He attempted to give up drugs several times at the behest of Stefanie but stayed clean for only weeks at a time before relapsing. However, ten minutes before play started, Ungar told Baxter he was tired and did not feel like playing.

Ungar later said the real reason he chose not to play in the event was due to his drug abuse in the weeks prior to the tournament. He noted that he felt showing up in his current condition would be more embarrassing than not showing up at all. He lived in and out of various Las Vegas hotels, rarely leaving his room.

Ungar was also 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 , which he now had to use instead of cocaine because his nasal membranes were so damaged he could no longer snort the drug, while crack could be smoked through a pipe. 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 crack cocaine during this time. In October , Bob Stupak made an arrangement to stake Ungar to several tournaments over a period of time.

On November 20, , Ungar checked into room No. On November 22, he was found in the room dead, lying on the floor, fully clothed and with the television off. An autopsy showed traces of drugs in Ungar's system, but not enough to have directly caused his death.

The medical examiner concluded that his death was the result of a heart condition brought on by years of drug abuse. Stupak took up a collection at Ungar's funeral to raise funds to pay for the services. Ungar was noted for his ultra-aggressive playing style and well-timed bluffs. Mike Sexton said that Ungar's chips were constantly in motion, and he was described by a fellow professional poker player during the World Series of Poker as having a clairvoyant ability to see his opponents' hole cards.

Several of Ungar's financial backers have commented that he could have earned an immeasurable amount more over his career had he been more of a 'hustler', giving his opponents the false belief they could beat him and thus be willing to risk more money trying. However, Ungar wanted to beat his opponents as soundly as possible, and he often insulted those whose skills he felt were inferior to his own. In his biography, Ungar also noted several opponents who offered to pay him to lose a gin match on purpose in order to collect a large side bet.

The opponent would have someone else place the bet, and upon winning they would split the large payoff with Ungar. However, Ungar indicated that pride in his own skill would not allow him to do this; apparently he could not stand the idea of someone having a victory against him, even an illegitimate one. Ungar, who held , thought for a few seconds and said to Matloubi, "You have or so I'm gonna call you with this" and flipped over his high to win the pot and bust Matloubi, who in fact held offsuit.

Growing up with street smart wiseguys such as Romano often presented Ungar with some interesting situations later on in his adult life.

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