Nick “The Greek” Dandolos
b. April 27 1893
d. 25th December 1966
A man who became almost as legendary as any man in romantic fiction and certainly America’s most famous gambler.
He was born in Rethymnon, Crete, from which his father sent him to live with a wealthy godfather in Smyrna, Turkey, where attended the English run Baxter school. He was later educated at the Greek Evangelical College there. He spoke English, French, Italian, Spanish, Turkish, Greek and Yiddish as well as being a talented poet. After travels in America he had planned to study at Oxford and graduate to a Donship in Philosophy.
Nick ( whose real name was Nicholas Andrea Dandolos ) was the son of a rug merchant and the godson of a wealthy shipowner. When he was 18 years old, his grandfather sent him to America, giving him an allowance of $150 a week. In Chicago he met and fell in love with a girl, but they quarreled and Nick moved on to Montreal. There he became friendly with a leading jockey of the day, Phil Musgrave; assisted by the jockey’s advice and his own natural ability for working out odds, Nick won $500,000 in six months’ betting on horse races.
Nick then went back to Chicago and promptly lost the entire amount playing card and dice games that were unfamiliar to him. But he was not at all deterred from continuing in his chosen profession. He began to study these games assiduously and in a few years had become so well known as a freelance gambler that casino proprietors were offering him large salaries to work for them. He usually refused, but became an enormous attraction at the casinos nevertheless merely by playing – partly because he would seldom stop gambling even after losing (as he frequently did) as much as $100,000 in a single session at the tables.
Naturally this unpredictable gambler with a knowledge of philosophy and a passion for Aristotle & Plato was the source of endless speculation and rumour. It is widely believed that he once won a city block in Los Angeles, that he challenged an arrogant opponent to draw one card for $550,000 (the other man backed down), that he played faro for 10 days and nights without sleep.
In the January of 1951, as the story goes, Nick the Greek approached Benny Binion with an unusual request-to challenge the best in a high-stakes poker marathon. Binion agreed to set up a match between Dandolos and the legendary Johnny Moss, with the stipulation that the game be played in public view.
During the course of the marathon, which lasted five months with breaks only for sleep, the two men played every form of poker imaginable. Moss ultimately won “the biggest game in town” and an estimated $2 million. When the Greek lost his last pot, he arose from his chair, bowed slightly, and uttered the now-famous words, “Mr. Moss, I have to let you go.” Dandolos then went upstairs to bed.
He was enshrined in 1979 as a charter member of the Poker Hall of Fame.
Nobel-prize winning physicist Richard Feynman also met Nick the Greek, according to the autobiographical Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!. Nick explains to Richard how he wins big not by playing the tables, but by knowing the odds at the tables and betting against others who have superstitious beliefs about the outcome.
Albert Einstein stopped of in Las Vegas on a coast to coast journey. It was Nick who met him at the airport and chaperoned him around the Vegas casinos in a story told by Nick himself. Einstein was famous for saying that no one could win money at the roulette table, ‘unless he steals money from the table while the croupier isn’t looking’. So during a visit to the Tropicana Casino Nick approached a roulettte table and placed a handful of chips on red. It won and he let it ride and after winning again he did the same to further success. He then cashed in his chips, pocketed the cash and turned to grin at Einstein.
Nick then said, “Any questions?”
“One”, said Einstein.
“And that is……..?”
“I was wondering if you would be kind enough to wash my mouth out with soap?”
During his life Nick Dandolos donated more than $5,000,000 to charity and more than $2,000,000 to ‘friends’ in need. He sent 29 chilrdren of friends through college, paid hospital bills for 1,000 or more individuals and set up non-interest loans enabling another 300 or so to launch businesses of their own.
“He lived the life of a modern Socrates,” a friend said shortly after Nick’s death. “He believed in absolutely nothing material. His sum total of possessions at the time he died would have fitted handily into a shoe box. His most valuable presonal effects were the kind he could take with him. And he did…!”
Nick Dandolos claimed that he went from rags to riches over 73 times and near the end of his life Dandolos was reputedly near broke and playing $5 limit Draw poker games in Gardena, California.