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Howard Schwartz

Howard Schwartz, the "librarian for gamblers," was the marketing director for Gambler's Book Club in Las Vegas, a position he held from 1979 to 2010, when he retired. Author of hundreds of articles on gambling, his weekly book reviews appear in numerous publications throughout the gaming industry.

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Stu Unger Biography Revealing; Steele's Magazine Top Shelf

23 Jun 2005

By Howard Schwartz
In this Golden Age of Poker, it's hard to believe and sad in some ways to realize that Stu Ungar, who is called by many the world's greatest player of the game, is no longer alive to enjoy it. If Ungar were alive, he'd probably be worth millions even if he never played again--with potential endorsements, t-shirts, posters, DVDs and the like. He'd be like a sports star. Then again, Ungar was a player; he craved the action of poker and sports betting as well.

Nolan Dalla and Peter Alson, have written a solid tribute to Ungar, titled One of a Kind (The Rise and Fall of Stuey 'The Kid' Ungar, The World's Greatest Poker Player (316 pages, hardbound, $25). Dalla and Alson document the life of Ungar (who died in November 1998), in a combination tribute, biography and analysis of him and what he brought to the game and how he affected the people around him.

Whether he's remembered as a pure intuitive player, a gifted autistic genius or just a contrarian who loved to swim upstream, against the tide at all times, Ungar will remembered for his great skills at gin rummy (one of the most feared players in the world) and the three championships at the World Series of Poker, the last in 1997 where with the luck of the heavens behind him, he filled an inside straight on the river--the deuce of spades--to defeat John Strzemp for the title in an outdoor finish on Fremont Street.

Illustrated and indexed, the book is a sort of roller-coaster ride through Ungar's life--his ups and downs, the highs and lows.

The book captures The Kid's early years, the growing up days, those who influenced him, and how gambling became an attraction, sometimes an obsession. He wanted to win at anything he played.

Challenging one of the finest gin players, a man named Yonkie, Ungar was a 5-2 underdog; they played four hours and 27 games. Ungar won every game--81 straight columns of Hollywood gin.

The best player in the world (Yonkie's real name was Harry Stein) had been destroyed by a 16-year-old!

Ungar took his first trip to Las Vegas in 1974, just after his 21st birthday. After that, life would never be the same.

This book is for two generations of players--those who heard about him but never faced him at a table and for those who did play against him and never knew the whole story beyond gambling, particularly poker. He could be loudmouthed, spewing with anger, unpredictable, absent-minded, yet often his eccentricities were humorous, child-like. Geniuses are often described that way. Ungar was, in his own way in his own world, recognized as a genius.

Dalla and Alson (and the editors) have produced a marvelous biography--they pull few punches. Ungar would have loved it. It's a book all aspiring world-class, big tournament, no-limit players should read. It's about gaining and losing control, about the destructive impact of drug use and it's about how life can cut so short, so quickly, that it's important to remember what life is all about--beyond the tables.

Phil Steele's College Football Preview is a magazine, yet it's a book--a tremendous combination of statistics, analysis and predictions.

At $8.95, a slight increase from previous years, it has value on a variety of levels. It can be used as a record-keeper, with more than 100 teams and their schedules listed. Along with the type of surface they'll play on and betting angles for almost every game.

It tells you how many returnees there'll be for each team--lettermen and number of starters on offense and defense. Those who must know a coach's record at that school against the spread, straight up in a conference or non-conference matchup, will find it here.

Key box score statistics from each game played last year are listed, plus five years of results and spreads. Each team's projected starting lineup is listed with a short summary of the player's key statistics, along with Steele's forecast or predictions on what the team's strengths and weaknesses are and how they should fare in 2005.

The magazine should be able to help a bettor determine the severity of the loss of a quarterback for example, but knowing how good the backup man is.

Each conference is analyzed overall with vital statistics for teams and players listed and previous years' league standings, so you can see if a team is rebuilding, improving or slipping.

Those who rely on power ratings will find predictions by conference, also by offensive or defensive categories.

Some bettors handicap on the basis of which team plays the tougher schedules. Steele rates 119 teams. Last season Oregon State and North Carolina had the toughest schedule. This year North Carolina and Temple face the toughest schedule he says, with a full page of analysis and reasoning.

Who are the players to watch at every position? Who are the potential Heisman Trophy winners and why? It's all here.

In the history of football magazines for bettors, no one does a better job than Steele and his staff at providing quality background material, statistics and projections.

Copyright Gambler's Book Shop. All books reviewed in this article are available from Gambler's Book Shop (Gambler's Book Club), located at 630 South 11th Street, Las Vegas, Nevada 89101 and online at

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