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Simply because of this article (which I stumbled upon because it was about a local Nashville filmmaker named Tony Vidmer) am I now completely intrigued by… want to know more about… and can’t wait to see the movie “High Roller“.
The movie is about a young poker legend, Stu Ungar, (aka Stuey “The Kid” Ungar), who was a man with a gift for cards.
The movie’s writer and director is A.W. “Tony” Vidmer, who hails from Nashville, Tennessee. (In fact, Vidmer recently launched a new website for independent filmmakers.)
Vidmer’s small-budget, biopic movie about poker legend, Stu Ungar, was shot in only 22 days, and definitely seems worthy of a watch.
“Stuey” was featured at the 2003 Nashville Film Festival where it won a top audience award.
What Made Stu Ungar Unique?
Stu Ungar was a child prodigy of sorts… with cards at least.
At the age of 10 he won his first gin rummy tournament.
At the age of 14 he began to play poker (professionally!) while being backed by the Mob.
Ungar went on to win the World Series of Poker (WSOP) 3 times: 1980, 1981 and 1996.
Despite the fact that he had won millions, Stu lived his life self-destructively, and it all caught up with him when died at the young age of 45 — found dead in 1998 in a Las Vegas hotel room (a $58 adult-movie motel) with $800 in his pocket.
Some of the things that made Stuey unique:
- At 13, Stu suffered a tremendous blow when his father died; the elder Ungar was a bar owner and bookmaker, and young Stu would become a professional gambler the following year, at age 14. Source
- The amazing subtext to Ungar’s sheer mastery of Texas Hold’em was the fact that it was the third card game he had mastered. Ungar first came to Las Vegas as a gin rummy prodigy; he had beaten all of the good players on the East Coast and moved to the desert mecca in search of new opportunities. He had soon run the table of Nevada’s gin players, and then turned to blackjack out of necessity. He was quickly barred as a card counter at a number of Southern Nevada casinos. Needing a new vocation, he took up poker. Source
- In a $50,000 gin game, he correctly forecasted his opponent’s cards causing several players to just quit, and basically forced Stu to turn to poker because no one would play him in gin anymore. Source
- Stu Ungar is considered by many to be the greatest No Limit Hold’em player of all time. Source
- Stu was a talented card shark who won the World Series of Poker an unprecedented three times before his death at 45, a victim of his own struggles with booze and blow. Source
- Stu counted down the last 18 cards left in the deck at the time, which caused him to be banned from casinos and single-handedly ended single deck blackjack from casinos. Source
- Ungar parlays his talent at playing cards into big money and fame. But his inability to determine what’s really important in life, coupled with a refusal to quit while ahead, ultimately dooms Ungar, ruining his marriage to Angela and eventually undermining even his poker playing skills. Source
Snippets From Reviews Of The Movie
“Made originally as an indie feature titled “Stuey” and picked up by New Line Cinema, “High Roller” is a surprisingly tight, well-packaged Starz! flick that makes good use of subtlety in illustrating the horrors of compulsive gambling.” — Ray Richmond
“Reportedly filmed in 22 days, Stuey is low-budget but it plays pretty big. It has a definite soft side for Ungar, whose daughter and ex-wife live in Las Vegas. And though it didn’t answer many questions, it offered a compelling look at a local character who, until now, was widely known as the gambler who died at the same cheap motel as actor David Strickland.” — Joe Schoenmann
“Vidmer is an artist painting a portrait of a unique individual. In 114 minutes, Vidmer is able to compress Stuey’s tumultuous life in a very stirring, graphic depiction of an out-of-control existence. Stuey’s many addictions (demons) overshadowed his successes. Vidmer’s many years of research gave him the insight to take us through Stuey’s difficult and unusual youth in New York to his third World Series of Poker championship. You will feel the emotions and frustration as Vidmer and Imperioli take you on Stuey’s self-destructive life’s journey.” — Brian Kaplin
“For all you card-lovers out there, Stuey’s talents really are impressive, especially the scene where he’s playing gin rummy and bets everything he has that he knows all the cards in Pat Morita’s hand.” — The Movie Chicks
“Vidmer tells a clean story from beginning-to-end. The usual hackneyed flashback retelling of a story works here as both a soulful reckoning (a testament to Imperioli’s performance) as well as a mystery to his eventual demise for those who don’t already know the circumstances. A respect for the man and his life is clear from Vidmer who avoids exploiting moments of drug abuse and hostility.” — Erik Childress
“High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story was a surprise to watch. I expected it to have a lot of gangsters, cards and New York swagger. It had all of that, but it went deeper. The people involved really respected the material. They elevated it to another level. In the rare cases when this happens a movie of this nature is a fine thing to watch.” — Evan Jacobs
Those who know the legend will relate to the film, and those who did not know Stuey will know him after seeing the film. The film is more than a poker story; it’s a human story that reveals the frailties of a man who climbed a mountain everyone said couldn’t be climbed, only to slip at the top and fall into the abyss of despair. Source
If You Liked This, Then You’ll Love…
The movie Rounders — a movie which many claim helped launch the current poker craze.
The book One of a Kind — a book about the rise and fall of Stuey “The Kid” Ungar, the world’s greatest poker player.
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