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Tables of Dreams

With a Stake of Borrowed Money, Archie Karas Won a Fortune

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Jim Albrecht, the poker manager at the Horseshoe, witnessed some of Karas' epic run. He thinks that part of the reason none of the top poker players will compete against Karas is because of the stakes. "Even if you think you have an edge, playing cards at $5,000 or $10,000 limits is like Russian roulette," Albrecht observes. "If I use a gun with two bullets, and I give you one with one bullet, you're a big favorite to live longer than me. But are you going to play? It's suicidal."
Karas, according to Albrecht, reminds him of another famous gambler with the same heritage, Nick "The Greek" Dandalos. "Nick's credo was always: 'Find me the biggest and best, and we'll play until someone is broke.' "
Karas has a standing offer: he'll play anyone for any amount, preferably for $500,000 or more. I asked him whether he'd be willing to compete for every penny he has, if, for instance, the Sultan of Brunei wanted to play a friendly freeze-out for, say, $15 million.
"In a second," Karas says.
"You've got to understand something. Money means nothing to me. I don't value it," Karas explains. "I've had all the material things I could ever want. Everything. The things I want money can't buy: health, freedom, love, happiness. I don't care about money, so I have no fear. I don't care if I lose it."
In two months, Karas may be broke again. He may be sleeping in his car, scrounging to buy into a high-stakes poker game. He may be just another lonely soul staring at the boulevard's flashing lights, dreaming of parlaying his last handful of change into a mountain of cash.
But he'll always know that for several glorious, odds-defying months, he made the Vegas myth come the tune of $17 million.
Michael Konik is the gambling columnist for Cigar Aficionado.
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