Recollections about Stu’e

Feb 18, 2003 6:41 AM

There are very few of us in this world who are perfect, except of course you and me. And sometimes I am a little concerned about you and once in a great while even my foot misses the log.

Today I want to talk to you about a poker player who rates very high on my list of all time great poker players.

Over the past 65 years or so I have had the opportunity to play with a lot of great poker players; someday I want to write a column on the 10 best poker players that I have ever played with, but that will have to wait until another day.

Because today I am going to tell you a little about Stu Unger.

I first met Stu some 20 odd years ago in 1980, the first year that he won the World Series of Poker at Binion’s.

He broke my heart in the $5,000 Seven Card Stud event: I don’t tell bad beat stories, so I will just say that it was a two-day event and at the final table with four of us remaining, I had the most chips and was playing my A game.

When I played so badly that I lost to a great poker player, I can still remember every card and every bet and yes, except for the thickness of a card, he beat me.

Then in the $10,000 championship event at the final table with Doyle, Johnny, Jess, Jack and just a few of us left, he once again played better than me and again by the thickness of a card, his picture is on the wall as the champion of the world in poker for that year. And all I got was the first "Best All Around Poker Player of the World Series of Poker."

From that day on, Stu’e would always refer to me as the fourth best poker player in the world. The first time he did this, I asked him who he thought the other top three players were. Of course, he was on top, but I never could get him to tell who the other two players were.

I will just say that Stu’e had a lot of speed and no fear of anything, that he had some problems with life and the living of it, and Daddy always told me if you cannot say something nice about someone who is playing in the big game up in the sky, it is best to just remain silent.

I met with the director and the producer of a new movie that they are making about Stu’e and his poker life, and they asked me to relate to them about what I knew of him.

Then at the filming of his induction into Binion’s Poker Players Hall of Fame, I told them about the same things that I am telling you.

Stu’e was very small in stature. So much so that Gabe Kaplan of the hit TV show of the day, "Welcome Back, Kotter," said to me, "He is so little, how did he get in here to play poker. He’s so small I cannot even use him as one of my sweat hogs on my show."

Stu also had a reputation of being one of the best Gin Rummy players in the world, and although I could never beat him while playing poker, I was able to get lucky enough and beat him at the final table in a Gin Rummy tournament in Las Vegas.

I watched him play at the final table with Ron Stanley a few years ago, when he won his third and final world championship at the World Series of Poker. A lot of great players play the pre-flop very well, but Stu’e had a great talent for playing the post flop. He had so much speed and courage that you risk going broke on every hand that you played with him.

I remember the key hand that he played with Ron. He bet him $250,000 after the flop and Ron considered and considered calling, but decided not to call. Then after Ron folded his hand, Stu showed him a giant bluff.

After this bluff, Ron still had the lead in chip count, but the contest was over and Stu won his third World Championship of Poker.

As a final note on Stu, the courage and speed of tournament play would not work for him in live play. I attended his funeral here in Las Vegas. He died broke and the expense of his funeral was paid for by poker players.

Just a minute, what is that Carol? Go get my flu shot today? Yes, Dear.

Oklahoma Johnny’s Poker Tip of the Week

When playing one of the newest and most action poker games, Omaha Hi/Lo Split, never call or raise after the flop, unless after the flop you have at that time the best possible hand. You must have either the best possible high hand or the best possible low hand (which I call the temporary nuts). You should call and continue to play after the flop when you are drawing to make the nuts, which is the best possible hand that can be made by using two cards from your hand and combine those two with exactly three from the board.

Until next time, remember to stay lucky!