The Bobby Fischer of Cards:
Stuart Errol Ungar (September 8, 1953 – November 22, 1998) was an American professional poker, blackjack, and gin rummy player, widely regarded to have been the greatest Texas hold ’em and gin player of all time.
Ungar’s prodigy-level IQ and total recall contributed to his blackjack card counting abilities, which were so sharp that he was frequently banned from playing in casinos; he was eventually unable to play blackjack in Las Vegas or anywhere else.
In 1977, Ungar was bet $100,000 by Bob Stupak, an owner and designer of casinos, that he could not count down a six-deck shoe and determine what the final card in the shoe was. Ungar won the bet.
Ungar was fined in 1982 by the New Jersey Gaming Commission for allegedly cheating while playing blackjack in an Atlantic City casino. The casino said that Ungar “capped” a bet (put extra chips on a winning hand after it was over to be paid out more), something he vehemently denied. The fine for this offense was $500; however, paying it would have also forced Ungar to admit that he had cheated. Ungar believed that his memory and card counting ability were natural skills and thus he did not need to cap bets or partake in any form of blackjack cheating. Ungar fought the case in court and won, avoiding the $500 fine. The court battle, though, cost him an estimated $50,000 in legal and travel expenses. In his biography, Ungar claimed he was consequently so exhausted from travel and court proceedings that he was not able to successfully defend his WSOP main event title.
Ungar was noted for his ultra-aggressive playing style and well-timed bluffs. Mike Sexton said that Ungar’s chips were constantly in motion, and he was described by a fellow professional poker player during the 1997 World Series of Poker as having a clairvoyant ability to see his opponents’ hole cards.
Several of Ungar’s financial backers have commented that he could have earned an immeasurable amount more over his career had he been more of a ‘hustler’, giving his opponents the false belief they could beat him and thus be willing to risk more money trying. However, Ungar wanted to beat his opponents as soundly as possible, and he often insulted those whose skills he felt were inferior to his own. In his biography, Ungar also noted several opponents who offered to pay him to lose a gin match on purpose in order to collect a large side bet. The opponent would have someone else place the bet, and upon winning they would split the large payoff with Ungar. However, Ungar indicated that pride in his own skill would not allow him to do this; apparently he could not stand the idea of someone having a victory against him, even an illegitimate one.
During the 1992 World Series of Poker, Ungar faced off against 1990 World Champion Mansour Matloubi in a series of $50,000 buy-in no limit hold’em heads-up freezeout events. On the final hand of the game, Matloubi tried to bluff Ungar all-in for $32,000 on the river with a board of 3-3-7-K-Q. Ungar, who held 10-9, thought for a few seconds and said to Matloubi, “You have 4-5 or 5-6 so I’m gonna call you with this” and flipped over his 10-high to win the pot and bust Matloubi, who in fact held 4-5 offsuit..