Thursday, August 16, 2012

Archie Karas - Greatest Gambler of All Time

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Archie Karas (born Anargyros Karabourniotis[1] in 1950) is a Greek-American gambler, high roller, poker player, and pool shark famous for the largest and longest documented winning streak in gambling history simply known as The Run when he turned $50 in December 1992 into over $40 million by the beginning of 1995, only to lose it all later that year. He is considered by many to have been the greatest gambler of all time and has often been compared to Nick the Greek, another high stakes gambler.[2][3] Karas himself claims to have gambled with more money than anyone else in history.[4]

Gambling career
After arriving in America, he worked at a restaurant in Los Angeles which was next to a bowling alley and a pool hall. There he honed his pool skills and eventually made more money playing pool than he did as a waiter. When his victims from the pool hall thinned out, he went to Los Angeles card rooms to play poker. He quickly became an astute poker player, building his bankroll to over $2,000,000. In December 1992, he had lost all but $50 playing high stakes poker. Instead of reevaluating his situation and slowing down, he decided to go to Las Vegas in search of bigger games. He claims to have gone from broke to millionaire and back several times before he went to Las Vegas. What happened in the next three years would go down in legend as the greatest run in gambling history.[1]

“ You've got to understand something. Money means nothing to me. I don't value it. I've had all the material things I could ever want. Everything. The things I want money can't buy: health, freedom, love, happiness. I don't care about money, so I have no fear. I don't care if I lose it.[4]

The Run

Karas drove to Vegas with nothing more than his car and $50 in his wallet. His initial run lasted for six months where he turned $50 into $17 million playing poker and pool. After arriving at the Binion's Horseshoe, he started gambling and went on a hot streak. Karas recognized a fellow poker player from the Los Angeles scene and convinced him to loan him $10,000, which Archie quickly turned into $30,000 playing $200/$400 limit Razz. Karas returned $20,000 to his backer, who was more than content.

With a little over $10,000 in his pocket, Karas began looking for pool action. He found a wealthy and respected poker and pool player, Karas refused to reveal the name of his opponent for the sake of his opponent's reputation; he simply referred to him as "Mr. X". They started playing pool at $10,000 a game. After Karas won several hundred thousand dollars, they raised the stakes to $40,000 a game. Many gamblers and professional poker players watched Archie play with stakes never seen before. Karas ended up winning $1,200,000. He then played Mr. X in poker and won an additional $3,000,000 from him. Karas was willing to gamble everything he made and continued to raise the stakes to a level few dared to play at.[6]

With a bankroll of $4 million, Karas gambled his bankroll up to $7 million after spending only three months in Vegas. By now many poker players had heard of Mr. X's loss to Archie. Only the best players dared to challenge him. Karas sat at the Binion's Horseshoe's poker table with 5 of his 7 million dollars in front of him waiting for any players willing to play for such stakes.[7]

The first challenger was Stu Ungar, a three-time World Series of Poker champion widely regarded as the greatest Texas Hold'em and gin rummy player of all time. Stu was backed by Lyle Berman, another professional poker player and business executive who co-founded Grand Casinos. Karas first beat Stu for $500,000 playing heads-up Razz. Ungar then attempted to play him in 7-card stud, which cost him another $700,000. The next player was Chip Reese, widely regarded as the greatest cash game player. Reese claims that Karas beat him for more money than anyone else he ever played. After 25 games, Reese was down $2,022,000 playing $8,000/$16,000 limit. [4]

Karas continued to beat many top players, from Doyle Brunson to Puggy Pearson to Johnny Moss. Many top players would not play him simply because his stakes were too high. The only player to beat Karas during his run was Johnny Chan, who beat him for $900,000 after losing to Karas the first two games. By the end of his six-month-long winning streak, Karas had amassed more than $17 million.[8]

The poker action for Karas had mostly dried up due to his reputation and stakes. He turned to dice rolling for $100,000 on one roll.[2] He said that he could quickly win $3 million on dice, while it would take days to weeks with poker. He said that "With each play I was making million-dollar decisions, I would have played even higher if they'd let me."

Transporting money became a hassle for Karas as he was moving several millions of dollars in his car every day. He carried a gun with him at all times and would often have his brother and casino security guards escort him. At one point, Karas had won all of the Binion's casino's $5000 chips, which were the highest denomination of chips at the time.[9] By the end of his winning streak he had won a fortune of just over $40 million.[10]
Downfall

By mid 1995, Karas lost all of his money in a period of three weeks. He lost $20 million playing dice and then lost the $2 million he won from Chip Reese back to him. Following these losses he switched to baccarat and lost another $17 million, for a total of $30 million. With $12 million left and needing a break from gambling, he returned to Greece. When he came back to Las Vegas, he went back to the Horseshoe shooting dice and playing baccarat at $300,000 per bet, and in less than a month, lost all but his last million.

With his last million, he went to the Bicycle Club and played Johnny Chan in a $1,000,000 freeze out event. This time, Chan was also backed by Lyle Berman and both took turns playing Karas. He preferred playing the both of them instead of just Chan, as he felt Chan was a tougher opponent. Karas won and doubled his money, only to lose it all at dice and baccarat, betting at the highest limits in just a few days.[11]
Mini-streaks
Since he lost his $40 million, he has gone on a few smaller streaks. Less than a year later, he turned $40,000 into $1,000,000 at the Desert Inn. He then went back to the Horseshoe and won an additional $4 million before losing it all the next day.

A few years later, Karas went on another streak at the Gold Strike Casino, 32 miles outside Las Vegas. He went with $1,800 and lost $1,600 until he was down to just $200. Then after getting something to eat, he decided to gamble the rest of it. He shot dice and ran his $200 into $9,700 and then headed to Las Vegas. He stopped at Fitzgeralds Casino & Hotel and won another $36,000 betting $1,000 with $2,000 odds. He went back to Binion's and won another $300,000 at the Horseshoe and by the third day, had won a total of $980,000 from that $200 start.[12]

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