Imagine America at the beginning of the 20th century. Imagine a bar just like the Cotton Club, just picture the club’s characteristics, the rooms that are behind the clubs, just like the ones we are used to seeing in the movies with their gamblers holding their breathes.
Now picture one gentleman with a cigar in his mouth and with an aristocratic style but with this honest look on his face and collecting all the chips on the table, gathering them with admiration and jealousy surrounding him.
If we are able with our imagination to transport ourselves to America in that era, we would definitely have to visualize the plain emblematic figure of Nikolaou Andrea Dandolou or “Nick the Greek”.
The man that made history as “the gentleman of gambling” or the “philosopher of gambling”, who lived a life that reminds us of the movies of Martin Scorsese and died just like the way most gambling legends die, on Christmas Eve broke but not forgotten.
The king of gambling, the most honorable players of the casino card games of his time. Wrote history by being able to pass from rags to riches more than 75 times, even information from some of the sources of the gambling world said that upon his career he lost and won more than 500 million dollars,
Even today, 45 years after his death, the legendary “Nick the Greek” continues to honor the casino felts around the world and makes article writers that associate themselves with gambling, summon him so they can speak with the legend.
Nikolaos Dandolos was born on April 27, 1883 in Rethymno, Crete. His family came from Smirni and grew up well off for his time. His father sold carpets and his godfather was a shipbuilder, which he had a very well economic stability. This economic stability helped Dandolo to study philosophy at the Hellenic Evangeliko College of Smirni. He will then make the decision to migrate to the United States, the land of opportunity.
The truth is that “Nick the Greek” took advantage of every opportunity that was given to him for a more interesting life. At 18 years old he left for America to gain experience for entrepreneurship and gaining a weekly sum from his godfather a total of 150 dollars.
Just as fate would have it only thing that he would throw away was the business. Not only did he not evolve into a entrepreneur but he paid his way into having the lack of entrepreneurship, as a result to win and lose entire properties and to die in the end penniless.
His first stop was Chicago. There he fell in love with a young woman but their relationship didn’t last. When they broke up he moved to Montreal, Canada. It was there that his entrepreneurship faded. There he met with a famous horse racer, Phil Masgkreiv, who taught him his professional secrets. His love for horse races had just started and in just six months he managed to win 500,000 dollars.
His return to Chicago marked the start of a legend. There he soon became a connoisseur to card playing and to the dice, with casinos begging to recruit him so they can somehow fix the damage he made.
“Nick the Greek” didn’t accept any of those proposals and continued to play forming the title-legend. Even when he would lose 100,000 dollars, with only one bet, he still wouldn’t stop betting and at the same time becoming history in the making with his honorable games.
As time went by, more and more his title kept increasing as “Nick the Greek” just like the poker game that lasted 10 whole days and provoked the attention of the mob boss Costello while in the presence of the former King of Egypt, Farouk.
When the Mob Boss Called Him a…”Coward”
This legendary game became the center of “El Maroco” with audiences of 10 famous players among them the King of Egypt, Farouk. When the game was over, the Greek immigrant had won hundreds of thousands of dollars causing dissatisfaction from Costello who then dared to say to him: “Greek, you are leaving because you are a coward.” Then Dandolo turned to Farouk and asked him to shuffle the cards. Then he turned to Costello; “Now amigo come and draw a card, the lowest one loses 500,000 dollars.” The Italian Mob boss denied and the next day the Times wrote “Costello won’t always be the leader of the mafia just like Nick the Greek will always be the King of poker”.
The Historical “Marathon” with Johnny Moss…
He played many games like these just like the game that wrote history and was the inspiration of “World Series of Poker” it wasn’t any different from the showdown with the legendary Johnny Moss. It all started in the summer of 1949 when Dandolos made an unusual proposal to Benny Binion, a casino owner and poker lover. His proposal was to hold a poker marathon with the top poker players of his time.
Benny agreed and closed the deal with Johnny Moss but on one condition….to become famous. That is exactly what happened. This game started in January of 1949 and ended in May of 1949. It was only natural that it stayed in history as the biggest poker game that was ever played.
The players had brakes only for food and sleep. In the end Moss would finish the game winning 2 million dollars and “Nick the Greek” say the legendary cue “Mr. Moss I’m going to have to let you leave”. Many said that the Greek quit only from exhaustion mainly because he was 24 years older than his opponent.
Dies Poor, Was Buried Like a Croesus…
“Nick the Greek” died on Christmas Eve in 1966 at the age of 83. He died poor even though in his last years he played with small amounts in Northern California. The assessment, however, that all the famous and rich people that were fed to him allowed him to be buried like a simple mortal. Some friends got together and decided to give him a rich funeral, with a golden casket buried with all his honors. Everyone was present.
Everyone was present, all his famous and rich friends of his, from the biggest stars to the finest Kings, from the most legendary Mob bosses to the biggest gamblers, and everyone was there. The first one there was Frank Sinatra, crying like a small child, said in his speech “Nick, you were so pure and honest that the only properties that you ever claimed were your charities”. Indeed, all of the publications at the time mentioned that he gave about 20 million dollars to various charities from his winnings.
Stories That Made History…
The reputation but mostly the personality of Nikolaou Danadolo had generated interest from many interesting people of the time, “Nick the Greek” socializing with everyone from Aristoteli Onassis to Albert Einstein.
The last one mentioned, he would indeed often go on a night out fearing that his patrons would not respect his educated friend and he would often introduce him as “Little Al from Princeton” (Einstein was a member of the Institute of Applied Studies at the university. Einstein, however, enjoyed himself very much.)
“Luck is like a woman and this woman happens to be the love of my life”, was often said by “Nick the Greek”. In history, however, you were not only mentioned simply because of your luck.