One of a Kind: The Rise and Fall of Stuey The Kid Ungar, the World's Greatest Poker Player

( 13 )

Overview

He was the Jim Morrison of the casino, a legend before he was of legal age. Stuey Ungar, the son of a Jewish bookie on Manhattan's Lower East Side, dropped out of high school to become an underground card-table sensation, eventually taking out every top gin-rummy player on the East Coast. Bankrolled by the Genovese crime family, Stuey would soon travel around the country in search of new opponents and opportunities — including poker. He would go on to win the World Series of ...

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One of a Kind: The Rise and Fall of Stuey the Kid Ungar, the World's Greatest Poker Player

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Overview

He was the Jim Morrison of the casino, a legend before he was of legal age. Stuey Ungar, the son of a Jewish bookie on Manhattan's Lower East Side, dropped out of high school to become an underground card-table sensation, eventually taking out every top gin-rummy player on the East Coast. Bankrolled by the Genovese crime family, Stuey would soon travel around the country in search of new opponents and opportunities — including poker. He would go on to win the World Series of Poker a record three times. And then his luck began to run out.

One of a Kind is the startling tale of a man who won at his game and lost control of his life. Whether tossing away his winnings at the racetrack or on a single roll of the dice, Stuey was notorious for gambling every single dollar in his pocket. Though he had won an estimated $30 million in his lifetime, Stuey had no bank account, not even a home address. He was found dead in a Vegas motel — with $800 in cash on his person, the only money he had left — at the age of forty-five.

An intimate, authorized biography — Nolan Dalla was commissioned by Stuey in 1998 to pen his story, resulting in hundreds of hours of taped interviews and conversations — One of a Kind illuminates the dark genius of one of poker's most memorable figures.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
On the surface, Stuey Ungar followed a life path that rivals every mother's worst nightmare: Raised in Manhattan's gritty East Village, "The Kid" hung out in gangster bars, dropping out of high school when he became more enthralled by gin rummy than by books. An obsessive, nonstop gambler, he mastered the game so completely that he was forced to abandon it: Nobody would play him. He turned to poker and conquered all competition, winning the world's poker championship three times; then fell victim to his own manias and weaknesses. Not long after his 45th birthday, he was found dead in a seedy hotel at the wrong end of the Las Vegas Strip. This biography pays a cautionary tribute to "the greatest poker player who ever lived." A tragic life; an absorbing read.
From the Publisher
"A fascinating, cautionary tale." — Chicago Tribune

"Reader beware the seductive blue flame. To illuminate the triumphant yet scorchingly hideous forty-five years Stuey Ungar spent among us, Dalla and Alson have produced an acetylene torch of a book. There was no other way to write a story like this. One of a Kind is a lesson in no-limit hold'em as well as a terrifying pleasure." — James McManus, author of Positively Fifth Street

"A standout among this year's bumper crop of poker books." — New York magazine

Publishers Weekly
Begun as an as-told-to by Dalla with Stuey Ungar, this biography tells in painful detail the story of the poker and gin superstar. Ungar is certainly a fascinating subject. He was prodigiously dysfunctional, a manic sports bettor and cocaine addict who won an estimated $30 million during his life, but who, after his death in 1998, needed a collection from his friends to pay for his funeral. Unfortunately, the complexities of Ungar's personality aren't satisfactorily unraveled by the authors. They offer stories from the likes of poker legend Doyle Brunson and Mike Sexton, television's reigning poker guru, of Ungar's fabulous skills as a card player and spectacular need for "action," but few insights into the source of Ungar's self-destructive demons: he died prematurely at age 45 from the ravages of drug abuse. Without any analysis, the repetitious account of years of poker ups and downs, sports gambling losses, manic acts of generosity and descents into drug abuse, as tragic as it is, becomes tedious. Still, without distorting or downplaying Ungar's depredations, this is a heartfelt, respectful and accepting biography. Agent, Greg Dinkin. (July 1) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
What began as a ghostwritten autobiography of the most feared tournament player in poker history became a biography by default when Stuey "The Kid" Ungar's dope habit finally killed him. He was to the manner born: his father was a bookie and loan shark on Manhattan's Lower East Side, and young Ungar knew all about gambling long before the Lottery and OTB. But he brought something special to his milieu: a natural card sense aided by a fantastic memory and mixed with a risk-taking persona. He was like a gladiator on the green felt, write gambling-journalists Dalla and Alson (Confessions of an Ivy League Bookie, 1996) in this jumpy if dispiriting account. By the time of his bar mitzvah, he was wired in and wired up: "What good was a fucking Treasury bond to me? Was I gonna be able to take that to a dice game? Give me the cash." His genius was gin, but he made his fortune at poker, where he won the World Series of Poker three times. As mesmerizing as he was at the poker table, however, he was also a rough piece of work (as seen particularly through interview snippets with Dalla, originally his ghostwriter): rude, derisive, a poor winner and a worse loser, a man-child who had been insulated from the mundane tasks of everyday life, incapable of responsibility. The money came and went, won at the card table-and the table action described here is excellent stuff-then lost at the track or ballpark. The fame and the money, the authors suggest, along with Ungar's loneliness and insecurities, resulted in a severe cocaine habit, so severe it collapsed one side of the nose when passageways had dissolved. Ungar took to crack as an alternative. The story gets more and more awful, until Ungar dies in1998, at age 45, in a vomit-splattered motel room. The gambler made into an object of fascination, absolutely dazzling from a distance, increasingly noisome the closer you get.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743476591
  • Publisher: Atria Books
  • Publication date: 5/30/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 357,685
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Nolan Dalla is the lead sports handicapper for Casino Player and has written for Gambling Times, Card Player, Poker Digest, Poker Pages, Poker Player, and The Intelligent Gambler. He was the head of public relations for Binion's Horseshoe in Las Vegas and is now media director for the World Series of Poker. A native Texan, he currently resides in Las Vegas.

Peter Alson is the author of the highly acclaimed memoir Confessions of an Ivy League Bookie and coauthor of One of a Kind, a biography of the poker champion Stuey Ungar, and Atlas: From the Street to the Ring: A Son's Struggle to Become a Man. Alson's articles have appeared in many national magazines, including Esquire, Playboy, and The New York Times Magazine. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Alice, and their daughter Eden.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

The Kid

No one noticed him at first.

It was May 1997, fifteen hours before the start of the $10,000 buy-in at the World Series of Poker (WSOP) championship event, and in the satellite area, a low-lit collection of baize-topped hold'em tables in the back of Binion's Horseshoe casino, most of the players were too caught up in the business at hand to pay attention right away.

When one player did at last recognize the diminutive man wandering around the periphery of the room, he muttered something to the fellows at his table, and a couple of them turned to look. Then a couple more looked.

Stu Ungar, the two-time world champion of poker, was not unaccustomed to drawing stares in a poker room. The man they called "the Kid" was the most feared tournament player in poker history. Yet here it was, the eve of the championship, and this was the first time he'd been sighted during the more than three weeks that poker's greatest stars had been gathered at the Horseshoe in Las Vegas for their annual shoot-out.

As Stuey continued to navigate his way through the room, the whispers grew louder. He tried to ignore the eyes that widened at the sight of him. It wasn't easy. He had once been dubbed in print the "Keith Richards of poker," both for his rock-star aura and for his spindly little-boy body and mop-topped boyish good looks, and he had always loved the attention. But this was different. This was not the kind of attention he was used to. Starstruck awe had been replaced by morbid fascination. Those who knew him were appalled by what they saw. Up close, the boyishness was gone. Stuey's face was sickly white, ravaged by years of hard, careless living and drug abuse. One side of his nose was collapsed from snorting too much cocaine. His skin was papery and looked as if it might rip at the slightest touch. More disturbing, in a way, was how he'd let himself go. He was unshaven. His fingernails were long and dirty. His clothes looked slept-in. And he smelled.

For a man who had won millions of dollars playing in the highest-stakes games in Las Vegas, it was humbling to have to walk into this room this way — and worse still because the millions were gone, squandered on drugs and outrageous sports wagers. In a matter of hours, Jack McClelland, the tournament director, would utter his famous command "Shuffle up and deal," and the twenty-eighth annual championship would commence. Unless Stuey could persuade someone to back him, he'd be watching the action from the rail with the rest of the poker world's unwashed masses.

The night before the main event was a time of feverish desperation in the satellite area. Players who hadn't yet won an entry were taking last-gasp shots at scoring a seat in an event that happened only once a year. Most of the players who had already won seats, or who had the luxury of buying in for the full ten grand, were upstairs in their rooms, or across the street at the Golden Nugget. They were resting up, getting a good night's sleep, taking baths, getting massages. They knew that they were going to need every ounce of energy they could muster if they wanted to make it through the grueling four-day marathon.

Those still playing satellites were the luckless losers who hadn't been able to catch a break for three weeks but didn't want to admit defeat. They were stubbornly pursuing the dream — a dream that, even if they achieved it, would put them at a huge disadvantage relative to the rest of the field. Imagine a runner needing to win a three-mile race in order to qualify for a thirty-mile race later the same day against opponents who had qualified weeks ago and were fully rested. That was the uphill task facing most of the men (and the few women) now in the room.

Better in than out, though, despite the disadvantage — especially for a two-time world champion. Stuey saw Billy Baxter getting up from a table across the room and made a beeline for him. Baxter, a large, cheerful southerner, was a great lowball player who had won so many gold bracelets in deuce-to-seven lowball draw at the WSOP that one player jokingly began calling it the "Billy Baxter benefit tournament." Oddly enough, Baxter had never played in the $10,000 event, but after entering a $1,050 buy-in satellite (essentially, a one-table mini-tournament to get into the tournament) on a whim, he had managed just moments before to win it. He was now the proud owner of a slip of paper entitling him to a seat in the Big One; not surprisingly, he was in a good mood.

"Hey, Billy," Stuey said, drawing near. "Lyle turned me loose. I'm giving you the first shot at backing me tomorrow." Stuey's voice was pure Lower East Side New York — a guttural, rapid-fire, wiseguy mumble that recalled Mugsy from the old Bowery Boys shorts. Stuey was referring to Lyle Berman, a multimillionaire businessman, who would be inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2002 and would become a driving force behind the Travel Channel's World Poker Tour. Berman had backed Stuey selectively in the past, but his timing had always been lousy, even when the Kid was on top of his game. Berman had wanted no part of Stuey in his current condition and had already told him so.

Baxter's luck with Stuey had been a bit better through the years, though on at least one occasion, in 1990, he experienced the downside of backing a drug abuser when Stuey failed to show up for the final two days of the WSOP. A sharp businessman and professional sports bettor, Baxter considered himself Stuey's friend. Their friendship complicated matters. "I liked Stuey," Baxter said. "I always wanted to help him out when I could."

In this case, however, even flushed with victory, Baxter did not feel comfortable. Stuey looked horrible. It was hard to imagine him finishing the four-day event, much less winning it. Baxter wasn't the type to throw away ten grand on a gesture.

"Stuey, I haven't been going all that great in sports lately," he said. "Try to get it from someone else. I mean, I'm sure you can get a hundred people in this room to back you."

At one point that had certainly been true, but no longer. A quick look around the room forced Stuey to face the truth: he was no more than an object of pity here, maybe even a butt of jokes. He turned and slunk out of the casino. No one knows exactly where he went, but somehow he managed to scrape together a few bucks and buy a vial of crack. Midnight found him in a den in the worst part of town, sucking on a crack pipe, trying to forget about the depths to which he had sunk and all that he had lost.

It seemed almost impossible to believe that four days later he would be back at the Horseshoe, a phoenix risen from the ashes, celebrating one of the greatest comebacks of all time. Copyright ©2006 by Nolan Dalla and Peter Alson

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 13 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 31, 2005

    The 'One' to read!

    Well, what can I say about this book? Breathtaking, is the first thing that comes to mind. As a regular player and somewhat of a student of the game I¿ve read pretty much everything out there relating to poker. I have to say that this is without a doubt the best anecdotal book describing the high- rolling poker scene that I¿ve come across. With the recent boom in popularity poker has been enjoying, everyone and his dog has put pen to paper feeding the insatiable appetite of the poker neophyte. This book, in my opinion, is by far one of the few that genuinely offers value for money and a read that will leave you breathless. If you have heard of Stu Ungar, seen the movie, read the magazine articles or remember the WSOP back in Stu¿s day then you have to read this book. It blows the movie out of the water and delivers drama like you¿re reading a work of fiction. The reality of Stu¿s remarkable life is presented here with detail previously untapped, leaving you feeling an unmistakable sense of loss for the best poker player to have ever lived. Ian White (President of the Cornell Poker Club)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2006

    One of a kind

    I thought that this book was great. It really showed the struggles through life in the gambaling world. This book shows the complications that gambaling can do not only to you but the people that love you as well. It also showed how drugs can take such a tole on ones life and how it can effect the way they are in society. It also shows you that no matter how much trouble you are in, there is always someone there to help you out.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2006

    Poker and Cocaine Do Not Mix

    This book could be as valuable as any medical book or doctor for anyone who has an addiction whatever that addiction might be. It portrays a person who is addicted to not only poker but illigal drugs and where those problems lead . In its own way the book is a little depressing but on the other hand it is reality. I couldn't put it down once I started to read it. There is much to be learned from this book and I highly recommend it to anyone.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2005

    sloppy and boring

    How the life of someone like Ungar can be made to sound so boring is not easy to do, but book does it. Story seems slapped together, as if done in a rush. I was very disapointed

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 25, 2005

    A Stuey Ungar Fan

    I just got an advance copy of this book and I've been waiting to read it for a year now. Let me just say that these authors really do Stuey Ungar justice. I was so disappointed by the film 'High Roller' as it didn't capture Ungar at all. This book is such a tight read, it's definately the best Poker book I've read in years. Trust me--it's one of those biographies that reads like fiction. It's about time the Ungar story was told right.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2005

    stu ungar

    What a fascinating character. Ungar fits right in with many renowned poker players and this book presents it quite well.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 1, 2005

    SIMPLY THE BEST

    BEFORE READING THE BOOK I CAN SAY STUEY WAS A MASTER !!!!!! SIMPLY THE BEST GIN RUMMY AND POKER PLAYER AND ONE OF THE GREATEST MINDS EVER. TOO BAD HIS DEMONS KILLED HIM OR HE WOULD SWAT THESE POKER PLAYERS OF TODAY AWAY LIKE FLIES !!!!!! ONE BY ONE SWAT, SWAT, SWAT. ESPECIALLY CRYBABIES LIKE PHIL HEL(mutt)MUTH !!

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    Posted January 26, 2014

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    Posted July 8, 2011

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    Posted December 29, 2010

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    Posted October 26, 2010

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    Posted January 25, 2011

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