Where are They Now is a series of an in depth look at all poker players - not just the pros - as they travel through one long game. Some of the players profiled are deceased but not forgotten.
The following “Where are They Now” story may make you cringe, especially if you find yourself having any kind respect for money, like 99.9 percent of the population do. Sure, this series has documented dozens of people who have gone from busto to millionaire a couple of times, but there is a good chance that none of them have done it as often as Archie Karas. There are also those in the series that will make outlandish bets on any number of prop bets, but again, Karas has them all topped. It is of course impossible to prove this, but if you ask Karas, and people close to him, nobody in the world has wagered more money in the entire world than him. To Karas, this is just part of the fun, as he swears he doesn’t care about money. After you read his life story, you’ll most likely believe that.
The story of Anargyros Karabourniotis (A.K.A. Archie Karas) reads like a story of an ancient myth, but it is both very real and of modern times. Born in 1950 in Antypata on the island of Kefalonia, Greece, the man who would eventually win upwards of $40,000,000 had next to nothing as a youth. His mom stayed at home and raised his brothers and sisters, while his father was a construction worker. The relationship between Karas and his father was always a volatile one, so Karas didn’t mind finding ways to spend time outside of the house. When he was a teenager his family was really struggling, and began missing a few meals. In order to earn a few dollars for his family, and so he could personally eat, he began shooting marbles in the neighborhood. From the start he was good at gambling, as he often left a winner.
When Karas was 15 years old, the relationship between him and his father became violent. While working for his father, they got into a disagreement about some of the work that had to be done. Unexpected to Archie, his father became instantly violent and picked up a shovel and launched it at his head, missing it by mere inches. That same night Karas decided to run away. He never talked to his father again, who died four years later.
Karas wanted to get out of Greece, so he took a job on a ship as a waiter. The job earned him about $60 a month, and it also gave him a chance to explore the world, a chance he never thought he would get. When Karas turned 17 he became bored with ship travel and the work that went with it. On one trip to Portland, Oregon, he decided to literally jump ship. Karas hitchhiked down the west coast, eventually settling in Los Angeles when he was offered a job as a waiter. The money was decent, but the cash he made at the bowling alley next door would be a lot better.
Shortly after accepting the job at the restaurant Karas began going to the bowling alley after shifts. In the back was a pool room, and despite never playing the game before he got very good very fast. While playing pool, as luck would have it, there was also a poker table. Again, he had never played the game, but again got very good at it in short order. Karas is on record as saying that when he was just 19 years old he knew he would never have another “real” job in his life. He was a gambler.
Over the next two decades Karas would build his bankroll over $1,000,000 an unknown amount of times, according to him. He of course began playing for bigger stakes than he could get in the bowling alley, moving on to local casinos for high stakes poker games, and learning about big pool games during his travels at the casinos. Around 1990 Karas once again found himself a millionaire, this time holding about $2,000,000 to his name. However, in about two year’s time he would once again lose it all in high stakes poker games, eventually just leaving $50 to his name. Never one to worry too much about these things, he decided to take a trip to Las Vegas to see what he could scrounge up from some poker friends. What followed is now known in gambling lore simply as “The Run.”
When he arrived in Vegas he met a friend who agreed to lend him $10,000. Within a couple of hours of playing a $200/$400 limit Razz game he was up $20,000. Karas excused himself from the table. He gave his friend back the money he owed him, plus $10,000 for staking him and was left with $10,000. He was back in business.
With his new found bankroll Karas went on a scouting trip to look for juicy pool games. He learned that a well known business man from the area was looking for some action. Karas, while very open about many of his gambling stories, has never personally revealed the name of this person out of respect, and has simply referred to him as “Mr. X.” Karas and “Mr. X” agreed to play 9-ball and despite only having about $10,000 to his name, they agreed to play for $5,000 a game - at least to begin. Over the course of the next two and a half months the two played a marathon session breaking only for sleeping, and when “Mr. X” absolutely had to be somewhere business related. Karas and “Mr. X” would get as high as $40,000 a game. That was because “Mr. X” was trying to chase his losses. Over that stretch Karas estimated that he won $1,100,000.
After “Mr. X” showed signs he was ready to go on a run, including hitting the nine-ball in on the break an unbelievable eight out of ten times, Karas felt it was time to put the cue stick down in favor of another game. Karas wasn’t trying to get out of not giving “Mr. X.” a chance to win his money back. In fact, he decided to challenge “Mr. X” in another game at which they both were very good: poker.
On top of being a world class pool player, “Mr. X was also a world champion poker player. However, that fact didn’t stop Karas from once again getting the better of his man, this time to the tune of $3,000,000 before the business man decided to walk away.
The next player to step up to the plate was Stuey Ungar. Ungar, considered by many to be the best poker player ever, lost $1.2 million to the red hot Karas. Then another person many consider to be the best poker player ever sat with him, Chip Reese. Reese went on to lose over two million dollars, which prompted him to utter the now famous quote regarding Karas: “God made your balls a little bigger. You’re too good.” Doyle Brunson, Johnny Moss, and Puggy Pearson all lost an undisclosed amount to him. At the end of his poker run he was up $17 million.
Archie was an action junkie. He has said many times that it may take him 24 hours to win a million dollars at the poker table, while he can do the same with one roll of the dice at the craps table. At the poker table he had beaten the very best, and the rest didn’t have enough money to hold his interest. Archie was looking for action, and knew just the place he could get it. At this time the Horseshoe Casino had a reputation of allowing the biggest bets, which was right up Karas’ alley. On three separate occasions he booked wins of over a million dollars playing craps, including one amazing $4,000,000 session where he had every $5,000 chip the Horseshoe had in his possession. In less than eight months Karas ran $50 up to an estimated $40 million.
All good things come to an end, and in spectacular fashion, so did “The Run.” It started with an $11 million downswing at craps. He followed that by losing another million to his nemesis Reese. He then lost $17 million playing baccarat. After a quick trip to Greece, to take a breather, saying he needed a break from gambling, he went back to the Horseshoe to try to relive his magic. It wasn’t to be. His remaining $12 million dwindled to just one million after losing it all at craps. He then challenged Johnny Chan to a $1 million freeze out match. He actually won it, upping his bankroll to $2 million, only to lose it in a couple days playing baccarat and craps. In just three weeks’ time his fortune was gone. The rumor is that the only thing he bought out of the $40,000,000 was a car.
Karas expectedly resides in Las Vegas. In addition to playing high stakes poker, he has also found some minor success in the World Series of Poker. While he has yet to be able to win a gold bracelet, he has cashed in six events, with four of those being final tables. His most recent WSOP cashes came last year, where he once again came close to a bracelet, and finished 5th in the $10,000 2-7 Lowball event for $53,783.
What might be most amazing about this story is to hear Karas tell it. When telling his story he shows no remorse. He has said time and time again that money doesn’t make him happy, and it makes no difference to him if he has a lot of it or not, he feels the same either way.