“Nick the Greek” Dandolos was a professional gambler and high roller. He was born in Rethymnon, Crete to wealthy parents on April 27, 1883 and died in Gardena, California on December 25, 1966.
His grandfather sent him to the U.S with an allowance of $150 per week when Dandolos was 18 years old. Although Dandolos settled down in Chicago he eventually moved to Montreal where he began gambling on horse races.
Dandolos was famous throughout his life for winning and losing large sums of money. He moved back to Chicago from Montreal with $500,000 won on horse races, only to lose it all on card and dice games. He quickly became a master of these games, however, and became a prime attraction at casinos when he would play in them.
From January 1951 to May 1951, Dandolos played a two-person “heads up” poker match against Johnny Moss where the two played virtually every variation of the game that existed at the time. This game is widely credited as being the inspiration for the modern day World Series of Poker.
At the end of this five-month poker marathon, down an estimated $2-4 million dollars, Dandolos uttered what has become one of the most famous poker quotes ever: “Mr. Moss, I have to let you go.” Fatigue was a major factor for Dandolos’ loss as he was 24 years older than Moss.
One urban legend claims that Dandolos once had the opportunity to escort Albert Einstein around Las Vegas. Thinking that his gambling friends may not know with him, Dandolos allegedly introduced Einstein as “Little Al from Princeton” and went on to say that Al “controlled a lot of the action around Jersey.”
Another urban legend has him winning one million dollars against a Texan. In the early hours of the morning, Nick felt tired and called an end to the game. The Texan accused him of chickening out while the going was good. Nick the Greek then called for a new deck of cards, shuffled them and asked the Texan if he wanted to play double or quit. The Texan declined and they went home.
Nobel-prize winning physicist Richard Feynman also met Nick the Greek, as he wrote in his autobiography “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”. Nick explains 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.
“It’s still action,
Near the end of his life, Dandolos was playing $5 limit Draw poker games in Gardena, California. He was near broke. When asked by a fellow player how he could once play for millions and now be playing for such small stakes, Dandolos replied: “Hey, it’s action, isn’t it?”
Dandolos died on Christmas Day 1966 and was a charter inductee of the Poker Hall of Fame in 1979.
It’s estimated that he won and lost over $500 million in his lifetime. He himself claimed that he went from rags to riches over 73 times. A man who never respected money, he donated over $20 million (about $400 million adjusted for 2004 inflation) to education and charity.
Ted Thackrey wrote a book about Dandolos in 1968 titled Gambling Secrets of Nick the Greek. Harry Marks Petrakis wrote a novel about Nick’s life in 1978 titled Nick the Greek.