Gambling can be either success or a failure no matter how experienced a person is. As in any other business, to become an expert requires a lot of effort and practice. But every once in a while a true prodigy emerges, a person who then becomes somewhat more of a legend.
I decided to write a series of stories about exceptional gamblers to tell about their success and failures. Trust me, the lives of these guys deserve their own movies. Which they do have, some of them, or based on parts of their stories at least.
Today I’d like to offer you a story of Anargyros Karabourniotis, a legendary poker player, who was known under the nickname Archie Karas. He became a legend during “The Run”, the never-ending… I guess you might call it a tournament, it was for him. Anyway, it was a poker series so long that it is to this day thought of as the most lucrative and long-running course of games. It lasted over 2.5 years, and by the very end, Archie walked away with $40,000,000. But we are getting ahead of ourselves, let’s jump back.
The Journey Begins
Coming from a small and poor family in Greece, a boy still then known as Anargyros found in himself a talent of luck. A little bit, just enough to bring something to the family by playing marbles. The father was a carpenter who couldn’t afford to feed his family and had some anger issues, and sometimes the boy was the target. One day it came close to the lethal end for Anargyros, when he was just 15, as his father threw a shovel in a drunken rage, nearly crushing the boy’s skull. So, naturally Anargyros bailed, he grabbed what little he had and went off. For the first couple of weeks, he was a waiter on a ship, on his way to America.
After one month of traveling, he got off the ship in Portland, Oregon. The city wasn’t what it is today, so there were not so many job opportunities. So what do you do in America with no money and only a dream? You go to the City of Angels. In Los Angeles, Archie worked here and there, mostly bussing tables at some restaurant next to a pool hall.
He quickly picked up the pool and was playing with customers after work. Archie was a natural, but soon he switched to poker. History actually is not very decisive on the details of this transition. But what is known, and this is getting back to his raw luck, is that in just a few short months he made somewhere around $2 mills. Talk about hitting the jackpot, and by the way, the dollar was different back then, so count in the inflation in this number.
You’ve probably heard the expression: running out of luck. Archie was one person who perfected the art of it. He would spend his entire winnings down to just 50 bucks! Most of you, at this point, would find a different hobby, but not this guy. Oh no, Archie made up his mind to win back the heart and soul of Lady Luck. So he grabbed his $50 and he went to… You’ve guessed it, Vegas! And here is where the story kicks in.
The Golden Days
Fast forward to the city of casinos. Mirage Hotel. Archie meets an old friend who just so happen to know of Archies (and yes, he is no longer Anargyros) run in LA. So he loans him $10 grand.
You would imagine that this is the plot for a mob movie, where evil Vegas crime syndicate would want their money back. Nope, Archie tripled the sum in no time, plus got himself a wealthy patron. And this wasn’t the first one.
Premium Vegas casinos are naturally luxurious places for rich people to have a good time, so the rumors of a nobody named Archie Karas spread around fast. And some rich folks with large pockets and even larger egos were eager to compete with the hero of this tale. Needless to say, that most of the times it turned out not as they expected.
One of those tales goes like this: this one gentleman first challenged Archie to the game of pool. Surprisingly, stakes rose from $5,000 to $40,000 before the game was over. Which is a lot for a pool match. Archie had quite a tongue and he knew which buttons to push, so at the end, he took off with $1.2 million. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, the gentleman challenged Archie to the game of poker. I know!
3 million more!
By the way, let me clarify something for you… Archie Karas was in Vegas for only 2 months, but already he had everything that a gambling legend of a high caliber can have: reputation, wealthy supporters, money, an army of angry people wishing him ills and so much more. But apparently, this wasn’t enough for him.
He even challenged Stu Ungar (3-time winner of the World Series of Poker) and won half a million from him. But I guess money was not the point here. Then Ungar challenged Archie in a 7-card stud poker. And you know what, Archie emerged victorious once again, only this time with 700,000 of Stu’s bucks.
Next on his list was Chip Reese, who then came out to say that he had never got to witness an opponent as Kanas ever again. Archie would beat him over and over.
Then came Puggy Pearson, Johnny Chan, Doyle Brunson and the list just goes on. It’s hard to accuse Archie in vanity. You would think that he was the unbeatable gambler who couldn’t lose, everyone else did.
Winds of Change
Naturally, people started to be cautious of Archie Karas. Nobody wanted to play poker with him anymore. Because after all who would want to lose, even to a legend?
Archie decided to switch to the dice. And you know, cards were not the problem, and even the dice bowed to his luck. To the point that the Binion Casino, where Archie was playing, had to decrease the betting limit. Just because of one guy.
And here it comes again, it took Archie two and a half years to make a fortune of $40 million. The great Run. And only three weeks to waste it all. Some say that it was a payback from some old friends, whom Archie had stripped of money before. Maybe he and Luck were just in an abusive relationship.
The Dusk of the Legend
Our hero needed time to reconsider some of his life choices, let’s call it that, so he moved back to Greece for a little while with what was left of his savings. It didn’t help, you see Archie was the real gambler, and what I mean by that is – he was hooked. Soon after he was back in Las Vegas, only this time his old girlfriend didn’t came back with him. He was down to $200, but even then he managed to get a final goodbye and turn this game around. His fortune – a bit less than a million. But he never got to reclaim his glory again.
If not for the support from some of his closest relatives, probably he would be crushed by the defeat. He settled in Las Vegas, of all places, but he visited his family in Greece all the time: his mother, two sisters, and an elder brother.
Interestingly enough, he never won the World Series of Poker. The closest he ever got was in 2009, when he came fifth.
So what’s the end of the story, how did such a gambler extraordinaire as Archie Karas ends? Anargyros Karabourniotis was arrested in 2013 under the allegation of using the marked cards. This was proven by video surveillance. He was sentenced to a 3-year probation and had to pay a fine of $6,800. On top of that, he has received a life-long ban issued by Nevada Gaming Commission (NGC) from even entering a casino.
And what I find funny is that he only won $6,000 while cheating. So while making his own luck in the final game, he actually lost $800 at the end. Ain’t luck a…