Just one small anecdote from the book. By the time he was like 13 or 14 he was playing in the biggest underground card games on the East Coast. We're talking sketchy backrooms of bars hanging with some of the shadiest people betting tens of thousands of dollars. Not only was he super young, he had a small underdeveloped frame that made him look even younger.
So how was he able to get by in such an environment taking the money of shady characters much older and bigger than him? He was backed by the mob! Yup, his talent was so apparent at even such a young age, that the mafia took an interest in him and backed him both financially and physically from harm.
I really suggest any one interested to read the book: https://www.amazon.com/dp/074347659X/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_U_x_v...
Today players are much stronger than he could possibly have been, though. There are a couple of players online of which we can easily say that they are the best players to ever live, and we know from recent advances in AI poker that they still have room to improve. Saying that he is the best player to ever live would be like saying Bobby Fisher or Paul Morphy are the best players to ever live ; it's true in the sense that they were more dominant in their days than anybody else in other eras, but in terms of pure game knowledge it keeps evolving as years pass.
There are so many stories about his successful aggression that people really overlook his unsuccessful aggression.
Access isn't enough, it takes a lot of work. There are plenty of talented players who simply can't hang with the people who spend most of their time studying. Now I don't have a way to know if Stu Ungar would have been up for studying solver results for 10 hours a day, but the rest of his personality seems to indicate otherwise.
I couldn't disagree more with this but all of that is just speculation.
> The sort of technical analysis and "solvers" that you see ppl bring up in this thread is completely nullified when one plays live and is really good at reading people
This is just mathematically wrong. You're also overestimating the degree to which live reads matter. And underestimating how little it takes for an even half-decent player to have good live-poker composure.
Who are they?
And the question becomes more complex when you realise that poker isn't just one game and you need to consider NLH vs PLO vs mixed, heads-up vs 6-max, cash vs tournaments. Some people specialise in a variant, others just play everything.
Of course there are other specialists above their competition in every variant ; my point remain, though, that the level is much better now, and would we analyse the plays made by Stu with solvers, we would find lots of mistakes made. (Actually I will probably do it for fun).
My point being, Stu was incredibly dominant in his time, and props to him for figuring out so much about the game especially back then, and that's a feat just for itself, but other players are incredibly dominant now too and with a much better understanding of what they are doing.
As people have noted, the bet sizes before the river are much larger than what would happen in a well-played game today. I believe every action by both players before the river is a huge mistake relative to theoretically correct poker. So something like this exact hand would never play out between two competent players today.
However, the core problem is that one player has shoved the river and the other player beats all missed draws and no value, which is still a common situation. Since the prizes are $100k or $0, and the stacks will be roughly even if Ungar folds on the river, he needs to win more than 50% of the time to profitably call. Do top players ever bluff too much in this situation, and have their opponents profitably call them off? Sure, that happens a lot even at high stakes. Doug Polk recently had a video where he described how he lost a high stakes heads up pot to Jungleman in a similar situation.
1) Ungar folds, he is left with about half the chips in play, so about 50% odds of winning the tournament, and EV of ~$50K.
2) Ungar calls and is right, winning $100k.
3) Ungar calls and is wrong. I forgot that he'd still have chips left and assumed that this scenario was worth $0. In fact he'll have ~20% of the chips in play left, which is worth $20K intuitively but can be confirmed here: https://www.icmpoker.com/icmcalculator/
So if Ungar calls he needs to be right X% such that
$50K = $100K * X% + $20K * (1-X%)
X ~= 38%
Stacks: Ungar: ~60,000; Matloubi: ~40,000
Hands: Matloubi holds 5-4 offsuit in the BB; Ungar has 10-9 offsuit in the small blind (the button).
Preflop: Ungar raises to 1,600 in the small blind, Matloubi calls.
Flop (pot 3,200): 3-3-7 rainbow
Action: Matloubi checks, Ungar bets 6,000, Matloubi calls.
Turn (pot 15,200): K, board still rainbow
Action: Matloubi checks, Ungar checks.
River (Pot 15,200): Q
Action: Matloubi moves all in for about 32,000 and Ungar calls within a few seconds, declaring, "You've either got 4-5 or 5-6, I call." Ungar then flips up his 10-high to drag the $80,000 pot.
Not sure what your parent has in mind, but just from the choice of sizings from both sides, I doubt that many people would play either side of the hand this way nowadays. Which kind of make any analysis a bit pointless. But I'll check tonight with a solver if it has anything to say about it.
Normally you'd fold and laugh quietly to yourself because your opponent thought they bluffed you when really they had the best hand.
What's really interesting between Stu's era and today (or even the last 20 years) is technology.
Live poker is a pretty slow game. You might get 30 hands in per hour and play with 5-15 other people (rotating in / out) during a few hour time span. The bottleneck is mainly the physical action of moving cards around, counting chips and slow players due to the environment.
But online is a totally different game. You could pretty easily play 4 tables in parallel by tiling them on your monitor. Then there was software you could run that overlays stats about every player you encounter (collected automatically). You gathered tremendous amounts of data that you could then analyze in real time to help make decisions and then also look at a hand by hand audit with those stats to help evaluate your game after the fact.
Some people ended up playing 10+ tables at once (even at pretty high stakes), and an online game can easily get 90 hands per hour just on a single table. So if you do the math, you could be cranking through 900 hands an hour vs 30 in a live scenario. That's 30x more hands played per hour. If you factor in playing for tens of thousands of hours, the amount of experience you can gain online in such a short amount of time is crazy. You could put in many millions of hands online vs low hundreds of thousands live, and then have a ton of data to help figure out the game better.
1 year of playing online like that gives you 30 years worth of experience. Of course it's not as high quality of experience since 10 tabling is tough, but even if you dropped it to 5 tables, that's still condensing 15 years worth of live play in 1 real life year online. So it's no surprise that players now have a huge upper hand in being able to improve their game.
But at 3-5 tables you can definitely play close attention to everything going on. A lot of really high level players do well in both environments.
Is this allowed?
Back then most people used Poker Tracker or Holdem Manager. Things might have changed since then. I haven't played since "Black Friday" which is when the US cracked down on letting people play poker online.
The level of the game was lower at the time. Ungar would be high level player even today's standards, but his game would not look as spectacular.
I was playing professionally back then. A lot of the people you used to not want to see at your table suddenly became soft spots.
And lots of luck. The variance in low sample sizes is ridiculously high, especially in tournaments.
A good player like Stu would not have experienced that much variance against a weak field like back then