Place: Las Vegas
Card: Five Card Stud
Protagonists: Nick the Greek Dandalos vs The Grand Old Man Johnny Moss
It is claimed that the greatest poker hand ever played took place in Las Vegas in 1955. The hand was decided by a jack of diamonds, (the same final card that later appeared in the poker movie, “The Cincinnati Kid”). However, while that movie depicted a poker hand with a straight flush beating a full house, the greatest poker hand ever played was won with….a simple pair. Ok, let’s meet the principal players:
Nicholas Andreas “Nick the Greek” Dandolos (April 27, 1883 – December 25, 1966) was born in Crete. When he was 18 years old his grandfather sent him to the U.S.A. with an allowance of $150 per week. Although Dandolos settled down in Chicago he eventually moved to Montreal where he began gambling on horse races.
Dandolos was known throughout his life for winning and losing large sums of money. After winning over $500,000 on horse racing, he moved back to Chicago where he lost 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.
He played Johnny Moss in 1949 in a marathon set of sessions. 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.” People claim fatigue was a major factor for Dandolos’ loss as he was 24 years older than Moss!
From January 1955 to May 1955, 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. The game, set up as a tourist attraction, is widely credited as being the inspiration for the modern day World Series of Poker. This is the series of games from which the one described below is drawn.
Near the end of his life Dandolos was near broke and playing $5 limit Draw poker games in Gardena, California. When asked by a fellow player how he could once play for millions and now be playing for such small stakes, Dandolos supposedly replied “Hey, it’s action, isn’t it?” He died on Christmas Day in 1966 and was a charter inductee of the Poker Hall of Fame in 1979.
As a young boy growing up in Odessa, Texas, Moss learnt his craft from “a gang of cheaters” in the backrooms of the South during the dark days of the Great Depression. These flamboyant characters introduced him to the less savoury side of card gambling like dealing from the bottom of the deck and using marked cards in high stakes games. They also showed him how to look after himself in the rough and often dangerous world of illegal gambling. “The Grand Old Man” of poker Jonny Moss, was quite literally the living embodiment of poker culture and its progression throughout the 20th Century. Having played poker almost his entire life, Moss experienced, and was a major force behind, poker’s evolution from the illegal gambling halls of the early 1900s through to the present day, where it sits comfortably in the main stream of popular culture.
As he entered his teens, Moss found employment keeping games clean in a local card saloon. It was here that Moss started to refine the legendary poker skills that would serve him so well throughout his life. For example, during this time Moss honed his extraordinary ability to detect the pulse of apprehension in the veins of an opponent’s neck!
In today’s sanitised world it is almost impossible to believe some of the tales told of Johnny Moss as he journeyed through the underworld card rooms of the USA. One such tale he retold in his own words:
“One night I’m playing in some small town – I don’t remember where, maybe in Oklahoma – and I see they got the room set up as a peep joint. So I pull my gun – always carried a gun back in those days – and said ‘Now fellas, do I have to go and shoot a bullet in the ceiling? Or you going to send your boy down without any harm?’ Hell, they thought I was bluffing; ended up shooting the guy in the ass”.
So here we have the true story that in 1955, what was then the biggest poker pot in the history of the game, was won by:
The poker game was five-card stud, and the principals were Nick the Greek Dandalos and The Grand Old Man Johnny Moss. The Greek had been to Las Vegas before, he had gambled in Las Vegas and shot craps with Arnold Rothstein in New York and played dice with Dutch Schultz in Chicago and blackjack with the automaker Citroen in Cannes, and he had also broken the bank in Monte Carlo at the game of roulette. But when Nick the Greek came to Las Vegas in 1955 he wanted to play poker, and so he issued the challenge that he would play against any man in no limit poker until one of them went bust.
A man called Benny Binion had recently opened a sawdust joint on Fremont Street called Binion’s Horseshoe casino, and he said he would spread that game on condition that it be held in full view of the public. Nick Dandalos agreed, and then Benny Binion put in a call. He phoned his boyhood friend Johnny Moss, who had been up three days in a row playing poker in Odessa, Texas. Johnny Moss put down the phone and drove the two days straight to Las Vegas, walked into Binion’s Horseshoe casino and sat down to play poker with Nick the Greek.
They hadn’t been playing for more than four days straight when this hand developed, and it started innocently enough. Johnny Moss received two nines wired, back-to-back, and Nick the Greek showed a seven. Five card stud is dealt one card down and one up to start, with the last three cards dealt face up, one by one. Four betting rounds, and at this first opportunity Johnny Moss bet on his nines and was called by Nick the Greek. Johnny Moss drew an eight and the Greek drew a deuce. Again Moss bet and was called by the Greek. On the fourth card, Johnny drew a three, and the Greek caught a four. Moss’ two nines beat any hand the Greek could have had and he made a large bet, called again by Nick the Greek.
Moss didn’t help with a deuce at the last, but Nick the Greek caught a black jack. The Greek bet and Moss moved in on him, all his chips. Nick the Greek looked at Johnny Moss and said, “Mr. Moss, I do believe I have a jack under here.” Johnny Moss replied, cool as can be, “Greek, if you got a jack you’re liable to win yourself one hell of a pot.” And Nick the Greek flipped over the jack of diamonds and took down a poker pot that had over one million dollars in it. Nick Dandalos paid all that money to hit a jack on the last card!
What makes this the greatest hand in the history of poker? It was two great men, one astounding bad beat, and the largest poker pot ever built at that time. And it provides the ultimate proof that though poker has luck in its individual moments, it truly is a game for the long run. Much more tense and exciting than the Cincinatti Kid!