Up to now, we've talked about Stu Unger's early life, and his success at the poker table. It is this story that makes him a legend in the poker world. But there was a nother side of Stu that is often overlooked. Well, maybe not overlooked, but I believe that the other side is what makes him a more interesting character.
I have always believed that Stu Unger was Autistic. That would explain his ability to immerse himself into a poker game and know what everyone was holding in his hand. But he also had one of the most addictive personalities I have ever read about, which would explain what happened when he was away from the tables. Whether it was women, drugs or gambling, he did it to the max without restrictions.
Gambling? Did I say that as something AWAY from poker? Absolutely. For Stu Unger, gin rummy or poker was NOT gambling. When you are so good you know exactly what the other guy is holding, you aren't gambling. You are just trying to figure out not IF you can win, but HOW MUCH you can win.
On the other dark side though, Stu would take all of his poker winnings, and go straight to the sports book section of the casino, and INVEST those winnings right into horses, baseball, football, basketball, boxing....or any other sport he could bet on. And he wasn't very good at it.
If he had anything left, or even if he had nothing left, he would also head out with his Vegas friends and bet on anything and everything. Stu would go to the golf course and bet thousands upon thousands of dollars golfing with Doyle Brunson. One simple problem though: Doyle Brunson is one of the best golfers in the world, while Stu could hardly make contact with the ball. Didn't stop him though, and he probably lost close to a million dollars to Brunson on the golf course over his lifetime.
Stu also had another problem, in that he just was a nice guy. If you needed money, and he had money, then you had money. It was as simple as that. His doctor once told him that he was struggling financially, and Stu gave him extra money, and bought bicycles and toys for his kids. Would you do that for YOUR doctor?
And Stu also had another problem, nearly as addictive as gambling, and that was drugs. He found cocaine, and never let it go. He would go months upon months without touching it, and then disappear for long periods of times in a hotel room completely immersed in it.
On the happier side during all of this, Stu did meet his wife Madeline, and adopted her son Richie. And then together they had their daughter Stefanie. Although Stu was not a "traditional" father, he was a loving father. He took Richie to heart immediately, and spent his life devoted to Stefanie (as much as a addicted gambler and cocaine user can be at least). But even with the gambling and drugs, when he was with his children, he was probably the happiest of any time in his life.
Sadly, he could not save Richie from his own demons, and Richie committed suicide shortly after his high school prom. Stu took this especially hard. But there was still Stefanie, and many of his friends will tell you today that he only lived as long as he did because he was determined to see Stefanie grow up.
Stu and Madeline eventually divorced, but not because they didn't love each other. It was just that Stu was unable to maintain anything close to normal family life. He bought a house, and then insisted on living in hotel rooms so that he could be closer to the action.
Stu Unger was such a diverse character, that writing about him is difficult. Separating the good from the bad is nearly impossible, because there is simply no way there could have been either of the one without the other.
Loving father and husband, but couldn't devote himself to either.
Amazing poker player with unlimited ability, who couldn't keep $1 in his pocket without blowing it on other bets that he had no chance of winning.
Incredible potential to be a spokesman for Vegas and the game of poker, who couldn't stop shoving drugs up his nose and into his body.
Next time, a little picture of that later years in his life, and the final days, as we lead up to November 22nd, the 20th anniversary of his death.
Thanks for reading so far.