Stu Ungar, the legend of poker

When talking about Stu Ungar, the word legend is not overused. It’s been more than twenty years since the player died, but not a week goes by without his name being cited by the greatest players such as neophytes. Back on an extraordinary journey.

Born in 1953 in New York, Stu Ungar was a gamer at heart. Some even consider him one of the most gifted poker players in the world. Ungar comes from a Jewish family and lived in Manhattan. His father owned a bar called Foxes Corner, which also served as a gambling club. Stu Ungar was familiar with this world from a very young age. The young man begins to actively play gin rummy. Stu assiduously frequented gambling circles in New York until he was 18 years old. He was very intelligent and has an exceptional memory and was very comfortable with probability calculations.


During the 1960s, Stu Ungar dropped out of school to play gin rummy full time and support his mother and sister after his father’s death. He reaps the gains. Many consider him to be one of the most gifted players in New York. Ungar decides to leave New York because of gambling debts. He goes to live in Florida, then settles in Las Vegas where he meets Madeline, who will become his wife thereafter.

One of the reasons which brought Stu Ungar towards the poker was its fall of activity to the gin because it was very strong and discouraged possible adversaries. When Stu first came to Sin City, gin was big in tournament play, as was heads-up in Texas Hold’em.


In 1980, then a beginner in poker but after having spent thousands of hours in front of ‘Jacks or better’ machines , Stu Ungar disputed the WSOP, in Las Vegas, the most prestigious poker festival in the world. It’s the first time he’s played a poker tournament. However, the player already displays exceptional mastery and impresses his opponents. This is the case of Doyle Brunson who is already a very experienced player. Stu Ungar ends up winning the Main Event, the most popular tournament. In heads-up, he beat Doyle Brunson and pocketed $365,000. Quickly, he was given the nickname “The Kid”. In an incredible rush, Stu Ungar repeated the feat the following year and won the Main Event of the 1981 WSOP. A real consecration for the young player.

Stu Ungar on the WSOP

Stu’s track record doesn’t stop there. He also won a $10,000 Buy-in Deuce to Seven Draw tournament dominating Bobby Baldwyn. Ungar collected $95,000. The player even signed a 4th success during the World Series of Poker in 1983 ($110,000 in winnings).


Stu Ungar was addicted to drugs. From the beginning of the 1980s, he began to use cocaine. A recreational job quickly made him completely dependent. For example, in 1990, during the WSOP, Stu was found sprawled on the floor of his hotel room, after an overdose. In 1997, he signed an incredible Come-Back. On the Main Event, he dominates John Strzemp and won again this tournament for the 3rd time. In 1998, Stu Ungar skipped the WSOP because he was very tired. He then retired from the circuit because of his addictions.

He ended his life, ruined. On November 22, 1998, Stu Ungar was found dead in a cheap Las Vegas hotel room. After an autopsy, traces of drugs were found in his body. His death is attributed to cardiac arrest. He was buried in a cemetery in Las Vegas.