Stuart Errol Ungar was a professional poker and gin rummy player, widely considered to have been the greatest Texas hold 'em and gin rummy player of all time. He is the only person to have won World Series of Poker Main Event three times (Johnny Moss also won three WSOPs but his first win was by vote of the players, not by winning a tournament). He is also the only person to win Amarillo Slim's Super Bowl of Poker three times, the world's second most prestigious poker title during its time.
Ungar, who had a genius level IQ and an eidetic memory, was able to keep track of every card in a six-deck blackjack shoe. In 1977 he was bet $100,000 by Bob Stupak, an owner and designer of casinos, that he could not count down a six deck shoe and determine what the final card in the shoe was. Ungar won the bet.
In 1997, Ungar was deeply in debt, but received the $10,000 buy-in to the WSOP main event from fellow poker pro and friend Billy Baxter. Ungar clearly showed physical damage from his years of addiction, most notably to his nasal membranes. In fact, Ungar had just received the buy-in from Baxter moments before the tournament started and was the last person added to the roster.
Ungar did not disappoint and won the main event for a record-setting third time (Johnny Moss, the only other three-time winner, only won two actual tournaments, as his first title was the result of being voted in).
Ungar lost all of his 1997 WSOP prize over the course of the next few months, mainly on drugs and sports betting. He attempted to give up drugs several times at the begging of Stefanie but only stayed clean for weeks at a time before using again.
As the 1998 WSOP approached, Baxter again offered to pay his entry fee to the main event. However, 10 minutes before play started, Ungar told Baxter he was tired and did not feel like playing. Ungar later said the real reason he chose not to play in the event was due to his drug abuse in the weeks prior to the tournament. He noted that he felt showing up in his current condition would be more embarrassing than not showing up at all.
On November 22, 1998, Stu Ungar was found dead in his room at the Oasis Motel in Las Vegas with $800 on him, the remnants of a $25,000 loan he got from Baxter just a week earlier to put him back in action at the poker tables. Ungar had lost much of the $25,000 playing a high stakes poker game at the Bellagio but left the game with more than the $800 he was found with. It is still unknown to this day where the remainder of the money went. An autopsy showed traces of drugs in his system, but not enough to have directly caused his death. The medical examiner concluded that he had died of a heart condition brought on by his years of drug abuse.
Despite winning millions during his poker career, Ungar died with no assets to his name. Friend and fellow poker player Bob Stupak took up a collection at Ungar's funeral to raise funds to pay for the services.