One of the most famous heads-up matches in the history of poker took place in 1949 (or in 1951, according to some sources). 66-year-old Nick “The Greek” Dandolos and 42-year-old Johnny Moss played HU4Rollz for several months – with sessions stretching 4-5 days and players only pausing for sleep.
The match was organized by Benny Binion, who moved to Vegas from Texas in 1946. Nick Dandolos showed up in town three years later in search of "the most expensive game on the planet." By that time, Benny had already purchased the El Dorado casino on Fairmont Street and named it the Horseshoe, which later became famous. Above the main entrance was the sign “The Most Expensive Limits in the World,” so Benny Binion knew how to help a player like Dandolos.
Benny became famous in the poker world even before the World Series, which he created with his son Jack in 1970. He organized one of the most famous bouts in the history of the game – the match between Johnny Moss and Nick "The Greek" Dandolos in 1949. At the time, the Greek was considered one of the best poker players in the world, except in Texas, where he was taken less seriously. Dandolos was proud of his image as a crazy gambler; at 66, he continued to dress stylishly and remained a dashing man. He asked Benny to find him a heads-up opponent for high stakes.
Benny persuaded Johnny Moss, his childhood friend, the best gambler in Texas – and most likely the best gambler of the time – to come to Las Vegas and fight Nick in his casino.
“We have a guy here who calls himself Nick “The Greek.” He thinks he knows how to play stud,” Benny said into the phone. “Johnny, I think you should come and have some fun.”
Moss traveled around Texas for many years in search of expensive games, Benny often acted as his backer and knew what he was capable of. Moss was famous throughout Texas and became a legend during his lifetime. That same day, Moss, then 42, traveled from Dallas to Vegas. Benny stipulated that the game would be public so that spectators could watch – he did not miss a single chance to attract new visitors to his casino.
Here's how Moss himself described the match in John Bradshaw's book Fast Company:
“I arrived in town on Sunday evening and we immediately sat down to play. Why put off the opportunity to earn money? Until Thursday we played five-card stud without a break. On Thursday I said that I was tired and was going to bed. "What's the matter? – this Greek asked me. “Aren’t you used to such loads?” I slept for about twenty hours, and the Greek didn’t even go to bed. He is already seventy years old, and he whiled away the time playing craps while he waited for my return. I came back and we played until Sunday evening, then I went back to rest.
The entire match lasted four months. Maybe five. Finally, when I hit the absolute nuts in A-5, as I remember now, the Greek smiled, stood up from the table and said to me: “Well, it looks like we’ll have to let you go, Mr. Moss.” He lost everything, you know? He just got up, smiled and went to bed.”
At the end of his life, Nick was almost bankrupt. One day, while he was playing $5/10 draw in California, a stranger approached him:
– Aren’t you Nick “The Greek”?
“It’s me,” answered the Greek.
– Aren’t you ashamed to play here at such rates?
Nick glared at him and said one of the most famous phrases in poker: “Action is action.” Soon after this he died.
The Result After the Months of HU4Rollz
According to rumors, Moss won a total of about $2 million from his opponent (equivalent to about $20 million today). In one of the interviews, Moss himself said that he won $4 million, and a couple of years later he left Vegas half a million in debt because he loved to play craps. With the Greek, they played seven-card variations of stud, A-5 lowball, but the main game was no-limit 5-card stud, and they played a record pot of about $500,000.
Moss lost this hand and later recalled it several times in various interviews. He had [ ] , Nick – [X] , both without possible flushes.
Nick was the aggressor on all streets, by the river there was about $100,000 in the pot, Greek bet $50,000, Moss announced all-in for $200,000 (apparently deciding to turn his hand into a bluff). After a long pause, Nick called and turned over the jack.
Some sources write that at some point, everyone was allowed into the game if they were ready to put up $10,000, but no one lasted more than a couple of days.
These days, it costs a lot less than $10,000 for everyone to play together. In fact, you and all of your friends can organize private games on PokerStars and other sites for free (or real money if you choose).
A quote from Brunson's book states that Benny Binion himself insisted on making the fight public. They say he even moved the gaming table closer to the main entrance so that the crowd of fans would attract the attention of passersby walking through downtown.
After watching the huge pots between the Greek and Moss, many spectators then also went to play and left some of their savings to the owner of the Horseshoe.
James McManus' book Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker states that even Albert Einstein came to watch the match. He was then seen walking along Fairmont Street in the company of Nick. “This is Little Al from Princeton,” the Greek introduced the Nobel laureate to his acquaintances.
In Al Alvarez's book, The Biggest Game in Town, the author draws direct parallels between this match and the WSOP. It's as if it was the 1949 heads-up that inspired Benny Binion's first World Series in 1970.
Some Details Get Cleared Up
At the end of May, journalist Martin Harris again recalled the details of that meeting and a couple of days later he was contacted by the assistant of Jack Binion, his son Benny: "Mr. Binion has read your article 'Moss and Dandolos at the Horseshoe – Legend or Myth' and wants to reveal some details to put the matter to rest once and for all."
Jack confirmed that the match took place in 1949, but it did not take place at the Horseshoe Casino.
– The game took place at Flamingo. Moreover, spectators were not allowed to the table,” recalls Binion. – There was also a big game in Horseshoe in the early 50s, but without the participation of the Greek. The game went on non-stop, players came and went, Johnny among them. This was already a public event.
The confusion was probably due to Moss himself, who took part in both big games but never played Horseshoe with the Greek.
The fact that the Dandolos-Moss match inspired Benny Binion to create the World Series was also denied by his son. In fact, the idea for the WSOP was born before his eyes. In 1969, Tom Moore and Vic Vickray organized a series called the Texas Gamblers Reunion in Reno. Guests included Doyle Brunson, Amarillo Slim, Puggy Pearson, Johnny Moss, and Benny Binion. Participants played expensive cash games for several days. When it was all over, Binion asked Moore if he planned to do it all again in a year, but he said no.
“Benny asked if Moore would mind if he organized something like this himself,” Jack recalls, “the interlocutor gave his consent, and that was the birth of the WSOP.
Nick Dandolos did not live to see the start of the World Series; he died in 1966 at the age of 83. Like any story, his biography has become overgrown with many rumors over time. It is difficult to distinguish reality from fiction, especially in the time before smartphones.
In his youth, he received a diploma in philosophy, knew 5 languages, and was fond of poetry and the works of Socrates. Nick came to America at the age of 18, with $150 in his pocket. He earned his first serious bankroll by betting on horse racing.
According to one legend, Nick once won a large sum from an Italian gangster. In the morning, Nick wanted to end the game, citing fatigue, but his opponent accused him of cowardice. Then Nick demanded a new deck, asked to shuffle it and invited his opponent to pull out one card at a time – whoever pulled a lower card would have to pay $500,000. The Italian chose to calmly leave.
By his own admission, the Greek became a millionaire 73 times and lost everything. He donated a total of about $20 million to charity. He never remembered the match against Johnny Moss, but they were inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame together in the first year of its founding – in 1979. Nick spent his last days on the brink of poverty. Former friends, rivals, nefarious characters, and people of the stature of Frank Sinatra, organized a magnificent funeral for him.