Archie Karas: The man with the best-ever lucky streak
You can ask any gambler in the world and they will all wish for a lucky streak. There is one man that is currently thought ofas having the best gambling streak in history, though. During his run – which lasted three years – he turned $50 until $40 million. He is of course, the legendary Archie Karas.
Archie Karas was born AnargyrosKarabourniotis, in Antipata, Kefalonia, Greece, in 1951. Before his rise to fame and wealth, Karas led an early life of poverty, shooting marbles to avoid starving. At 15, he bolted after his strapped for cash father threw a shovel at his head.
He missed, but it was enough to see Karas leave the family home and find employment on a ship, earning just $60 a month until he arrived in Portland. Shortly after, Karas would move to Los Angeles.
Pool to Poker
It was whilst working as a waiter in the city that Karas learned to play pool. In time, the young Greek immigrant would make more money playing pool than he did in his job. When the pool scene declined, he jumped ship to the poker halls and began to build up over $2 million in funds.
Of course, as they always do, this smaller lucky streak came to a spectacular end, with Archie having just $50 left – having lost the lot playing high-stakes poker. Archie himself has said this cycle of going from nothing to everything and back to nothing, occurred several times before he eventually went on his ultimate run.
With just $50 in his wallet, Archie drove to Las Vegas, where he went on a six-month run and quickly turned that crisp fifty into $17 million, playing both poker and pool. The run had begun. At the legendary Binion’s Horseshoe Casino, he borrowed $10,000 from a fellow player, and playing $200-$400 limit Razz, he quickly turned that into $30,000 (with $20,000 being returned to his backer).
His $10,000 kitty was then used on pool, against a pool legend known only as Mr X. After winning many $10,000 games, they raised the stakes to $40,000 a game, and of course, Archie won. Archie even took on Mr X. in poker, and was able to acquire $4 million in total, which soon became $7 million.
By now, ArchieKaras had become famous. He would sit by the poker table, awaiting anybody that was prepared to take him on – few did. Would you? The man had a $5 million stack to play with, and another $2 million in reserves! Only the biggest and best names in poker tried their hand, so to speak.
First up was Stu Ungar, but the former WSOP (World Series of Poker champion) lost £1.2 million! Next up that same day was Chip Reese, who himself lost $2,022,000 at the tables. He would later claim that he lost more money to Karasthat day, than to any other players put together.
Doyle Brunson, Puggy Pearson and Johnny Moss were next on the list – and they all fell. Only Johnny Chan was able to get something of a result out of Karas, and even then, only $900,000. Archie Karas would later say that he found Johnny Chan the most difficult of all his opponents to beat. Karas had quickly pocketed over $17 million in winnings. But then there was a problem. With stakes as high as he wanted to play, nobody else wanted to join in.
More Luck on Other Games
With poker temporarily off the table, Karas then turned to craps, Binion’s Horseshoe increased the pass line and come bet limits just for him from $100,000 to $300,000, though when he won $920,000 in just two bets, they quickly reverted it back. He would wager more and more money at Binion’s, winning all of their $5,000 chips, and eventually requiring casino security guards and his brother (as well as a firearm or two) to move around his $40 million haul.
But in 1995, things all came crashing down for Archie Karas. Every lucky streak comes to an end. His came over a period of three weeks. Firstly, $11 million was lost playing craps, then he lost $2 millon back to Chip Reese. Archie Karas would then lose a further $17 million on baccarat.
With just $12 million left, he returned to Greece. The break did him no good. Archie would return to Las Vegas and the Horseshoe, where he would lose a further $11 million. With that final million he would take on Johnny Chan in the Bicycle Club, in a $1,000,000 freeze-out event. Karas would beat Chan and Lyle Berman in the game, doubling his cash. As soon as he was up again, he’d lose the lot at dice and baccarat, just days later. Of the $40 million that he had acquired when the winning streak began, Archie Karas was left with nothing.
Since his hot streak came to a crashing end, Archie Karas has gone on a number of smaller streaks; though nothing to rival his heyday. A year after his streak came to an end, he turned $40,000 into $1,000,000 at the Desert Inn, and would eventually return to the Horseshoe to win $4 million all in one day. A couple of years on, he’d turn $200 into $980,000, also at the Horseshoe.
Today, Karas still lives in Las Vegas, although he flies home to his family in Greece once per year. The gambling’s luckiest man has also featured in several publications and documentaries over the years. Michael Konik’s Cigar Aficionado is one such example, whilst an E! documentary about the winners and losers in Vegas is another. Karas hasn’t been without controversy, though.
In just September 2013, he was caught marking cards by the Barona Gaming Commission. He was arrested in Las Vegas, and faced charges of winning by fraudulent means. The sixty year-old will always have a firm place in gambler’s hearts though, as the man who went on the best-ever lucky streak.
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