Nick “The Greek” won and lost more money than any gambler in history. It’s estimated he went through more than $500 million in a lifetime of gambling.
“King of Gamblers” was the editorial tribute Nick The Greek received as he lay dying in a hospital bed in 1966 from his admiring friend Hank Greenspun, founder of the Las Vegas Sun Newspaper. “Luck was a lady and she has been the love of his life,” the publisher wrote.
Nicholas Andreas Dandolos was born in Crete in 1883. His father was a rug merchant and his godfather was a shipbuilder. Nick grew-up wealthy and privileged. He graduated from the Greek Evangelical College with a degree in Philosophy.
At 18, in fashionable coming-of-age-style for his class and gender, young Nick was sent to America and given a $150 a week allowance, a substantial sum at the turn of the century. It was supposed to be a learning experience to prepare him for success in life and business. It was an education alright and Nick was an eager student.
Nick settled for awhile in Montreal where he befriended Phil Musgrave, a highly regarded jockey. After making his first bet at the track in 1911, the young man discovered who he was – a gambler.
He had a masterful mathematical mind; odds, percentages and propositions all came easily for him. Together with Musgrave’s experience and knowledge of horses, they made a lot of money.
At the end of racing season, The Greek left Montreal for Chicago with over $500,000 in his pocket. It was here Nick discovered Poker and Craps.
Playing with professionals he soon lost his entire halfmillion. More importantly, he would say years later, he learned to master both games.
Young Nick studied Poker and Craps and honed his skills at all the games. He played high and hard, eventually establishing a reputation among big time gamblers. It was not uncommon for The Greek to win or lose a $100,000 in a single session.
One evening he went to New York for a big Craps game. He walked out twelve days later having dropped $1.6 million! It’s considered the biggest one game loss in Craps history.
On another occasion, he took $20,000 into a Stud Poker game and left 7 hours later with $550,000! His biggest pot, about $150,000, he won holding four 10s against a fellow holding Aces-full w/ Jacks.
It was sweet revenge; the guy had been offensive to Nick all evening. He told the loser, “You’ve insulted me for the last time. Now let’s see how much of a gambler you really are….
Let’s cut the cards once for my $210,000. I’ll take your marker for that amount now.” Defeated and deflated, the loser slumped in his seat and cried.
In 1931, the state of Nevada legalized gambling.
Soon, the man one writer described as “a being perfectly suited to survive in a casino”, headed for Las Vegas. A 24-hr town where action’s the attraction — Nick The Greek had found his playground. The Greek always operated as an independent gambler. He played his own money and never worked for the house or the mob. Publisher Greenspun said, “He kept his mouth closed about what he knew and paid his markers… on time.”
In 1949, Nick told Benny Binion that he’d like to play high-stakes poker heads-up with the best player the Horseshoe owner could find. Benny called Johnny Moss, a Texas road gambler.
Moss caught a plane in Dallas, took a cab from the Las Vegas Airport to the Horseshoe, and immediately sat down at the poker table across from The Greek. The game continued for five months with breaks for sleeping and eating.
The two players changed the game often to keep it interesting. They played Draw, 5-card Stud, 7-Stud, 7-card high-low, Ace-5 lowball, and 2-7 lowball. Day after day huge pots exchanged hands as large crowds gathered to watch the contest which Benny had cleverly positioned in front of a big window.
The heads-up marathon pitted two very different players against each other. Nick, 57, had cleaned out the biggest games and best players in the East. Moss, 42, was a high stakes player accustomed to private games in Texas and throughout the South. The Greek was educated, articulate and social. Moss had little education, was quite, calculating and distant.
The Greek had busted every big name poker player on the East Coast. Nevertheless, after five months playing heads-up and stuck for more than $2 million, Nick Dandolos rose from the table and uttered one of the classiest concessions in the annals of Poker, he simply said, “Mr. Moss, I have to let you go.” Years later, this legendary contest gave birth to the World Series of Poker.
Over his career, Nick Dandolos claimed he had gone from rags to riches 73 times! Although old and ill, one close friend recalled, “He would play for days without sleep… there were times he refused to leave the tables although desperately in need of medical help and was treated by a physician while placing bets…”.
Nick The Greek died broke on Christmas Day, 1966. A generous gambler, he’s said to have donated over $20 million to education and charity during his lifetime. In 1979, he and Johnny Moss were the first two players inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame.