World Series of Poker Main Event Winner 1980, 1981 and 1997
The late Stu Ungar is considered to be one of the true legends of poker. Many of the highlights of his illustrious and sadly short-lived career came at the World Series of Poker.
In 1980, Ungar entered the Super Bowl of Poker Main Event, the first Texas Hold’em event he had ever played, finishing 34th of 41. This less than impressive debut gave absolutely no indication of what was to follow later that year.
Dream Run in the 1980 WSOP
Stu Ungar made the decision to play in the World Series of Poker Main Event as he was looking for high stakes action. At that time his professional gin-rummy career was waning, as he had run out of opponents who would play for him for money.
73 of the best players in the world entered the event in 1980 and the rookie Ungar found himself at the final table. Winning was no foregone conclusion as he faced legends of the game in Johnny Moss and Doyle Brunson.
Brunson vs Ungar Heads Up
Eventually the tournament went heads up, where Ungar found himself sitting opposite Doyle Brunson. Doyle was looking for his third win at the event (having won in 1976 and 1977).
The final hand was one of the greatest in poker history.
Brunson held A7s and Ungar 54s. The flop was A-7-2 giving Brunson top two pairs and Ungar a gutshot. A killer 3 on the turn gave Ungar the straight and all of the chips went in. Ungar was the Main Event champion.
The following year saw Ungar retain the title, becoming only the third player with multiple wins. This time around he faced American Perry Green heads up, winning with AQ facing 10 9 on a board that ran out 7-8-4-4-Q.
A 16 Year Gap to his Next World Series of Poker Title
Sixteen years later, Stu Ungar would win his final Main Event, tying Johnny Moss with a record three wins.
This time around the tournament had grown to 312 entrants and the winner would pocket a cool $1 million.
Ungar, who had suffered drug addiction issues in the intervening years, only made the event at the last moment. Billy Baxter buying him in for a 50% stake. Despite struggling and literally falling asleep at the table on the first day, Ungar would amass a massive chip lead going into the final table.
He would end up facing John Strzemp at the final table. The last hand of the tournament saw Ungar holding A4 and Strzemp holding A8. The flop came A-5-3 giving Strzemp the advantage, but just like in 1980, Ungar had the gutshot out. This duly came on the river, giving ‘The Comeback Kid’ his third Main Event win.
Other Major Tournaments for Stu Ungar
In total, at the World Series of Poker, Stu Ungar would win five bracelets and make a total of more than $2 million. He is also the only person to win Amarillo Slim’s Super Bowl of Poker three times. Ungar considered his greatest skill to be at Gin Rummy, where he was so successful that many players refused to enter tournaments when Ungar entered. Ungar once claimed, ‘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 Ungar Poker Playing Style
Ungar was an incredible mathematician with an IQ of a genius, and he would use this to his advantage at the tables. He was infamous for his arrogance at the tables, frequently berating other players who he considered beneath him (which was almost everyone). Another of his famous quotes saw him claim, ‘Show me a good loser and I'll just show you a loser’.
Stu Ungar’s Untimely Death in 1998
Ungar didn’t play in the Main Event the year following his last win. Drug abuse in the weeks leading up to the tournament the reason for him not defending the title. On November 20th, 1998, he would check into the Oasis Motel on the Las Vegas Strip. Two days later he was found dead on the hotel floor, fully clothed. The medical examiner would eventually conclude that his death was the result of a heart condition brought on by years of drug abuse.
Could You Be the Next WSOP Champion?
Any poker player in the world has the opportunity to play in the World Series of Poker main event. One way is to simply pay the $10,000 entry fee. The other is to qualify via online satellites. Chris Moneymaker famously qualified in this way in 2003 and went on to become the main event champion. Online satellites can start for just a few dollars – if you’re successful you could find yourself aiming to follow in the legendary footsteps of players like Stu Unger.
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