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Monday, July 16, 2007

Gamblers Die Broke, from Steve Leslie

When anyone talks about the greatest poker players of all time, Stu Ungar's name will surface immediately. If it doesn't, it should. His accomplishments in poker are legend. He is considered by many to be the greatest No Limit Hold'em player of all time.

He is a three-time World Series of Poker Champion winning his first championship at the age of 24 in 1980. He repeated as champion the next year and again in 1997 after essentially disappearing from the game for seven years, the last time he competed. Out of 30 major poker events he won 10 of them.

As great as he was in poker, he was better at Gin Rummy. Gin, at one time, was The Game that high stakes gamblers played. He started playing gin in New York moved to Miami and ultimately to Las Vegas. He was so good at the game, that eventually no one would play him.

He was virtually barred from playing blackjack anywhere forcing casinos to eliminate single deck blackjack, as he had a genius IQ and a photographic memory. He could count down multiple decks of cards a feat he would replicate upon demand or for a wager.

He never held a real job. From the age of 14 his was a life of high stakes cards and games of chance. He would gamble on anything and lived for the action. It was not uncommon for him to win a million dollars in cards and lose a million shooting dice.

On the surface, his was a marvelous life, a seductive life one of gambling, action and living. Some will suggest that he made over $30 million playing poker. There was virtually nothing he could not do at a poker table and seeing him at a final table, others resigned themselves to picking up the "left over change".

Unfortunately, there is not a happy ending to this story. After 20 years of leading a storied life of incredible ups and downs of fantastic swings in capital, it all came to a crashing halt in a cheap downtown Las Vegas motel. On November 22nd, 1998 Stu Ungar was found dead and broke. The coroner's report revealed a combination of cocaine, methadone and percodan caused a massive heart attack. All at the age of 42. What a complete waste of a life. Possibly the greatest natural card talent ever completely destroyed before middle age. Imagine what could have been. Where all that talent could have taken him. He could have traveled the world, done incredible things, could have had a life that but a small percentage can only dream of.

I tell this story because it is humbling and to illustrate that the battle in life is ultimately waged not on a card table, or on a quote machine or a trading floor, but within ourselves and within our minds. It is the balanced one, the one who keeps an even keel and a steady approach to life who becomes the victor instead of the victim the living and not a weak faded memory.

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