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Tables of Dreams

With a Stake of Borrowed Money, Archie Karas Won a Fortune
Michael Konik
From the Print Edition:
Fidel Castro, Summer 94

(continued from page 1)

After immigrating to America from Greece at 17--working on a freighter for $60 a month, he jumped ship in Portland, Oregon, and got a job as a waiter in a Los Angeles restaurant. The restaurant was next door to a bowling alley. In that bowling alley were several pool tables. Around those pool tables were dozens of marks ready to be fleeced. A hustler was born.

Still a teenager, new to the land of opportunity, Archie learned to play pool and poker, eventually cleaning out the restaurant's owner. He had the kind of epiphany that comes to most people upon retirement from a lifetime of labor, or after hitting the lottery: "I knew at 18 that I'd never have to work again." He also thought if he ever won $10,000, he'd be set forever. That figure was revised upward to $100,000, then $500,000, finally to $1 million. Now he knows he'll never stop.

In December 1992, Archie had lost nearly $2 million in high- stakes card games at the legal casinos in the Los Angeles area. For the billionth time in his life he was broke.

He drove into Las Vegas with $50 in his pocket.

Unlike the social-security matron with a couple of $20s in her stockings or the drunk with three rolls of quarters stuffed in his pockets, Archie knew his dearth of capital wouldn't prevent him from making a score. No hole was too big to climb out of.

He headed to the Mirage, where a fellow gambler lent him $10,000 to take a shot at the biggest action in the card room, a $100 to $400 Razz game. (Razz is Seven-Card Stud played for low, the best hand being A-2-3-4-5.) He promptly won $20,000. After returning half the profits to his backer, who was thrilled to realize a 100 percent gain in only a few hours, Archie had the seeds of a bankroll that would eventually lead to what Vegas cognoscenti now refer to simply as The Run.

Archie bristles at the suggestion that his streak was anything more than just another series of gambles in a lifetime of wagering, that he momentarily got luckier than anyone's ever gotten. Even as a kid, he'll tell you, he always bet everything he had, and he always played the best--only champions. The Run, he insists, was no different. Only bigger.

It started, as many of Archie's adventures have, at a pool table. There, playing against a high-ranking executive of a well-known hotel corporation for stakes that sources say were $10,000 a game and up, Archie won between $1 million and $2 million. For the sake of his opponent's reputation, Archie refuses to discuss details of the match, saying only, "the pool was no big deal. I played against a lot of people, and I'm not going to confirm or deny any amounts that have been talked about--I'm not going to make any comment." Despite his diplomacy, the "facts" of Archie's pool match were reported in the local paper, The Review Journal, and his victim's identity is widely known among the gambling community.

This man, call him Mr. X, is a world-class poker player, whose victories over the toughest competitors on the planet have been well documented. Realizing pool was clearly Archie's kingdom, Mr. X suggested moving the battle to another green-felt arena, the poker table, where Mr. X thought he was the prohibitive favorite. In early 1993, after a week of heads-up play, Archie beat him out of another $1 million.

The reason you and I will never win several million dollars at gambling is because we are rational, reasonable people. We'd never get to the lofty point where millions of dollars are on the line, because we would quit as soon as we won $50,000 or $20,000 or even $10,000.


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