RE: Really? 10-Year Anniversary of Stu’s Death (2)

by , Nov 22, 2008 | 5:42 pm

Today’s also the 45th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s death, we should probably note. JFK was a little before my time, of course, but Stu Ungar (1953-1998) … his tragic end actually played a significant role in piquing my interest in the professional game. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at the time, but something about his obit caught my eye … age 45, “of as yet undetermined causes” … you might argue that he was the first rock star of poker — with triumphant on-stage performances and a self-inflicted final exit, a la Jimi Hendrix or Kurt Cobain.

I have this multi-drawer file I call Dead Story Office — not about the deceased, but full of notes and documents (from mostly pre-poker days) on stories that never quite came to fruition — and one of them: “World Series of Poker”. Though I didn’t quite see how it all came together (and in retrospect it couldn’t be more of an uh-duh observation) I was pretty sure Ungar had to be a major and fascinating character.

If you’ve got nothing better to do, click below to rummage through the manila folder where I’ve carried a guy I never knew with me through four homes and two external offices over the past 10 years:


Not to wax too nostalgic, but what else was going on in the world the week Ungar died: Michael J Fox underwent brain surgery, Flip Wilson was the most famous person to dearly depart, Exxon-Mobil were talking about a possible merger, and the price of a gallon of gas was $1.05. (From Newsweek Dec 7 1998)

I don’t recall how or when I acquired this photocopy of a page from CardPlayer, but it was the first time I had ever heard of the World Series of Poker. And with all that cool-looking lightning on the commemorative new-and-improved VHS gift box, something told me this “WSP” thing had to be pretty exciting.

Some lady named Adina was the hook-up for press info, and at the time of Ungar’s death, apparently the main event was held in early May. Poker seemed to be booming, as the World Series stood out amongst competitions of similar stature — Backgammon World Championship, Backgammon Olympiad, King David Chess Tournament, Hula Bowl, etc. — with an amazing $2.7 million prize pool … a record amount that you can suspect organizers wondered if they’d ever see again after the unseemly death of their greatest superstar and most recent-time repeat champion.


3 Comments to “RE: Really? 10-Year Anniversary of Stu’s Death (2)”


  1. Stu Ungar II
    says:

    Drugs ar GOOD!!!!


  2. Johnny Hughes
    says:

    I watched the final table in 97 when Stu won. He kept a picture of his daughter behind his chips, which captured the imagination of the crowd. He was called “the Comeback Kid.” His nose was caved in. Stu arrived at the final table with about half the chips.

    They had the final table outdoors, in the intersection in front of Binion’s. That was a bad idea. It was very hot, and windy. They had to put this clear plastic thing over the flop to keep the board from blowing away. Gabe Kaplan, a top big-money cash game player, was a great annoucer. He interveiwed Stu, and brought up his past with drugs.

    Stu was a great card player, but this is not about being a card player, it is about being a gambler. A gambler believes in percentages.


  3. play65
    says:

    It’s interesting the documents we save not knowing why… I don’t have a drawer, but on each move I discover yellowing newspapers purposed to remind me something but I can’t recall what. I don’t remember what I did the day Stu Ungar died (first rock star of poker is a great defintion), yet I do remember watching a (terrible, terrible) biopic about his life, with the guy who played Christopher at The Sopranos. Worth watching, biopics usually suck.