The gambling world is filled with tales of big wins and heartbreaking losses. But no story manages to combine both of these elements better than the tale of Archie Karas.

The Greek-American gambler went from nearly penniless to winning $40 million. No other known gambler has gone from this broke to being worth tens of millions within the span of a few years.

Dubbed “The Run,” this magical period from 1992-95 made Karas one of the biggest gambling legends of all time. Unfortunately, part of this legend involves him losing everything.

My main problem with Archie’s story is how he could’ve used stop loss limits to retain his fortune. That said, I’m going to recount his story and explain how stop loss limits could’ve helped him keep millions of dollars.

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Karas Travels to Las Vegas with $50 in His Pocket

Archie Karas has always been a gambler at heart. In fact, he shot marbles as an impoverished teenager in Greece to help feed himself.

The problem with having a true gambler’s mindset, though, is that you also have the potential to go broke. And Karas has experienced this feeling many times in his life. When he first came to America as a teenager, Karas took a job at a Los Angeles restaurant that was located next to a pool hall.

He quickly found himself at home while playing pool for money. Karas became so good that he was making far more hustling pool than waiting tables. After a while, the number of people willing to donate their money to him thinned out. This led Karas to start frequenting L.A. poker rooms.

While he didn’t become a shark right away, Karas did eventually develop strong poker skills. These abilities helped him accumulate a $10 million bankroll, which he used to take shotsatelite pros like Doyle Brunson and Chip Reese.

Brunson and Reese knew that they were the better poker players. Therefore, they gave Karas a handicap to keep him playing.

He eventually lost all but $50 against these legendary rounders. Many players would have considered settling down at this point, but Karas took it as a sign that he should head to Las Vegas and look for more action.

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Beating the World’s Top Poker Players

Karas couldn’t do much with $50 when he arrived in Vegas in December 1992. So he borrowed $10,000 from a poker friend there. Archie quickly experienced a hot run in $200/$400 limit Razz and earned $30,000. After giving his backer $20,000, he went to a bar called Liberace Plaza to start playing pool.

Karas found his next victim in a wealthy and skilled pool player. He dubbed the player “Mr. X” and has never revealed the man’s real name to this day. The pair began playing 9-ball at $5,000 per game. Neither player won much at these “low stakes,”leading them to begin playing for $40,000 a game.

Karaswon $1.2 million off Mr. X by the time they quit playing. They decided to continue their gambling relationship by playing poker at Binion’s Horseshoe Casino. Here, Karas won an additional $3 million from Mr. X. Archie was able to take advantage of how Mr. X continued increasing the stakes and playing aggressively.

With his bankroll now worth $4.2 million, Karas continued playing high stakes poker and winning. This allowed him to push his bankroll to $7 million within his first three months in Sin City.

The only problem for Karas is that it was getting hard to find opponents as his success stories spread. Three-time WSOP Main Event champion Stu Ungar was one of the few who were unafraid to face Karas.

Many consider Ungar the greatest Texas hold’em player of all time. Therefore, he was more than a formidable opponent, even for somebody on the hottest gambling run ever. Nevertheless, Karas beat Ungar for $500,000 while playing heads-up Razz. He won an additional $700,000 off Stu in 7-card stud.

Next up was a rematch with Reese, who had been successful against Karas in LA poker rooms. Reese was another top-tier opponent, with some calling him the best all-around cash game player ever.

Despite being outmatched yet again, Karas was able to beat another poker legend. He won more than $2 million against Reese, with stakes reaching as high as $8000/$16,000.

Archie continued challenging the world’s best poker players at the time, including Johnnie Moss and Puggy Pearson. He beat both of these famous pros, which made more rounders scared to play him.

Two-time WSOP champ Johnny Chan was finally able to put a dent in Karas’ streak, winning $900,000 from him. But even after losing $900k, Archie had still amassed a bankroll worth $17 million.

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Karas Turns to Craps and Wins Even More Money

Karas officially ran out of opponents to challenge after Chan. Nobody wanted to play him due to the high stakes combined with his poker skills.

This would’ve been a good time to cash out, or at least wait for more poker or pool challengers. But the gambler in Karas wouldn’t let him quit.

He stayed at the Horseshoe and began playing craps for stakes worth between $100,000 and $200,000. Benny Binion, the casino’s owner, didn’t allow Karas to back pass line bets with odds, which would have greatly improved his chances of winning. Even without odds, Archie won $1 million right away. Binion responded by lowering his betting limits to $100,000.

Despite the lower limits, he continued winning millions of dollars in craps. At the peak of his run in 1995, Karas had earned $40 million, including $23 million from the Horseshoe craps tables.

Winning certainly wasn’t a problem for him back in these days. But transporting millions of dollars to and from the casino each day became nerve-wracking.

Karas relied on his brother and casino security guards to escort him.

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Archie Karas Loses His Entire $40 Million Bankroll

It took Karas three years to go on the greatest run in gambling history and earn $40 million. But it only took three weeks to lose it all.

His downswing began at the same Binion’s craps tables that had earned him a fortune. He lost $11 million and was finally convinced to stop playing. He then tried rekindling the magic in poker. But Karas would end up losing $2 million to Reese in a series of high stakes cash games.

Archie tried his luck in baccarat and would suffer his biggest losses yet at $17 million. With his bankroll now down to $10 million, Karas travelled back to his native Greece to relax.

He would later return to Binion’s and begin playing both baccarat and Craps for up to $300,000 per bet. It only took a month of this before he lost everything but his last million.

Karas went to LA’s Bicycle Club to face Johnny Chan and Lyle Berman in a $1 million freeze-out game. He won the freezeout match and added another $1 million to his bankroll. But he would again go back to the baccarat tables and lose big, dropping his last $2 million in the span of a few days.

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What Is a Stop Loss Limit?

A stop loss limit is a predetermined amount of losses that help you decide when to quit a session. Your loss limit can either be based on a percentage or your bankroll or a dollar amount.

Here’s an example:

  • You have a bankroll worth $10,000.
  • You decide to quit any gambling session when you lose 10% of your bankroll.
  • This means that you’ll stop playing whenever you lose $1,000 in a single session.

The best thing about these limits is that they’re flexible. You decide what type of losses you’re willing to take before quitting.

I personally suggest that you look at the size of your bankroll and decide what your personal stop loss limit should be. The larger your gambling funds, the lower the bankroll percentage you should be willing to risk. I say this because somebody with a $500 bankroll likely won’t get much action if their stop loss limit is only 10% ($50).

Meanwhile, a player with a $100,000 bankroll should probably have a loss limit of around 5% or less. After all, they don’t want to lose a significant chunk of their money in one session.

Also note that you can create a stop win limit, which is the point where you quit playing based on a certain amount of winnings.

The same principles that apply to loss limits also apply to win limits. You want to choose a certain dollar amount or percentage of your bankroll to decide when you’ll quit based on profits.

This is another personal matter that should involve using your bankroll size to determine win limits. I suggest using a larger percentage of your bankroll to determine a stop win amount.

Here’s an example:

  • You have a $20,000 bankroll.
  • You set your stop win limit at 15%.
  • This means that you quit playing after winning $3,000 in profits.

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How Karas Could Have Benefited from Gambling Limits

I certainly think that Archie Karas would’ve benefited greatly by setting win and loss limits.The stop loss would’ve been especially helpful in his case to avoid losing millions of dollars in winnings.

Earlier I mentioned that you should use the size of your bankroll to help determine gambling limits. In Karas’ case, he would’ve set a low stopping point due to his giant bankroll.

Here’s an example on how he could’ve created a stop loss limit:

  • Karas has a $40 million bankroll.
  • He sets his stop loss limit at 2% of his bankroll.
  • He quits any session where he loses $800,000.
  • Karas sets an additional hard stop loss limit of 20%.
  • He lowers his stakes considerably, or even quits gambling, at $8 million in overall losses.

Here’s how he could’ve handled a stop win limit:

  • Karas has a $40 million bankroll.
  • He sets a stop win limit at 5% of his bankroll.
  • He quits any session where he wins $2 million.
  • Karas sets an additional hard win limit of 15%.
  • He lowers his stakes, or even quits gambling, at another $6 million in winnings ($46 million total).

As they say, hindsight is 20/20. But it still makes me sick to think of how Karas could’ve saved a large portion of his bankroll by using stopping points.

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Would the Run Have Happened if Karas Used a Stop Loss Limit?

One key thing to consider here is that Archie Karas probably never would’ve won tens of millions if he had a more conservative approach.

Karas has stated in the past that he’s not worried about the money, but rather living a well-rounded life.

“Money means nothing to me,” he said. “I don’t value it. I’ve had all the material things I could ever want. Everything.”The things I want, money can’t buy: health, freedom, love, happiness. I don’t care about money, so I have no fear. I don’t care if I lose it.”

Perhaps Karas did have stop win and loss limits, and it’s just not part of his famed story. But it’s also possible that he bucked the idea of gambling limits due to his cavalier gambling style.

I wish that at some point — whether it was $20 million, $30 million, or $40 million — Archie would’ve slowed down and put some of his money back. But then again, this wouldn’t be such a fascinating story if he simply won $40 million and retired.

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What’s Archie Karas Doing Today?

Despite losing a massive fortune, Archie Karas has never stopped gambling. In fact, he’s actually gone on a few a multimillion-dollar runs in the aftermath.

In 1996, he turned a $40,000 bankroll to $1 million at Vegas’ Desert Inn. He also won $4 million at the Horseshoe, only to lose it all in a single day.

Around the turn of the century, Karas would run $1,800 up to nearly $1 million at a number of casinos around Vegas. It’s unclear whether he managed to hang on to this money or if he lost it through another bad run.

Most recently, Archie got caught cheating at San Diego’s Barona Casino in 2013. He was marking cards in a blackjack game when the Barona staff caught him.Karas was extradited from his Las Vegas home to San Diego to face cheating charges. Archie was found guilty and sentenced to three years’ probation.

In 2015, Archie was added to Nevada’s infamous “Black Book,” which bans him from all casinos in the Silver State. The Nevada Gaming Commission (NGC) voted unanimously to make him just the 33rd person added to the list.

The NGC put him in the Black Book for “numerous transgressions,” including the 2013 Barona Casino incident. Other transgressions include Karas being arrested four times in Nevada since 1988 for cheating blackjack games.

Sadly, one of the greatest gamblers of all time will no longer be able to visit casinos in one of the world’s biggest gambling cities. But he put himself in this position by continuing to cheat in blackjack.

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Chances are that you’ll never turn a $10,000 bankroll into $40 million like Karas did. In fact, I question whether somebody will ever 4,000x their bankroll in a three-year span again.

But you should still take something away from his story. And that something is using stop loss limits to avoid losing too much money.

If Karas had imposed these limits when he went up big, then he would’ve kept a fortune worth tens of millions of dollars. You may not be dealing with seven or eight figures, but you can benefit from stopping points no matter your bankroll size.

Continuing to gamble when you’re losing big only increases the chances that you’ll go on tilt and accelerate your losses. But imposing a stop loss limit helps you walk out of the casino with your bankroll intact.

Win limits are also nice if you have trouble banking profits from good sessions. Of course, a win limit would’ve reduced Karas’ overall winnings. But most gamblers are fine with quitting after a 15% or 20% profit.

Use Archie Karas’ rags-to-riches, and back-to-rags-again story to convince yourself that win/loss limits are a good thing.

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