20 years ago in 2003, High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story hit the big screens, the tale of a professional gambler whose skills border on pure genius. The 20-year anniversary calls for revisiting this all-time classic – let’s see if it still holds up today!

Scratching the Gambling Itch

Inspirational movies like these tend to scratch one’s curiosity, especially when the scenes have to do with relatable-yet-alluring topics like US casinos. If you want to get a taste of what it feels to play at one of these and place yourself in the shoes of the main protagonist, the top casinos in the US can be found here: https://www.casinos.us/

A Tale of a Gambling Prodigy

In a flashback fashion, the movie takes us through the life of Stu “The Kid” Ungar, a gambling prodigy who encountered numerous ups and downs along the way. As dramatic as it may seem at times, it depicts the reality of gambling at the top USA casinos. In other words, the authors may have added some cinematic flair to it, but the presentation still remains faithful to how it felt to play at the most prestigious gambling establishments of the time.

Meet Stu’s Closest Companions in a Hybrid Biography-drama

The people around us ultimately shape us in some way or form, and it was no different in our protagonist’s case, played by Michael Imperioli. In the movie, Vincent, a mobster-type figure and one of his closest friends, is almost like a brotherly figure to him, watching him grow up and shielding him from danger. We also get to meet Anthony, another one of his closest allies, as well as Angela, his eventual wife.

The Parental Influence

Although Stu’s father did not want him to get involved in the gambling world or any of the US casino scene, that’s the influence Stu was subjected to at a rather young age prior to entering his teenage years, whether deliberately or not. Alas, his father was working at a table-running club at the time, and that’s what unwillingly set the precedent for what was to come.

Getting Involved With the Mob

Getting tangled up with the mob is never a good thing, but on an odd occasion, you can meet a friend this way. Such was the friendship between Stu and Vincent, a man who often came to his aid when he owed money or got into trouble. Taking him under his wing, he was always there mentoring him and giving him advice when he needed it.

Meeting the Love of His Life

What’s life without love and its many struggles as depicted in “For The Love”, a song by Rari? In Stu’s life, that romantic interest was none other than Angela, the girl he eventually moved in with and married. Since he was no stranger to playing at the best casinos in America, this kind of lifestyle took him on a rollercoaster ride of financial highs and lows. As you can imagine, this tore a gigantic hole in his relationship with Angela and, at some point, it became too much to bear, leading to the couple splitting up.

A Dramatic Turn of Events

Taking down a Gin Rummy tournament and taking home the grand prize of $100.000 is no easy feat, but Stu managed to pull it off, effectively settling all of his debts along the way. The US casino life then took him to pick up No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em, a classic poker format he got incredibly good at, eventually taking home the WSOP bracelet.

Becoming a Father

Unfortunately, he ends up losing his close friend Vincent at some point. One thing leads to another and Stu manages to patch up his relationship with Angela who would later join him on his US casino adventures in Las Vegas. Later on, the two would have a daughter Nicole. In a way, this forces him to follow a more traditional lifestyle. But how long can a wild child like Stu manage to hold that together? As it turns out, it doesn’t take too long for him to succumb to the lures of his old lifestyle once again.

All Things Must Come to an End

In a tragic turn of events, Angela breaks it off with him once more, taking Nicole with her. This does a number on his health, but a fellow gambler prevents him from sinking too deep, offering his support and aid all along the way. 16 years after his last WSOP victory, he pulls it off yet again, holding a picture of his daughter in an emotional moment to remember. Shortly thereafter, the movie arrives at the final scene where we learn about his passing in a motel room as he’s accompanied to his final resting destination by a grim reaper-type figure.

The Verdict

It’s obvious that winning at a card game was more than gambling to Stu. It was a passion and a lifestyle he held dear to his heart. Underneath the skin of a gambler was a talented individual with a compulsive determination to prove himself. Although he achieved these goals without pardon, it came at a great cost to his physical and mental health. Perhaps the narrative could have been better executed, but overall, A.W. Vidmer did a phenomenal job at telling a story that deserves a re-watch even two decades after its original debut, available on streaming platforms such as Amazon Prime.