Stu Ungar

Stuart ‘Stu’ Ungar, otherwise known as ‘The Kid’ or, later, ‘The Comeback Kid’, won an estimated $30 million in his poker career, but died, almost penniless, in 1998. Nevertheless, Ungar is widely considered one of the finest exponents of Texas hold’em poker in history. He had the distinction of being one of just two players – the other being Johnny Moss – of winning the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event three times. On the first occasion, in 1980, at the age of 26, he defeated Doyle ‘Texas Dolly’ Brunson to become, at the time, the youngest winner ever.

Born in New York City, to Jewish parents, in 1953, Ungar dropped out of high school in the tenth grade to focus on his burgeoning ‘career’ as a gin rummy player. Having made a name for himself in that sphere in his hometown, Ungar ultimately arrived in Las Vegas in 1977, but his continued success effectively forced him to switch his attention to poker. The WSOP Main Event in 1980 was just the second Texas hold’em poker tournament Ungar had entered, but not only did he win, but defended his title the following year.

Thereafter, Ungar was plagued by a cocaine addiction, which made his behaviour increasing erratic and, ultimately, led to his demise. Rocked by divorce in 1986 and the suicide of his teenage son, Richie, in 1989, Ungar was living in a refuge for homeless people when offered a loan of $10,000 by his old friend Billy Baxter to enter the WSOP Main Event in 1997. Miraculously, Ungar won again, splitting the £1 million first prize money with Baxter, but there would be no fairytale ending. Less than a year later, having wasted the money on drugs and gambling, Ungar was found dead, at the age of 45, in a budget motel on the outskirts of Las Vegas.

Stuart ‘Stu’ Ungar, otherwise known as ‘The Kid’ or, later, ‘The Comeback Kid’, won an estimated $30 million in his poker career, but died, almost penniless, in 1998. Nevertheless, Ungar is widely considered one of the finest exponents of Texas hold’em poker in history. He had the distinction of being one of just two players – the other being Johnny Moss – of winning the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event three times. On the first occasion, in 1980, at the age of 26, he defeated Doyle ‘Texas Dolly’ Brunson to become, at the time, the youngest winner ever.

Born in New York City, to Jewish parents, in 1953, Ungar dropped out of high school in the tenth grade to focus on his burgeoning ‘career’ as a gin rummy player. Having made a name for himself in that sphere in his hometown, Ungar ultimately arrived in Las Vegas in 1977, but his continued success effectively forced him to switch his attention to poker. The WSOP Main Event in 1980 was just the second Texas hold’em poker tournament Ungar had entered, but not only did he win, but defended his title the following year.

Thereafter, Ungar was plagued by a cocaine addiction, which made his behaviour increasing erratic and, ultimately, led to his demise. Rocked by divorce in 1986 and the suicide of his teenage son, Richie, in 1989, Ungar was living in a refuge for homeless people when offered a loan of $10,000 by his old friend Billy Baxter to enter the WSOP Main Event in 1997. Miraculously, Ungar won again, splitting the £1 million first prize money with Baxter, but there would be no fairytale ending. Less than a year later, having wasted the money on drugs and gambling, Ungar was found dead, at the age of 45, in a budget motel on the outskirts of Las Vegas.

Tommy Glen Carmichael

Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma – where he also died, at the age of 68, in early 2019 – Tommy Glen Carmichael was a former television repair man, who discovered a knack for cheating slot machines when introduced to the so-called ‘top-bottom joint’ in 1980. He was first arrested for using the rudimentary cheating tool – which short-circuited older, electromechanical slot machines – in Las Vegas in 1985. He was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment, but served less than two. Thereafter he embarked on a career as an inventor of more sophisticated cheating devices, with which he would, ultimately, defraud casinos worldwide of thousands of dollars.

His creations included the ‘slider’, or ‘monkey paw’, which could be inserted into the payout chute of a slot machine, tripping a microswitch and causing an illegal release of coins, and the ‘light wand’, which effectively ‘blinded’ the payout sensor, with the same effect. Carmichael was subsequently arrested three times, twice in Las Vegas and once in Atlantic City, for possession of a cheating device and eventually sentenced to time served plus three years’ probation.

Understandably, Carmichael was persona non grata in Nevada and his name still appears on Gaming Control Board List of Excluded Persons, known colloquially as the ‘Black Book’, to which it was added in 2003. Carmichael was the subject of an episode of the ‘Breaking Vegas’ television documentary series, aptly titled ‘Slot Scoundrel’, which aired on The History Channel in 2005.