Poker

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Stu "the Kid" Ungar won the World Championship at Binion's Horseshoe in Las Vegas last week, and won it easily. He earned his nickname from winning back-to-back titles in 1980 and again in 1981, when still in his twenties. Now aged 43, looking like a little dried-up mannikin in blue- tinted glasses, he has done it a third time - a unique sporting achievement. The years in between his titles, as he explains, he spent in various forms of self-indulgence which took him away from serious poker. Now he is back.

Stu's quality, according to the experts, is that he continually gives his opponents heat. He has an uncanny ability to read no-limit Hold 'em, which enables him to keep the pressure on through every deal. For instance, I saw him call a $90,000 bet to win a good pot holding only a king high, and then run a queen-jack to force another opponent to give up pocket nines. His post-victory comment did not sound immodest: "No one has ever beaten me at cards, I have only beaten myself." As for gin rummy, he has long been considered the best in the USA.

In the final hand, Stu got lucky. Heads up against John Strzemp, president of Treasure Island hotel-casino, Stu had a $2,385,000 to $735,000 lead. He opened for $60,000 on !A-24. His opponent called with 4A-28. At this stage a bare ace is a powerhouse, so they were both correct. Down came 2A-&5-!3 on the flop. Strzemp bet $120,000 and Ungar put him all-in for just over half a million more, to make a $1,940,000 pot. They then flipped over their cards for the cameras. The turn card was another three, giving Strzemp the lead with his eight kicker.

Ungar: (!A-24)

2A-&5-!3-43

Strzemp: (4A-28)

Stu was underdog, but not by all that much. He needed a deuce or a four to win outright, but any card higher than an eight would have been a split pot. The river brought a deuce to make Stu's gut-shot straight. You could say he was lucky, but in most onlookers' judgement he would still have won the title had he missed. My own exploits I shall relate next week.

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