Against All Odds: The Professional Poker Player Who Turned $50 into $40m Before His Arrest

  • Archie Karas made his fortune in America after discovering he was good at poker
  • Karas took millions off of the best poker players in world from 1992 to 1995
  • In 2013, Karas was arrested after he was found to be marking the blackjack cards
  • Before he was caught, he’d managed to win more than $8,000 from a casino
Poker player with two Aces
Professional poker player Archie Karas turned $50 into $40m in the 1990s. In 2013, he was arrested for marking blackjack cards at a California casino. [Image:]

$40m fortune

The gambling world is full of mysterious, terrifying, and wonderful stories, from bizarre bad beats to hair-raising heists, murders, and even ghosts. But when it comes to beating blackjack, the story of professional poker player Archie Karas – who turned $50 into $40m – springs to mind.

He began as an expert pool player and made a lot of money before discovering that he was also a natural at poker. By the time he was in his thirties, a substantial amount of cash had passed between his hands.

a $40m fortune over a record three-year poker winning streak from 1992 to 1995

Karas is best known, however, for making a $40m fortune over a record three-year poker winning streak from 1992 to 1995. Also known as “The Run,” those winnings came from not just poker, but also baccarat, craps, blackjack, and pool.

Early life

Leaving home at 15, Karas, whose real name is Anargyros Karabourniotis, ended up working as a seaman for two years. He’d left home after an argument with his father about him refusing to lay cement after burning his finger.

While working on the sea, Karas worked as a waiter, earning little money. It was at the age of 17 that his life took a turn when he set sail for America, landing in Portland. From there, he made his way to Los Angeles, working as a waiter at a local restaurant and pool hall.

During his free time, Karas practiced pool, becoming good enough to beat his opponents for money. When he ran out of opponents willing to part with their cash, he turned to poker.

Over the next 20 years, Karas made over $2m at poker tables, but by the end of 1992, Karas had almost lost it all.

Arriving in Las Vegas

In 1992, with $50 to his name, Karas arrived in Les Vegas. It’s here that the then 42-year-old would earn the nickname “The Greek” in high roller circles and would change the course of his life.

Karas was able to repay his friend $20,000 while keeping $10,000 for himself

When he arrived, a friend loaned him $10,000. Within hours of taking the loan, Karas was able to repay his friend $20,000 while keeping $10,000 for himself. Keen to build his fortune even more, Karas turned to pool, finding a willing opponent who wanted to play for $5,000 a game.

This particular game turned into a three-month-long competition with the stakes rising to $40,000 per game. They eventually stopped when Karas had made $1.2m. Returning to poker, Karas then took $3m off an opponent at Binion’s Gambling Hall & Hotel, then called Binion’s Horseshoe.

Karas would remain a regular at Binion’s with $5m always in front of him at the table, willing to take on anybody. He would later hit Binion’s craps tables, wagering as much as $200,000 at times, a limit increased by the casino. Because of Karas’ winning streak, the casino lowered this figure back down to $100,000.

Taking on the best

Throughout his winning streak, Karas took on some of the best poker players in the area.

These included Stu Ungar, an American professional poker, blackjack, and gin rummy player. Both men competed in Razz and Seven Card Stud. Ungar, arguably the best poker player in the world at the time, left after losing $1.2m across both games.

he, too, couldn’t win against Karas and ended up losing $2m

Chip Reese, another American professional poker player and considered by many pros the greatest all-around poker player in history, was next to take on Karas. He, too, couldn’t win against Karas and ended up losing $2m to him.

Other people to go head-to-head with Karas included poker legends Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan, Johnny Moss, and Puggy Pearson. Only Chan and Brunson were able to hold their own against Karas, who ended up taking away $17m in total.

Eventual downfall

Despite winning that massive fortune, Karas reportedly lost most of those winnings at baccarat and dice games over three weeks in 1995.

Baccarat dealt the biggest blow, as Karas lost $17m.

From $40m he found himself with only $1m remaining. The decline began when he lost $11m at the craps tables followed by a $2m loss to Chip Reese. Baccarat dealt the biggest blow, as Karas lost $17m.

Cutting his losses when he still could, Karas returned to Greece. When he went back to Las Vegas, he attempted to restart his gambling winning streak, but it wasn’t to be and he ended up losing all but $1m of his former fortune.

Unfair advantage

Karas’s gambling career effectively came to an end in 2013 when he was arrested for allegedly marking cards at a California blackjack table.

According to prosecutors, Karas was spotted by a surveillance camera marking the cards. He managed to do this through a hollowed-out gambling chip which he would use to swipe over the deck, marking the kings, queens, jacks, and aces.

Before being caught, Karas won more than $8,000 from the casino. A search warrant at Karas’ home found more hollowed-out casino chips.

He was arrested five times for allegedly scamming casinos in California and Nevada, and in 2013 he was sentenced to 73 days in prison. In 2015, Karas ended his gambling career after his name was put into the notorious black book.

As a result of being blacklisted, Karas can’t step foot into a Las Vegas casino again.

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