Friday, November 4, 2011

Nick the Greek

Hearing Liana Kanelli's interview on Channel 4 today and hearing her reference to "Nick the Greek", which she then rapidly changed to "George (Papandreou) the Greek", I wondered who this Nick the Greek was, since it is a name I often hear. 

Nick the Greek was the most famous professional gambler in the world and biggest gambler in America. Nikolas Andreas Dandolos, also known as Nick the Greek, was born in Rethymno, Crete on 27th April 1883. He graduated from the Greek Evangelical College of Smyrna, where he studied philosophy. After the urging of his parents, Nikolas left at the age of 18 for Chicago, USA. He soon moved to Montreal where his acquaintance with the famous jockey in racing, Phil Musgrave, was to be a milestone in his life. After numerous bets he won nearly half a million dollars in six months, which helped him settle in his new profession. However his luck ran out when he returned to Chicago, where he lost everything he won in Montreal. Nevertheless he gained a reputation as a virtuoso of gambling. There were few times where big casinos offered him a job with a great salary, because the damage he did as a player was great.
From January 1951 to May 1951, Dandolos played a two-person "heads up" poker match against Johnny Moss, where the two played virtually every variation of the game that existed at the time. The game, set up by Benny Binion as a tourist attraction, is widely credited as being the inspiration for the modern day World Series Poker. At the end of the 5 month poker marathon, down an estimated $2-4 million dollars, Dandolos uttered what has become one of the most famous poker quotes ever: "Mr. Moss, I have to let you go".
One urban legend claims that Nick the Greek once had the opportunity to escort Albert Einstein around Las Vegas. Thinking that his gambling friends may not be familiar with him, Dandolos allegedly introduced Einstein as "Little Al from Princeton", stating that he controlled a lot of the numbers action around Jersey.
As every gambler in life, so in the case of Nick the Greek, poverty was a fairly common situation. Unable to control his fate forever, with his legendary ability to win and lose large amounts within few hours, Nikolas fell into poverty at least 73 times in his life. He eventually died broke and seriously ill in Los Angeles, on Christmas day 1966. He became a charter inductee of the Poker Hall of Fame in 1979.   
It is estimated that he won and lost over $500 million in his lifetime. He is known for not respecting money, however he donated over $20 million to education and charity (nearly $500 million in today's money). Two books have been written about him, 1. Gambling Secrets of Nick the Greek (Ted Thackrey, 1968) and 2. Nick the Greek (Harry Mark Petrakis, 1978).   

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