This is a story only possible in Las Vegas.
Archie Karas is a Greek-American gambler, high roller, poker player, and pool shark famous for the largest and longest documented winning streak in gambling history simply known as The Run.
The run started when he turned $50 in December 1992 into more than $40 million by the beginning of 1995, only to lose it all later that year.
He is considered by many to be the greatest gambler of all time and has often been compared to Nick the Greek, another high stakes gambler.
Karas drove to Vegas with $50 in his wallet. His initial run lasted for six months where he turned $50 into $17 million playing poker and pool. After arriving at the Binion’s Horseshoe, he started gambling and went on a hot streak.
Karas recognized a fellow poker player from the Los Angeles scene and convinced him to loan him $10,000, which Archie quickly turned into $30,000 playing $200/$400 limit Razz. Karas returned $20,000 to his backer, who was more than content.
With a little over $10,000 in his pocket, Karas began looking for pool action. He found a wealthy and respected poker and pool player, Karas refused to reveal the name of his opponent for the sake of his opponent’s reputation; he simply referred to him as “Mr. X”.
They started playing pool at $10,000 a game. After Karas won several hundred thousand dollars, they raised the stakes to $40,000 a game. Many gamblers and professional poker players watched Archie play with stakes never seen before.
Karas ended up winning $1,200,000. He then played Mr. X in poker and won an additional $3,000,000 from him. Karas was willing to gamble everything he made and continued to raise the stakes to a level few dared to play at.
With a bankroll of $4 million, Karas gambled his bankroll up to $7 million after spending only three months in Vegas. By now many poker players had heard of Mr. X’s loss to Archie.
Only the best players dared to challenge him. Karas sat at the Binion’s Horseshoe’s poker table with 5 of his 7 million dollars in front of him waiting for any players willing to play for such stakes.
The first challenger was Stu Ungar, a three-time World Series of Poker champion widely regarded as the greatest Texas Hold’em and gin rummy player of all time. Stu was backed by Lyle Berman, another professional poker player and business executive who co-founded Grand Casinos. Karas first beat Stu for $500,000 playing heads-up Razz.
Ungar then attempted to play him in 7-card stud, which cost him another $700,000. The next player was Chip Reese, widely regarded as the greatest cash game player. Reese claims that Karas beat him for more money than anyone else he ever played.
After 25 games, Reese was down $2,022,000 playing $8,000/$16,000 limit. According to Michael Konik Karas played Chip Reese first, however Karas himself stated otherwise.
Karas continued to beat many top players, from Doyle Brunson to Puggy Pearson to Johnny Moss. Many top players would not play him simply because his stakes were too high. The only player to beat Karas during his run was Johnny Chan, who beat him for $900,000 after losing to Karas the first two games.
By the end of his six-month-long winning streak, Karas had amassed more than $17 million.
The poker action for Karas had mostly dried up due to his reputation and stakes. He turned to dice, rolling for $100,000 per roll and was allowed to make pass line and come bets of up to $300,000 with no odds.
At one point, Karas was allowed to bet a maximum of $200,000 on the 4 and 10 for 1 to 4.6 odds. With two rolls Karas won $920,000, then Jack Binion immediately lowered the limit back to $100,000.
He said that he could quickly win $3 million on dice, while it would take days to weeks with poker. He said that “With each play I was making million-dollar decisions, I would have played even higher if they’d let me.”
Transporting money became a hassle for Karas as he was moving several millions of dollars in his car every day. He carried a gun with him at all times and would often have his brother and casino security guards escort him.
At one point, Karas had won all of the Binion’s casino’s $5000 chips, which were the highest denomination of chips at the time. By the end of his winning streak he had won a fortune of over $40 million.
The beginning of the end
Karas’s odds defying two-and-a-half-year streak came to an end in 1995 when he lost most of his money in a period of three weeks.
He lost $11 million playing dice and then lost the $2 million he won from Chip Reese back to him. Following these losses he switched to baccarat and lost another $17 million, for a total of $30 million.
With approximately $12 million left and needing a break from gambling, he returned to Greece. When he came back to Las Vegas, he went back to the Horseshoe shooting dice and playing baccarat at $300,000 per bet, and in less than a month, lost all but his last million.
With his last million, he went to the Bicycle Club and played Johnny Chan in a $1,000,000 freeze out event. This time, Chan was also backed by Lyle Berman and both took turns playing Karas. He preferred playing the both of them instead of just Chan, as he felt Chan was a tougher opponent. Karas won and doubled his money, only to lose it all at dice and baccarat, betting at the highest limits in just a few days.
Since he lost his $40 million, he has gone on a few smaller streaks. Less than a year later, he turned $40,000 into $1,000,000 at the Desert Inn. He then went back to the Horseshoe and won an additional $4 million before losing it all the next day.
A few years later, Karas went on another streak at the Gold Strike Casino, 32 miles outside Las Vegas. He went with $1,800 and lost $1,600 until he was down to just $200.
Then after getting something to eat, he decided to gamble the rest of it. He shot dice and ran his $200 into $9,700 and then headed to Las Vegas. He stopped at Fitzgeralds Casino & Hotel and won another $36,000 betting $1,000 with $2,000 odds.
He went back to Binion’s and won another $300,000 at the Horseshoe and by the third day, had won a total of $980,000 from a low of $200.