The Stu Ungar Movie: High Roller

If you look at a list of the most famous card players and gamblers of all time, Stu The Kid Unger will certainly be there. He’s won the WSOP 3 times and 3 Super Bowl Of Poker tournaments. But it isn’t this card playing prowess that made him the legend he is today. Great card players alone don’t make great movie subjects. Stu ‘the kid’ has been a colourful character right up until the end. He led such an interesting life that a movie was made about it; High Roller. 

Stu debuted (at a very young age 10 he won his first tournament) as a Gin Rummy player. He got so good he ran out of opponents or places to play. He migrated from Gin to Blackjack then finally Poker and showed that he was one of the best card players ever with his record wins at the WSOP. This kind of gambling is strongly skill based as opposed to roulette or other casino games. As with many tales of gamblers it ends in Las Vegas. 

We look today, at the movie High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story and muse about his colourful life, though we covered it in more detail here. 


It’s not all about gambling! This is an emotional film. A rollercoaster that matches Stuart’s life’s ups and downs. You will go through joy, sorrow and pain, so get some tissues handy. 

Stuart went through losing both his parents to then losing a son the anguish and reasons for some of his reckless behaviour and the start of him using drugs. Of course there is the gambling and card game side of the film. Stu was adept at Gin Rummy, Blackjack and the Poker. He also had a long court case that sapped his energy all so he could clear his name.

Interestingly Stuart’s life had raised interest before his death in 1998, and he was documenting parts of his life for a biography. 

Title: High Roller The Stu Ungar Story 

Release Date: 2003 
Director: A. W. Vidmer Written by: A. W. Vidmer 
Country of origin: USA 
Duration: 110 minutes 
Based on Real Events 
Rating IMDB: 6/10 

The Cast: 

Apart from ‘Mr Miyagi’ you may not recognise any of the actors. 

Main actors: Al Bernstein as Himself, Andrew N.S. Glazer as himself, Michael Imperioli as Stu, Renee Faia as Angela, Noriyuki Morita as Mr Leo who you will recognise as Mr Miyagi from the Karate Kid. 

Don’t let the IMDB rating 6/10 rating bother you. It’s a niche movie for us gambling or poker fans! This is absolutely a film for you if you happen to still be reading this. Stu is a real legend and some call time the greatest card player of all time- the GOAT. That by top players calling him a poker genius. We of course recommend you watch High Roller but reading this will make the movie even sweeter as you understand the rollout. 

Early life: 

Stuart born in 1953, grew up the son of a bookmaker/bar owner and loan shark in Manhattan’s lower east side USA. It was impossible for him to exit down a scholarly path with the people he would then associate himself with. He started out learning to play Gin Rummy and at a very early age had a talent for reading people. The card playmanship was also unbeatable and eventually he couldn’t get a game. He lost both parents early on and it started a habit of drug use. At around the same time he met Victor Romano, a mobster who took Stuart under his wing. It also set in stone an unconventional path which led to the movie. Normal people’s lives are way too dull for the big screen. 


Stu was married from 1982 to 1986 and adopted his wife's son as his own. A daughter who survives Stu today, Stefanie, from this relationship can be found on social media such as Youtube.


Ungar transitioned very quickly to Poker as he could read players a vital skill in this game. With his mathematical brain it was a combination that saw him win the world series 3 times and the Super Bowl 3 times. He was able to come back if he was motivated. His hardest challenge was that of staying clean and well enough to play. 

The Demise of Stuart: 

Sadly drugs took over and weakened Stuart's Heart that it eventually failed him in a cheap motel just off the strip. He died with $800 and little else other than his legacy and daughter surviving him. It is a good thing that we can examine the negative role drugs can play in a person's life through a film. Drugs ultimately used as a way for Stuart to cope with the illness and then loss of his mother ended up getting hold of him. Who knows how good Stuart could ultimately have become without them. They for sure were the reason for his downfall. 


The Stu Ungar Story is more than a gambling film. It shows how you can go from having so much to so little and how a brilliant mind can let things all slip away. As a summary we think the most frequently asked questions are fitting. 

What is the plot of High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story? 

The plot follows the life, times and death of Stu the Kid Ungar. It delves into the emotional side of the life of a top class gambler one who ultimately had it all and lost it all. 

How did Stu Ungar die? 

Stu Ungar died from symptoms of long term drug use. Ultimately the cause of death is always a medical symptom and in this case the little guy with a lot of heart’s heart failed. 

What are Stu Ungar’s poker achievements? 

He has won 3 of each of the Super Bowl Of Poker, SBOP and the World Series Of Poker WSOP. 

Who plays the card genius himself in High Roller The Stu Ungar Story? 

Michael Imperioli plays Stuart Errol Ungar in the 2003 movie.

Personal view: A film well worth watching. Gambling films always slightly struggle with setting up the story with background and the making of the man. I enjoyed aspects of the film and especially detailing how Ungar knew the cards in hand of opponent when playing gin rummy. Clearly, Ungar was a talent but like so many gamblers didn't have an off switch and his addiction to drugs saw his life fall apart. His achievements speak for themselves.  

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