A high-rolling gambler famed for going on the most amazing heater of all time, Archie Karas managed to turn the $50 he traveled to Vegas with into $40M in just over two years playing pool, poker and pit games. However, less than a year after his winning streak peaked, Archie "The Greek" Karas lost all of the money he had won in the span of three weeks.
Born Anargyros Karabourniotis on the Greek island of Kefalonia in 1950, his father worked hard building houses, but struggled to support his family due to the pervasiveness of poverty throughout the area. Archie Karas began gambling in his youth, shooting marbles to win money to buy food, where he discovered his thrill for high-risk betting.
At the age of 15, Archie Karas ran away from home after his father became angry with him on a construction site, and threw a shovel at Archie in a fit of rage. Archie Karas never saw his father again, who's life was taken by cancer only four years after the incident.
Archie worked on ships for little pay, mainly as a waiter. After two years living on the sea, 17-year-old Archie Karas seized the first opportunity that came along to jump ship in America while docked in Portland, Oregon. He began making his way to Los Angeles, learning English on his own, and took the last job he would ever need as waiter in a restaurant next door to a bowling alley with a pool hall.
Becoming an excellent pool player, Archie Karas was soon making more money hustling pool than working in the restaurant. He also began playing poker in the back room, which soon led to Archie seeking out higher stakes poker games
in the card rooms around LA.
Always gambling at the highest stakes he could afford, Archie Karas was soon winning and losing millions of dollars at a time. When he would lose his entire bankroll, all Archie Karas had to do was find someone to back him, and Archie would build it right back up again.
At the end of 1992, Archie Karas dropped $2,000,000 in high-limit poker games. With only $50 in his pocket, Archie decided to drive to Las Vegas. Only in it for the thrill of the gamble, with no regard or love for the money itself, Archie Karas confidently walked into Binion's Horseshoe, spotted a poker buddy, and asked his friend to stake him $10K for a $200/$400 Razz
game. Tripling the ten grand, Karas repaid his backer $20,000.
With the rest of the money he had won at Razz, Archie found an opponent willing to play pool at $10K a game, raising the stakes as his profits grew. After winning $1.2M at pool, they moved on to poker, and Archie Karas added another $3M to his bankroll.
Within three months of his arrival in Vegas, Archie's bankroll grew from $50 to $7,000,000. With $5M sitting in front of him on a poker table at Binion's Horseshoe, Archie Karas waited for anyone who was willing to play him at unheard of stakes. Stu Ungar was up for the challenge, losing a total of $1.2M of Lyle Berman's money to Karas playing heads up Razz and 7 Card Stud
. Poker legends Chip Reese, Doyle Brunson, Puggy Pearson and Johnny Moss all took a shot at playing Archie Karas, and lost. The only player to leave Archie's table with a profit was Johnny Chan, who won $900K after losing their first couple of games.
Up $17M, no one would play poker
against Archie Karas anymore, so he took his money to the dice tables at $100K per roll. The money changed hands much faster at dice than poker, and moving his money from the casino to the car now required an escort of security guards. By the early months of 1995, Archie Karas was up more than $40M.
In the middle of 1995, Archie's winning streak came to a sudden halt. Following an $11M loss throwing dice, Chip Reese
played Archie again; this time Reese reclaimed the $2M he had previously lost to Karas. Switching games, Archie Karas lost $17M to Binion's Horseshoe playing Baccarat, and decided to take some time off from gambling. However, following a brief respite in Greece, Archie Karas returned to playing dice and Baccarat at the Horseshoe and lost another $11M.
Taking his remaining bankroll of $1M to the Bicycle Club, Archie found Johnny Chan
and Lyle Berman. Berman staked Chan for a $1M freezeout in which Berman and Chan took turns playing Karas. Archie Karas won, doubling up his money, but within a few days he lost it all playing the highest limits of dice and Baccarat.
While many players would have been emotionally crushed by the ordeal of losing $40M in a span of three weeks, Archie Karas simply found himself a backer to stake him, and started over again. After the tremendous winning streak that has since come to be known as "The Run," Karas continued to experience the huge upswings that high rolling gamblers live for, and total losses that can often come when betting everything you have on the roll of the dice.
Due to Archie's tendency to run hot on the highest limits available, casinos began banning him from playing their pit games to ensure that Karas didn't break the house. The unparalleled sums of money Karas won from Binion's Horseshoe casino shooting dice and driving the raising limit of Baccarat up from $20,000 to $300,000, resulted in Jack Binion being forced to mint $25,000 chips when Karas won all of the $5,000 chips that the casino had.
Of course, Binion got the better part of Archie's $40M bankroll. By allowing Archie to play at the limits he wanted, Jack Binion knew Karas would go broke eventually. To the true gambler, it isn't about getting rich - it is all about taking the risk.