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.

John Montagu

The invention of the sandwich in its modern sense – that is, two slices of bread with a layer of filling in between – is credited to John Montagu, Fourth Earl of Sandwich (1718-1792), although the circumstances in which he happened upon this ‘food of convenience’ are disputed. According to ‘A Tour to London, Or, New Observations on England and Its Inhabitants’ – a French travel guide, written by Pierre Jean Grosley in 1772 – Montagu once gambled for twenty-four hours straight with only a piece of corned, or salted, beef between two slices of toasted bread for sustenance. However, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, this particular incident, which reputedly occurred in 1762, is widely believed to be fictitious.

Nevertheless, Montagu did have a reputation for immoral conduct, including reckless gambling. Some sources suggest that he may have invented the sandwich to sustain him through long working hours at his desk, but it is not entirely inconceivable that he did so to create a quick, portable foodstuff that he could eat without breaking off from his gambling activity. The current Earl of Sandwich, also John Montagu, believes that his namesake is more likely to have eaten a sandwich simply as a matter of convenience during his active working life.

Archie Karas

Born Anargyros Karabourniotis in Kefalonia, Greece in 1950, Archie Karas is best known for a legendary winning streak, dubbed ‘The Run’, during which he reputedly turned $50 into $46 million in the space of three years. Having already won, and lost, millions of dollars playing poker in Los Angeles, Karas arrived in Las Vegas in December, 1992. He borrowed $10,000 from a wealthy friend, which he promptly turned into $30,000 playing razz poker – a variant of seven-card stud – before repaying $20,000 and switching his attention to nine-ball pool.

Playing for up to $40,000 a rack, Karas increased his bankroll to seven figures and, thereafter, took on, and beat, some of the best poker players in the world in a series of high-stakes, heads-up games. Stu Ungar, Doyle Brunson, Chip Reese, Johnny Chan, and Puggy Pearson all tried, and failed, to beat him and, having effectively run out of opponents, Karis switched to playing craps, for eye-wateringly high stakes, at Binion’s Casino. His success continued, at least for a while, but when his luck ran out it did so in spectacular fashion. Karas lost $11 million at craps and $17 million a baccarat before returning to Greece for a break from gambling; on his return, he fared no better, eventually losing his entire bankroll playing baccarat.

Ron Harris

Not to be confused with many namesakes, Ronald Dale ‘Ron’ Harris is former Nevada Gaming Control Board (GCB) technician who was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment, of which he served two, after pleading guilty to four counts of rigging slot machine in Las Vegas, Reno and Lake Tahoe in 1996. Harris modified slot machines to pay out when a certain combination of coins was inserted, allowing him and three associates to illegally win jackpots of, at least, $42,000, although the exact amount scammed from the casinos is unknown. Unsurprisingly, Harris was placed on the Excluded Person List, making him the first former Nevada GCB employee to be so listed.

In January, 1995, one of Harris’ associates, Reid McNeal, won a $100,000 jackpot playing keno at Bally’s Park Place Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. However, his apparent lack of emotion, and identification, aroused suspicion and a search of his room, which he shared with Harris, revealed a glut of incriminating evidence, including notes handwritten by Harris. Both men were subsequently arrested, McNeal in Atlantic City for criminal attempt, conspiracy and computer theft and Harris in Las Vegas for larceny and being a fugitive from justice.