A Stu Ungar Story
Sometime during the mid-1990’s I started posting odds on winning the World Series of Poker Main Event.
A few poker websites picked up on these odds and began posting them for discussion. This was way back when only 300 people or so entered poker’s world championship each year. And it was usually the same 300 people. So, handicapping a field of well-known players with verifiable records wasn’t too difficult.
Nevertheless, my odds pissed just about everybody off — especially players who thought they got shafted when I listed them as longshots. Naturally, everyone thought they should be one of the favorites to win. If the average odds of winning was about 300-1, then those who were listed at 500-1 and 600-1 or worse felt downright insulted.
Doyle Brunson read my odds and posted at one forum, “You don’t have a clue.”
When Puggy Pearson heard he was listed 600-1, he came hunting for me.
But no one was more furious about my odds than Stu Ungar.
One year while my WSOP odds were out, Mike Sexton and I joined Stuey for dinner. We went to the Tony Roma’s Restaurant on East Charleston. That’s the same parking lot where “Lefty” Rosenthal was blown up in his Cadillac. Recall the opening scene from the movie Casino.
Stuey had absolutely no knowledge of the Internet. He didn’t even know how to turn on a computer. He never had an e-mail address. So, he never actually saw my WSOP odds.
When Mike brought up the odds, Stuey was advised that he was listed at 75-1 to win. Stuey wasn’t too upset about that, until he realized other players were actually ranked ahead of him. That set off a tirade that would last for the rest of the evening.
Who-who-who you got ranked ahead of me? Nobody can beat me when I’m playing my game. How can you not have me ranked as the favorite?
Arguing with Stuey was pointless. But I ignored the obvious and plunged mouth first towards my own demise.
While the discussion continued, dinner was served. I hoped full racks of baby-back ribs might extinguish the tension, since it’s pretty hard to talk when everybody’s chewing pig flesh laced with barbeque sauce. But a towering plate of ribs wasn’t about to interrupt Stuey’s obsession to know why he wasn’t the favorite to win that year’s WSOP.
I’ve written about this before, but watching Stuey eat his meal was a comedy act. He utterly devoured what was in front of him like a wild beast. While talking, he’d gesture with rib bones, pointing and pushing the baby backs directly into your chest when he felt particularly passionate about a certain point.
Stuey had asked me a direct question, and he wasn’t about to let this go without an answer.
Seriously, who–who–who you got ranked ahead of me?
Mike just looked straight ahead and continued eating his meal without saying a word. He let me swing the hangman’s loop.
“Uh, well. Uhhhhhhhh. Uhhhhhhhh. I think I had T.J. ranked number one. Then, there was Huck Seed. Johnny Chan’s up there,” I said, grappling for straws.
“Uhhhhh, Dan Harrington was 65-1. I think Barbara Enright was 70-1…..”
Did you say Barbara Enright? Are you fucking kidding me?
Yeah, Stuey. I mean, she made the final table last year. She’s a goo………………
Wait! You mean, you ranked a woman ahead of me?
Yeah. I mean she…………….
At that point Stuey stopped eating completely. Just a few bites into the scrumptious platter, he plopped his ribs down onto the plate as if the entire meal was completely ruined. Stuey sat stoically in a state of disbelief.
You want to write about me and tell everybody my story, and you’ve got a woman ranked better than me?
Stuey, it’s not that big a deal. It’s just some odds that I posted at a website.
I can’t believe you have a woman ranked ahead of me. That’s fucking ridiculous. I’d like to see the rest of your odds. That’s a fucking joke.
Stuey, she’s the very best woman player in the world right now. She’s won three gold bracelets. Why do you think……
Really, seriously — you ranked a woman ahead of me? This is a joke, right?
Stuey wouldn’t let this go. The disgust in his voice became more loathsome with each outburst. Mike saw this exchange was going nowhere and finally came to my rescue, making a futile attempt to change the subject.
“Stuey, the most important thing right now is that you get your act together and just be ready to play. I mean, no one even knows if you are going to show up — and if you do show up, what condition you’ll be in.”
Of course, Mike was absolutely right as he always is about matters like this. I didn’t have the balls to say it and Mike was much closer to Stuey than I was at that point, so he could get away with tough talk.
He ranked me below a woman.
It didn’t matter what we said and did after that, Stuey’s night was completely destroyed. He didn’t eat another bite for the rest of the evening. Later, we did some other things following dinner and even talked a bit more. But every 20 minutes or so, Stuey would interrupt the conversation completely out of nowhere and mumble to himself while shaking his head as though he’d been shamed beyond redemption.
You ranked me below a woman.
I’m ranked below a woman.
I can’t fucking believe it. He ranked me worse than a woman.