Stud: A Stuey story

by Adam "STUDstood" Roberts

When beginning these blogs, I thought that I would strictly cover game-related strategy. Although I intend on doing that, someone in the $30/$60 Stud Hi/Lo game here suggested I write this blog. Even though it takes us away from what we have been covering, I felt it was relevant to our overall discussion.

While playing in that game today, Stuey Ungar’s name came up and we began a chat dialogue about him. Since I had played some poker against Stuey from 1994-1997, I felt compelled to share two funny stories that I haven’t previously seen documented.

The first one occurred in 1994, at Binion’s Horseshoe, during the WSOP.

We were playing in a full $400/$800 limit Stud poker game. I was in the 7 seat, Stuie was in the 6 seat, and David Grey, another fine player, was sitting in the 8 seat.

In addition to playing hard against each other in this game, we also decided to make a wager on who knew the most dialogue from the movie, “The Cincinnati Kid”.

The three of us bet that we could all recite its full script by rote, line by line, with no mistakes. Each missed word would cost $1,000. We would take turns sentence by sentence.

We did this for every word in every sentence throughout the whole movie, and nobody missed one.

While this was occurring, on an empty poker table directly behind us, Danny Robison and Tommy Fisher were playing gin rummy against each other. They were both world class players. While Stuey, David and I were all reciting the movie script, Danny, with three cards remaining in the deck, knocked with three points. Tommy undercut him.

Stuey, who unbeknownst to any of us was watching their game, yells out, “Danny, you should have thrown the three of spades”. Needless to say, Danny did have the three of spades, and that would have turned out to be a correct play for him to win that game.

What was most incredible to me was that while we were playing $400/$800 Stud and reciting the movie script line by line, Stuey was able to follow that gin game card by card, only being able to see the discards on a table 20 feet away.

Soon after, both their gin game and our poker game broke up.

Danny, Stuey, and I decided to do another memory wager. We took a deck of cards and dealt 51 of them face up at high speed. We then all took a piece of paper and confidentially wrote down what each of us thought was the last down card that remained. We also bet $1,000 on ourselves.

We did this memory exercise six times, and none of us ever got that last card wrong.

The other more tragic, yet funny story happened shortly before Stuey’s death in 1997 at the premature age of 44.

This incident happened at the Mirage casino.

There were three games going on in their “top section.” Stuie was in one, I was in another, and Norman Berliner, a fine poker player in his own right, was competing in the third.

I have not seen Norman for many years, but at least back then, he wore a long white beard, matching the long, flowing white hair on his head. Someone at his table stated that if ever there was to be a remake of the movie “The Ten Commandments”, Norman should play the character of Moses. Actually, the comment was mentioned more in the context that Norman should be the lead character in a “remake of Moses”.

Stuey, who just had reconstructive surgery on his nasal cavity, may not have been in the best shape by that point, and was also quite self conscious of how people perceived his recent operation. Since that must have been on his mind, he somehow mistook that person’s comment to where it sounded like someone was making a “remake of NOSES”, and that Stuey should play the lead character. Well, all hell broke loose, and Stuey began throwing cards, chips and ashtrays -- basically anything he could get his hands on.

Although this can be construed as a humorous story, what it really shows is that Stuey Ungar, a fine all around poker player and gambler, was unable to handle the numerous traps and pitfalls that are constantly faced by poker players, especially ones who attempt to do this for a living.

Whether it was because of his flaws when alive, premature death, ability as a card player, vibrant personality, or a combination of all of those, Stuie has become even better known posthumously than when he was alive.

There have been many other poker players, who though maybe not as well known as Stuey, have fallen into these same traps. Some of those traps are drug abuse, jeopardizing your bankroll in mathematically unfavorable type situations (in poker and otherwise), over-spending your bankroll, poor investment decisions, sexual promiscuity, leading an overall unstable life, etc. These traps and others are always lurking, ready to envelope us if we are not careful to avoid them.

These pitfalls are not specific to poker. In any type of “win-lose” business, where creativity and correct split-second decision making are at a premium, and uncontrollable extenuating factors (such as luck) are at work, overly stressful situations can arise which, if we’re not careful, can make our thinking unclear and our actions irresponsible and frivolous. This applies both on and off the poker felt.

In life, there are both avoidable and unavoidable negative situations. I can only recommend trying to stay away from the avoidable ones, especially when it comes to this type of business. If Stuey’s untimely death is to have any meaning, we should learn from his mistakes.

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Brad Willis
@BradWillis in Strategy