Poker Legend Stu Ungar Wins Five World Series of Poker Main Event Titles in Nine Years

Written By Janice Doughtrey

Early Life and Introduction to Card Games

Stu Ungar was born in Manhattan, New York, in 1953. He was introduced to card games at a very young age by his father, a loan shark and bar owner who had connections to underground gambling circuits. Ungar was a naturally gifted gin rummy player, and by the time he was 10 years old, he was already competing in adult games.

Dominance in Gin Rummy

Before turning his attention to poker, Ungar was a dominant figure in the gin rummy world. His skills were so exceptional that at one point he struggled to find opponents willing to play against him. It was this lack of competition in gin that led Ungar to explore the world of professional poker.

Transition to Poker

Ungar’s entry into the professional poker circuit was a natural transition given his card-playing acumen. The principles he applied to gin rummy—such as quick decision-making, deep understanding of statistics, and an uncanny ability to read opponents—served him well in poker. He burst onto the scene in 1980 by winning the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event, a feat he would repeat four more times.

Five WSOP Titles in Nine Years

Between 1980 and 1989, Stu Ungar won a remarkable five World Series of Poker Main Event titles. Such a concentrated period of success has never been replicated in the history of the tournament. These wins established Ungar as one of the greatest poker players of all time, earning him the nickname “The Kid” for his youthful appearance and unparalleled skill.

Personal Struggles

Despite his enormous success at the poker table, Ungar faced significant challenges in his personal life. His career was often marred by a turbulent lifestyle, including struggles with drug addiction. These personal issues had severe consequences on his career and overall well-being.

Untimely Demise and Posthumous Recognition

Stu Ungar passed away in 1998 at the age of 45, an end that came too soon for a man of his talents. He was posthumously inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2001, an honor that acknowledged not just his skill but also his profound influence on the game.

The Stu Ungar Legacy

Ungar left an indelible mark on the world of professional gambling. His successes in both gin rummy and poker speak volumes about his skill and adaptability. He also left a lasting impact on how poker is played, contributing to strategy and the psychology of the game. Despite his personal challenges, Ungar’s prowess at the card table remains the defining aspect of his legacy.


Stu Ungar’s life was a tale of brilliance, success, and tragedy. His achievements at the poker table are unparalleled, making him one of the greatest card players of all time. While his life may have been cut short, his impact on the world of professional gambling endures. His story serves as a cautionary tale but also as an inspiration for what can be achieved with extraordinary talent and determination.