Gambling Legends of the 20th Century: Archie Karas
This article is part of my series 'Poker Culture, Strategy & Commentary'.
Archie Karas will forever be one of the most talked about gamblers of the 20th century. He was born in 1950 in the small town of Antypata, Greece. From these humble beginnings in utter poverty, Archie gambled his way to being a multi-millionaire. Many old-time gamblers will tell you that Archie had more gamble than anyone.
Legend has it that he arrived in Los Angeles by way of Portland, a young immigrant with $50 in his pocket. From that start, he managed to build a bankroll exceeding 40 million dollars! Not bad for a kid with no education who ran away from home at the age of fifteen. Alas, as is the case for many gamblers, his fortune slipped away in the end.
Archie Karas' legendary status was cemented during an incredible run at the Binion's Horseshoe casino. The story goes that after working on his reputation in the local poker scene, Karas was able to secure a $10 000 loan. Then, he somehow ran that up to $3 million dollars playing pool against an anonymous wealthy gambler. But this was just the beginning.
Because Archie was always willing to lose everything he had, he consequentially had the highest likelihood of wild success. He next challenged all comers to a game of poker, plopping his bankroll of a few million on the table. He was willing to play anyone who could afford the game and he beat many of the best poker players in the world. This list includes Chip Reese, Stu Ungar, Doyle Brunson, Puggy Pearson and Johnny Moss. The poker pros were dumbfounded, Archie had cleaned out a bunch of the best players in the world! His bankroll now sat at a comfortable $17 million dollars. You might think that most people would quit the game at this point, and maybe do some investing? But Karas had no quit in him, and I think that's what makes him a legend.
Archie's third trick was shooting dice. He may have had the richest series of rolls at the craps table in history. Rumor has it that he won every single $5000 chip in the Binion's Horseshoe casino and that he could have purchased the entire casino right then and there! Archie's bankroll topped off at just over $40 million dollars. To this day Archie's rapid rise to riches is perhaps the most incredible gambling story ever told.
As many could have predicted, Archie didn't keep his money. In the end he lost all of his money back in a period of only three weeks. Some of his loses were from playing dice, some from baccarat, and some from poker. With his final million, he challenged a poker legend in the making in Johnny Chan, to a freeze-out match for $1 million. There was a glimmer of hope that Archie could recover his losses when he actually beat Chan and extended his bankroll to $2 million. Unfortunately, Karas headed back to the house games of craps and baccarat and lost back every last dollar.
Many people are critical of Archie for being so naive as to keep playing for so long. But say what you will about Archie Karas, he had the most incredible ride that any gambler could ever experience and he will forever be a gambling legend.