by Christopher Xenopoulos Janus

Nick the Greek:
Poker Icon
Today more people play poker than any other game in the world. Casinos in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Los Angeles and other cities offer $1,000,000 tournaments and precious prizes to the winners. Poker has become one of our cultural phenomena and its popularity is growing.

Historians don't agree on when poker originated, but for most writers poker derived from a Persian game called as-nias. From Persia it went into Greece and it was played at the Plaka just beneath the Acropolis. Eventually it was brought into our country by Columbus's sailors. It was particularly popular in New Orleans. Poker was assimilated into American culture so fast and so thoroughly that some historians maintain that the game is almost as old as Western civilization itself.

I once played poker with King Farouk and Somerset Maugham on the Riviera.

Nick the Greek - Nick Dandolos

I remember what Maugham said about the game which also is my view of poker. Maugham said: You talk of your cricket and your baseball, your gold and your tennis and football. They are all very well - for boys. Poker is the only game fit for a grown man your hand is against every man's and every man's is against you!

One of the best poker players in the world and known world wide was Nick the Greek.

His Greek name was Nick Dandolos and he arrived in America from Greece in 1919 in search of the dream America inspired throughout the world. Interest tempted him, however, into high stakes games of cards. He is driven to humiliation and defeat. From these depths he begins his painstaking mastery of the skills of gambling. Returning to take vengeance on the powerful men who had beaten him, Nick begins the meteoric ascent that for more than forty years carries him through no-limit poker games in all the great casinos of the world. My friend Harry Mark Petrakis had written an excellent story on Nick the Greek and what is written about him is a reflection of a Petrakis' book. Though I did not have the pleasure of meeting Nick the Greek in Chicago and played poker with him, and after the game I asked him what he thought of my game.

His answer was very friendly but blunt, it went something like this: "Janus, you obviously enjoy the game and you play with enthusiasm. That should be the limit of your poker goals: just to enjoy it. You don't have the makeup of a winning poker player. 'In the first place you have too honest a face to bluff. And bluffing is essential to being a winner. In the, second place, you don't have the memory to play serious poker. Third, can you afford it? You can't be a master poker player unless you come to the game with a big bank roll to meet any bluff, any bet."

I never did take Nick the Greek's advice and I've been playing poker 50 years. I don't think I'm an overall winner and Nick was right but I do enjoy the game.

I now come to Nick the Greek's famous come back story which is still told in poker clubs all over the world.

At this point Nick the Greek - (or a young punk as some called him) - with perhaps more determination than skill but that is not how Nick thought of himself. He remembers only that the group he was going to play with this night had really humiliated him and he lost more than $25,000 of his family's money. He was determined to show this group he was a different person.

There were seven players. The game was 7 -card stud; The game began slowly playing in the leisurely manner of men starting to eat a grand meal and determined to linger over each course. Nick played tensely trying to subdue the flutter of his anxiety.

Nick had placed larger bills on the outside of his roll of money. He made certain to display the money within the circle of the light, his movement careful and slow to assure the other players noticed. In spite of playing his cards well, Nick lost several sizeable pots in a row. But he took more money from his roll that suggested the big bills were all the way down.

Just as quickly as he had been losing, he began to win. They took a short break and when they resumed playing nick was about $40,000 ahead. There was a flair of excitement for Nick in the 7-card stud game. Nick saw a third ten fall up to match the pair of tens he held in the hole. One of the players had an ace showing and from the first card the betting was strong.

The player with the ace bet $5,000 and Nick just called. Nick was dealt an 8 on the next draw. Nick was tempted to raise but did not want to reveal this struggle too soon. He felt a chill when he considered the man with an ace might be holding 3 aces. The next card was the 4th ten and he stared at it in shock. He caught himself quickly fearful the lapse had been noticed. But the player with the aces was absorbed in his own delight at having received another ace. He smirked at Nick and brusquely pulled off a sheaf of bills. "Aces bet $10,000 dollars."

Nick once again fought the temptation to raise the bet unable to stifle the nagging uncertainty that the player with the aces had filled out 4 aces. Nevertheless Nick saw the $10,000 bet.

At then next time around the player with the aces bet another $10,000. Nick stared at his cards giving the impression he was gravely evaluating the wager. Nodded slowly and counted out the amount.

"I call the $10,000," Nick said. The response was "Aces bet $20,000."

Jubilation seethed through Nick, the first sweet tooth of retribution. He did not believe his opponent had the four aces that could have beat him. He counted the money before him. He paused an instant looping the table like a noose. And, bet $50,000 to raise.

You are a madman, the player with the aces hissed. Time for a reckoning now. When I finish with you, a bum will spit as you pass; And, Punk, I call your raise."

He did not wait for Nick to show his hand fumbled with his fingers and flipped over his hidden cards. "A full house! Aces and jacks full."

A tornado of vengeance and power swept through Nick. He turned over his hidden cards - 4 tens!

Then he turned to his opponent and said: "You've insulted me for the last time. Now let's see how much of a gambler you really are. You want to gamble some more. All right. Let's cut the cards once for my two hundred and ten thousand. And I'll take your marker for that amount now."

For a frantic moment stiffened by vanity and rage, the aces player seemed to accept the challenge. Then a panic he could not subdue plundered him. He slumped like a corpse in his chair and cried.

(Posting date 24 April 2006)

Educated at Harvard and Oxford, Christopher Xenopoulos Janus started his writing career as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News. Later he became a special writer for The New York Times Sunday News Magazine section where the late Lester Markel was his editor. During World War II, Janus joined the Department of State serving in Washington, Cairo and Athens on Greek War Relief and Rehabilitation programs. This experience had a great influence on his writing.

After World War II, the author was involved in various entrepreneurial experiences. At one time he owned Adolph Hitler's Mercedes Benz and toured it through the United States. He was an Investment Banker, but always took the time to be involved in the world around him.

Since his retirement from business, the author has devoted his time to writing, publishing and traveling. He founded and published the widely acclaimed Greek Heritage, The American Quarterly of Greek Culture, and with William Brashler wrote Search for Peking Man (Macmillan 1975). Janus' novel Miss Fourth of July, Goodbye has been filmed by Disney Productions. Around the World in 90 Years reflects much of the author's own warm and caring philosophy of life embodying unconditional loyalties and boundless enthusiasm. They feature a strong sense of self-reliance and the courage and wisdom to be interested in everything. Yet, as his mentor, George Santayana once cautioned the author: "Don't be awed by anything."

Most recently, the prestigious American Hellenic Institute Foundation of Washington, D.C. awarded its Hellenic Heritage Lifetime Achievement Award to Christopher Xenopoulos Janus.

Mr. Janus is the author of numerous articles appearing on HCS. Readers are invited to view: "The Girl With Melancholy Eyes," "Our First and Only Christmas in Sistersville"

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