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Poker Legends: Nick The Greek

“I tell you boys, the greatest pleasure in life is gambling and winning. The next greatest pleasure is gambling and losing.”

These were words to live by for Nick The Greek. He himself estimated that, over the course of his life, he won and lost a fortune 73 times. In the early 20th century, that equated to $500,000,000; in today’s money, that’s around $15 billion.

The real kicker is that he died penniless on Christmas Day, 1966. He would soon be part of the inaugural class of the Poker Hall of Fame.

Nick The Greek was a die-hard gambler. That much we know for sure.

From A Small Greek Island to Wild West Gambling Saloons

Nicholas Andrea Dandolos was born in Crete in 1883 to a wealthy family. When he was 18, he left for America to begin his “education”, bringing with him a good deal of his family’s money.

Rather than the university schooling that his family was hoping he would obtain, he started gambling on horses in New York City. He managed to win a fortune, but then almost immediately lost it on dice and cards.

He ended up as a regular at the wild west gambling halls in Las Vegas, his favorite being the Pioneer Club. He would show up with a cigar in his mouth, rarely speaking a word and never tipping. Though he didn’t wear fancy jewelry, he would dress in fine clothes, and he carried a briefcase jammed full of cash.

He played it all: craps, roulette, cards, sports books, anything. In fact, he once even went so far as to lose $1.6 million playing craps during a 12 day marathon session. Talk about a bender.

Famous Match with Johnny Moss Leads to World Series of Poker

Nick the Greek squared off against fellow Poker Legend Johnny Moss, another old-time gambler who would also go on to join the inaugural hall of fame class, in one of the most legendary matches of all time. In fact, this match is said to be the origins of the World Series of Poker that we know and love today.

At the request of Benny Binion, the notorious owner of Binion’s Horseshoe casino, Moss and Nick played heads up for nearly five months at a dedicated table in front of the casino’s window so that they would draw in customers. They played everything from 7-card stud to draw to 2-7 lowball, stopping only to eat and sleep.

At the end of the series, Nick the Greek was down between $2 and $4 million to Johnny Moss. He concluded by uttering a phrase that would ring down through poker history: “Mr. Moss, I have to let you go.”

Next time you’re in Vegas for the WSOP or watching live coverage, you can thank Nick the Greek for paving the way.


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