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Stu Ungar Biography: Legendary Casino Blackjack Champ Remembered

May 18, 2011

bio of stu ungar
Stu Ungar

As this year’s WSOP is approaching, Stu Ungar is remember not only for his genius abilities at the poker table but for his lesser known card counting and blackjack skills.

Thirteen years have passed since Stu Ungar’s death but his amazing gambling talents will remain the stuff of legends for generations to come. His photographic memory, amazing ability to read people, and a genius level IQ made him a flawless master of card counting systems.

When Stu was 24, a Las Vegas casino owner bet him $100,000 that he wouldn’t be able to count a six-deck shoe and determine which card would be the last. Stu won the bet. He believed that perfect memory and card counting abilities were natural blackjack card games skills and it was wrong to label them as a form of cheating.

At 25, but still looking no older than 13, at 5 foot 4 inches tall and around 100 pounds, Stu went to Vegas for the first time. Before the explosion of poker, gin rummy was as popular as poker is today, and Stu defeated every single master. He demolished the undefeated gin rummy world champion Harry “Yonkie” Stein, 86 games to 0. After that, Yonkie never played gin again.

Stu Ungar once said – “I never want to be called a ‘good loser,’ show me a good loser and I’ll just show you a loser.”

Stu was feared by casino management in Las Vegas, as he was capable of severely damaging a casino at high limit blackjack. Eventually, Stu was forbidden to play blackjack in every casino in the United States. In the the history of blackjack there were few players as feared by casinos as Stu Ungar.

Stu’s poker abilities are legendary and he still holds the record for winning the World Series of Poker Main Event three times – 1980, 1981 and 1997. In all he was considered one of the best no-limit hold em players in the world, winning 10 tournaments with a buy-in of $5000 or more out of a total of only 30 that he played.

It has been estimated that Stu won over $30 million in his career, yet in 1998 when he was found dead in a cheap Vegas hotel room, he was completely broke and his few friends had to pay for the funeral. His self-destructive personality led to drug addiction, which eventually claimed his life.

In 1997, shortly before his death, Stu convinced the owner of Lady Luck in Vegas to let him play single hand blackjack. The owner agreed only if there was a high and low limit, to prevent Stu from being able to count the cards in the blackjack deck, and bet at the right spots. Stu still was able to win $300,000 by adjusting his strategy.

Stu or Stuey or ‘the kid’, was that special breed of gambler, who was not only able to quickly become proficient at any game of cards, but become a top tier player or the world’s best. RIP.

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