There have been many tales of gamblers going on amazing runs at the casinos of Las Vegas. However, there may be none more staggering than that of famed punter Archie Karas.
Karas started ‘The Run’ with a mere $50 in his pocket and racked up more than $40 million in winnings. But that’s not where the story ends.
Remarkably, Karas then managed to lose it all and end up with nothing, before being banned from setting foot in a casino.
Archie Karas: The Poor Kid
As a kid, Archie Karas wanted to help his family. The best way he felt he could do that was to bring in some extra money by hustling the kids in the playground. He would regularly bet on games of marbles, where he would usually come out on top.
Karas was born on the Greek island Kefalonia. He wasn’t from a wealthy family and his father worked in construction. His relationship with his father was always strained, and their financial situation didn’t help.
As their financial situation worsened, Karas’ relationship with his father deteriorated to the point that it became violent. It was around then he decided that he wanted more from his life. Karas made the decision to leave home and set his sights on the USA.
Archie Karas: The Vegas Wannabe
It took Karas two years working as a waiter on a ship for him to save up enough money to be able to move to the US. He landed in Portland, Oregon before hitchhiking to Los Angeles.
He took another job as a waiter, and worked right next door to a bowling alley. That was where his career in gambling really got started.
Out the back of the bowling alley there was a poker room and some pool tables. Both of these games were new to Archie, but it didn’t take long for him to start finding an edge at both. He began spending hours there, honing his skills and hustling the other locals.
During this period Karas had some decent runs, both up and down. He was ultimately unsuccessful, ending his stint with $50 in his pocket.
Despite this lack of money, he had learnt the ropes and was ready to take his skills to the next level, and that meant Las Vegas.
Archie Karas: The Run
Karas’ first lucky break came when ran into a friend and organised a $10,000 loan, which set him on his way.
Within hours, Karas had hit the Razz tables and doubled his initial stake. By the end of the night, he had made $20,000. He paid back his friend and gave him the extra $10,000 for having faith in him. It was the type of gesture that showed the type of person Karas really was. He truly never cared about the money.
Over the years he’d developed a keen eye for games that he felt he had an edge. He spent a fair bit of time scouting opportunities around Las Vegas. In doing so, he came across two businessmen who regularly bet big numbers on 9-ball pool.
Karas challenged them to a game at stakes of $5,000. They ended up playing against each other for the next two and a half months, with the stakes getting as high as $40,000 per game.
Towards the end of the marathon session, Karas was up around $1 million. Wanting to short-circuit any negative variance coming his way, he suggested they move on to another game – poker.
Archie Karas is a Greek-American gambler who drove to Las Vegas with $50 in 1992 – He turned it into $40 million by 1995
— Vegas Never Sleeps (@VegasNvrSleeps) August 7, 2019
Archie Karas: The Poker Player
Karas was an all-around hustler, however poker was the game in which he shone the brightest. He had honed his skills in the backroom of the bowling alley and wasn’t afraid to take on anyone, including world champions.
Karas continued his battle with the two businessmen at the poker table and again got the better of them. The stakes were into the millions when they finally walked away.
His big run was starting to get attention, with many feeling the virtual unknown was just lucky. As a result, there was no shortage of big-name poker players ready to step in and try and take some money from him.
The first was Stu Ungar, a famed gambler in Las Vegas. He battled Karas and ended up losing around $1 million before walked away.
Next in line was another big name, Chip Reese. He too fared poorly and coughed up around $2 million to Karas.
The run continued and the big-name opponents kept on stepping up to play him. Doyle Brunson, Johnny Moss and Puggy Pearson all tried to curb the run, yet all failed to do so.
By the end of his marathon poker run, Karas had won nearly $17 million – and it’d come from many of the biggest names in poker at the time.
By this stage Karas felt that nothing could stand in his way – perhaps understandably! He moved from poker to the craps tables. He liked craps because he felt he could win a million dollars with one roll of a dice.
So he headed over to one of his favourite casinos, the Horseshoe, where he could get some bigger action. It was here where his demise began.
Despite starting well, his luck ultimately turned 180 degrees. He managed to lose around $11 million playing craps in a short period of time, giving back much of his poker winnings.
Karas then tried to stem the bleeding by returning to scene of his winnings – the poker table. He took on champion player Chip Reese, but this time Reese got the better of him and won around $1 million.
The final nail in Karas’ coffin came when he tried his luck at Baccarat and lost it all.
Over the course of his massive run, it’s said that Karas won – and then lost – $40 million. It’s one of the most famed stories in gambling history.
Karas has had a controversial gambling career outside of his famed run as well. He did, in fact, win six gold bracelets in the World Series of Poker, which goes to show you that he was a highly skilled poker player.
His career came to an end when he was banned from Vegas casinos over a number of scandals, including marking cards. That ultimately found him on the infamous Nevada blacklist, never to set foot in a casino again.
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