Stuey Ungar is the most talked about poker player in history. His legendary abilities stunned his rivals from the first time he played a game of cards right up until his untimely death a year after winning his third WSOP Main Event title.
He was the guy who had all the talent in the world, but just couldn’t handle his personal demons. His long-time friend Doyle Brunson was quoted as saying how terrible everybody felt after his death, but nobody was surprised.
Stuey’s daughter Stefanie recently spoke to Nathan Gamble, writing for CardPlayer.com, to give some anecdotes about Stuey’s early life and career. As you might expect there is a blend of the bizarre with humour, sadness, and tragedy. In fact, just about everything about Stuey was unconventional.
To start with, Stefanie confirms the early links between Stuey and the Italian Mafia. This is a part of his early life that many people feel has been exaggerated, but Stefanie gives an amusing story that affirms what we already know.
“At Stuey’s bar mitzvah there were so many mobsters in attendance that the FBI was outside of the event writing down the license plate of every car in the parking lot.”
Stuey’s father Ido was a bookmaker who made a lot of money for the mobsters even before ‘The Kid’ began to play cards for them.
Golf has to be the source of many a poker player’s downfall when it comes to prop bets. In recent years Phil Ivey and many more high stakes pros have taken to the course in order to get some action.
The difference between them and Stuey was that they took lessons and practiced before wager huge sums. That’s right, Stu Ungar was betting hundreds of thousands of dollars on golf without ever having played the game before.
“Stu’s first-time playing golf, he left the course owing over $77,000. I don’t know what he was chasing, if it was an adrenaline rush or something more, but he was always pushing how far he could go.”
As if that wasn’t bad enough, it turns out that he lost $300,000 on the putting green before he even set foot on the real course, and then proceeded to lose the Mercedes that he arrived in. This has to be one of the best degen stories in gambling history.
The Side that People Didn’t See
When it comes to Stuey, a lot of people tend to focus on the negative. It’s certainly true that he could be incredibly abrasive, particularly with casino dealers when a session wasn’t going well.
Stefanie shares a story from Stuey’s funeral that shows the side he didn’t let everybody see.
“At his funeral, my mom pointed out several dealers that were in attendance and told me how big of a deal that was, because he didn’t always treat them the best. When we talked with one of them afterwards, he said not everyone understood, but Stu tried to make it a point to come over after the game and apologise while leaving a sizable tip. He would just get so frustrated when playing for giant sums that he couldn’t control himself. But when his anger subsided, he usually tried to make it right.”
Stuey Ungar is arguably the greatest poker player who ever lived. His genius level talent sometimes made it impossible for mere mortals to compete with him to the point that we are yet to witness the same level of capability in the modern era.
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