PLAYER PROFILE – Nick ‘the Greek’ Dandolos
While many Greeks have, over the centuries, been recorded in the annals of history, when it comes to gambling in the United States there is one legend that stands above the rest, Nick ‘the Greek’. The stories about Nick ‘the Greek’ have been made into books, a song and he has been mentioned in movies and on TV. He has played poker against the best players of the age, was a mentor to one of the most influential scientists of all time, and is believed to have been partially responsible for the inspiration of the modern World Series of Poker. It is believed he won and lost over $500 million during his career and went from rags to riches and back to rags again dozens of times through his life.
Biography and Gambling and Poker
The man who would eventually be famous under the moniker Nick ‘the Greek’, was born on April 27, 1883 in Rethymnon, Crete. Born into a wealthy family, Nikolaos Andreas Dandolos was the son of a carpet seller and godson to a shipbuilder. He attended a Greek Evangelical College and earned a degree in philosophy. When he turned 18, his grandfather offered to financially assist him with a $150 weekly allowance so Nick could move to America and start a successful career. He settled in Chicago for a while before moving to Montreal where he started gambling on horse racing. The legend has it that while in Montreal he met a former jockey who taught him about horse racing. Working with the knowledge from this former jockey, Nick was able to, using the funds he had, win over $500,000 in less than one year.
Nick returned to Chicago with a passion for gambling. The dream of becoming an entrepreneur was dead, replaced by his passion for dice, cards and gambling and he started winning. The more he played, the more he won. Winning and losing fortunes as he mastered a variety of games traveling across America, visiting every casino along the way. The combination of how much he was able to win in addition to his alluring personality and positive outlook, casino owners would regularly try to lure him to the house side of the table rather than the player side. He always declined.
Nick the Greek became a legend due to the large sums of money used to play. Everyday, win or lose, his total turnover was said to be around $100,000. He would bet thousands on dice or poker games.
His victories were as great as his losses. There is a story about how one time in New York, Nick ‘the Greek’ lost $1.6 million in a dice tournament. Another story about buying into a poker game for $20,000 and, after 7 hours of playing, he had earned over $500,000. The biggest hand at that game was a $150,000 which saw him crack his opponents Aces over Jack’s full house with his quads, if the story is to be believed.
In 1931, when gambling was legalized in the state of Nevada, Nick decided to permanently move to Las Vegas. Sin City was full of attractions and sights for the tourists and visitors. Nick the Greek was one of the biggest attractions in the city. He continued to receive multiple offers from casino owners and the Mafia, but he never accepted a job. He enjoyed the thrill of gambling, win or lose.
Versus Johnny Moss and Little Al
In 1949, at Nick’s request, Benny Binion set up a marathon heads-up match between the formally educated gentleman gambler, Nick the Greek, and the grand old man of poker, Johnny Moss. From January to May, the two consummate gamblers took part in a five-month epic poker game, taking breaks only to sleep or eat. Benny set up the game as a tourist attraction, the draw of Nick ‘the Greek’ and the massive sums of money that were being wagered was more than enough to pull tourists from everywhere just to be a small part of the event. Through the 5 months, the 2 played every variation of poker that existed at the infamous Horseshoe Casino and, it is alleged, that this match was the inspiration for the World Series of Poker 20 years later. With the entire world watching the front of his casino, Benny Binion was happy to let Mr. Moss and ‘The Greek’ play poker as long as they wanted.
According to the stories, the two players had extremely different playing styles. Nick ‘the Greek’ was well-educated, well-spoken, and talkative. He had managed to win every poker game on the East Coast by this point. In stark contrast, Johnny Moss was not formally educated and he spent most of his poker career in Texas playing in various private games. He was quiet and introspective.
The game finally ended with Nick standing up and saying “Mr. Moss, I will have to let you go.” and just walked away. The record shows that Johnny Moss took between $2 and $4 million from Mr. Dandalaus over the 5 month span.
Decades later, this tale is still told as one of the legendary fables to come from the early days of poker, in the books with stories of the “Dead Man’s Hand” and “A Chip and a Chair”.
Another tale about Nick ‘the Greek’ had him escorting Nobel prize winning theoretical physicist, Albert Einstein, to a poker game in Las Vegas. He introduced this world famous scientist to the other poker players as “Little AI from Jersey”.
All Good Things…
Nick ‘the Greek’ estimated himself that he had won and lost his fortune at least 73 times over his life. He did all this as an independent gambler without anyone staking him. Near the end of his life, Nick ‘the Greek’ was near-broke again and was found playing in a small-stakes poker game in California. While playing, someone asked him about once playing for millions and now playing for such small-stakes. He supposedly replied “Hey, it’s action, isn’t it?”
Over his career, Nick the Greek gave $20 million to charity which would be equivalent to approximately $400 million today.
Nick ‘the Greek’ continued to play poker and gamble in California. He stayed in the action even when he was tired and sick, he would have physicians treating him while he was at the poker table.
Sadly, on December 25, 1966, Nick ‘the Greek’ passed away at the age of 83. Hank Greenspun, editor and publisher of the Las Vegas Sun, called Nick ‘the Greek’ The King of Gamblers” and he wrote about his friend: “Luck was lady and she has been the love of his life”.
He was a charter inductee of the Poker Hall of Fame in 1979 same as his once-rival, Johnny Moss. The two of them were the first players to be honored into the Poker Hall of Fame.
About the Author: Jinwoonon graduated from Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok in 2014 with a bachelor of science degree in Chemical Technology. Currently working as an assistant teacher specializing in Mathematics, Jinwoonon enjoys spending time using mathematics to contribute to the advancement of poker strategy.
Note from the Editor:
The world as we know it has changed immensely compared to what the gamblers of the first half of the 20th century experienced. There were no cell phones, or internet. Automobiles were just starting to become common and affordable trans-Atlantic flights were still a bit into the future. Computers and space travel were as far removed from society as dragons and fairies. Information was not as accessible as it is today. Because of this, and a gambler’s penchant to miraculously forget anything and everything as part of an unwritten code, many of the stories and anecdotes that come from the time could be full of hyperbole and may not be entirely faithful or accurately represent what occurred. However, the oral histories we have, as told through the years, are now all that remains of this ancient time. If any of the tales are inaccurate or outright lies, it is important to be aware that this was neither intentional, nor was it the intent of the article.