Stu Ungar – The best gin rummy player in the world

Any sport or skill-based game tends to have its own share of world-famous players. Some of these players go on to become legends. For example, cricket has Sachin Tendulkar, golf has Tiger Woods, and Football has Maradona, Ronaldo and Messi. 

But did you know that the game of rummy also has its own legends? These world-class players have shown great skill and tenacity to emerge victorious in the most difficult situations. 

Arguably, rummy (and poker) fans have been lucky to witness the game of the best gin rummy and poker player in the world. He was a man named Stuart Ungar, or Stu Ungar for short.

Stu Ungar – Early Life

Stuart Errol Ungar lived a relatively short but famous life. Born to Jewish parents in Manhattan, New York, Stu learned the tricks of card games early on in his father’s social club called Foxes Corner. His father was against Stu getting into playing poker and rummy, but Stu managed to avoid any confrontations and began playing underground gin rummy. 

Stu quickly made a name for himself in the game. Being a bright student, he skipped the seventh grade as a child and went directly to eighth grade in school. 

However, misfortune befell young Stu soon after. At 14 years of age, Stu lost his father to sudden death. His mother also suffered a stroke and became almost incapacitated. During this time, due to his personal circumstances, Stu had to drop out of school.

Life as a rummy player 

After an early start to card games, Stu won his first gin rummy tournament at the age of 10. Later, after his father’s untimely demise, Stu dropped out of school and started playing gin rummy full-time to support his family. He began winning tournaments quite regularly, making $10,000 or more at a time. By 1976, still in his early 20s, Stu had already become one of the best-known players in New York.

Stu later moved to Miami in the quest for more rummy action. Unfortunately, his skill and reputation and a top rummy player made his opponents wary, and they started refusing games with Stu due to the fear of losing!

Stu then moved to Las Vegas in the hope of finding more games. However, after having defeated the best gin rummy players of his generation, Stu had become too well-known as an unbeatable player. Even casinos asked him not to come to their place as the mere sight of him would drive away any opponents. This drying up of opportunities to play professional rummy forced Stu to take up playing poker instead.

Life as a poker player

As soon as he arrived in Vegas, he defeated Billy Baxter, a professional gambler, for $40,000. 

In 1980, Stu entered the World Series of Poker in search for more rewarding action. Stu won that event, becoming the youngest player in history to do so.

Stu defended his title successfully in the 1981 World Series of Poker, 

Stu went on to become one of only 2 players in the world to win the title 3 times.

The Comeback Kid

Later years saw Stu Ungar went through a divorce and drug addiction. 

By 1997, he was in deep debt and his physical condition had deteriorated due to drug abuse. However, his friend Billy Baxter helped arrange his $10,000 by-in to allow him to play in the 1997 World Series of Poker.

After Stu became the unlikely winner, the media dubbed him ‘The Comeback Kid’, due to the 16 years gap between his previous victory in 1981.

This was the life of Stu Ungar, the greatest rummy and poker player of all time. Despite his ups and downs, he left behind a lesson to anyone who has been down and out – that with enough will and determination, you can always make a comeback.