Nick Dandolas: The original “Nick the Greek”
“Nick the Greek” is a very famous nickname, which has become quite common, but the very first “Nick the Greek” was Nikos Dandolas, a famous Greek gambler and known high-roller. Like most true high-rollers, Nick’s story was filled with massive wins, untold riches and then basically poverty awaits. That only makes Nick the Greek’s story that bit more interesting, though!
Early Years in Greece
Nick Dandolos was actually born into an exceptionally wealthy family in 1883, which was quite rare at the time. He even got the luxury of attending Evangelical College and earned a philosophy degree. At the age of just 18, Nick was shipped off to the United States, where he was paid a weekly allowance of $150. For the time, that was an astonishingly large sum of money. Despite living rather comfortably in Chicago, Nick upped sticks once more to Montreal. It was there that he began betting on local horse races, and this in turn spurned his love of gambling.
Dandolos pocketed over $500,000 via betting on horse races, which at the time made him considerably wealthy in his own right, even without the assistance of his family. He moved back to Chicago, and that’s where the old tale begins – yes, Nick lost the lot betting on cards and craps.
A Casino Attraction
Amazingly enough, that didn’t stop good old, Nick. By practicing and playing, Dandolos was soon at it again, and before long he had amassed another huge fortune, and was quickly attracting a lot of attention at the casinos that he would choose to play at. Around about this time, he earned the nickname of “the Aristotle of the Don’t Pass Line”, owed to his good fortune at craps, and his degree in philosophy.
During his lifetime, Nick claimed to have made and lost his fortune around 73 times. He is also said to have won and lost somewhere in the region of $500 million overall. Nick also didn’t seem to care too much about losing all of his money. One of his more famous quotes has him stating that “the next best thing to playing and winning, is playing and losing.”
In the late 1940s, Nick was getting on in age. In 1949, he called up Benny Binion (owner of the Horseshoe Casino) to seek help in locating an opponent for a one-on-on heads-up poker game. The match was made, with Johnny Moss his opponent, on the agreement that it had to be played in the lobby of Binion’s Casino, so Binion could claim cash from the watching public.
The two played each other over a five-month period, with breaks occurring only when the player’s slept. Back and forth they went, from one poker game to the next, changing formats frequently. At the end of it all, Johnny Moss beat Nick Dandolos with a five-card stud hand. This is when Nick the Greek uttered his most famous quote “Mr Moss, I have to let you go,” before standing up and leaving the table. Moss is thought to have won $2 million from Dandolos, whilst Moss himself said that the figure was closer to $4 million.
There have been a number of urban legends spun around Nick the Greek. One of them is that he had the chance to escort Albert Einstein around Las Vegas. He purportedly did this during Einstein’s tenure at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton. He allegedly introduced the physicist as “Little Al from Princeton”, so that his gambling buddies would not mock Einstein for being a scientist.
Other urban legends tell of Nick the Greek won one million dollars against a Texan. Feeling tired after a long poker bout, Nick reportedly called an end to the game. The Texan asked if Nick was chickening out, and so Nick put down a deck of cards, shuffled them and asked if the Texan wished to play high card wins for double or quit. Suffice to say – if the legend is true – the Texan quit.
Before he died, Nick gave one last memorable quote. Dandolos was pretty much bankrupt, and playing $5 limit draw in California. When asked by another player how Nick the Greek, who could once play for millions, could now be playing for small stakes, Nick reportedly replied, “It’s still action, isn’t it?”
Nick’s love of gambling (win, lose or draw) has been long remembered after his death, which occurred on Christmas Day in 1966. He was awarded a posthumous entry into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1979.
Nick the Greek
Today, the nickname “Nick the Greek” also lives on, in films, books and other media. Ted Thackrey published a book in 1968 entitled, Gambling Secrets of Nick the Greek; and a novel about Nikos Dandolos’ life was also written in 1978 by Mark Petrakis, called simply, Nick the Greek. The nickname itself has been used to describe many less-famous Greek gamblers called Nikos, in both Hollywood and real-life since.