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Baccarat History

THE GREEK SYNDICATE: KINGS OF THE HIGH-STAKES GAME

Greek SyndicateWhen you are successful and know how to spot a willing victim, you definitely want to go where the most money is. And when you start to develop a strong reputation, there will be people coming from far and wide in order to take you down. It was no different with Nicolas Zographos & Co. In 1922 they made the decision to play baccarat "a tout va," or completely without limits when they were banking it. That busted things wide open, and they could certainly find themselves busted with a run of bad luck. In this way Athanase Vagliano was critical to the group because he had bankroll; he was heir to the well-known Vaglianos Bros. shipping fortune, who had taken over the business, and had a vast fortune to draw from.

Through the years the Syndicate took on some of the most prominent individuals in Europe, including Baron Henri de Rothschild, of the famous family, and Prince Sultan Mohammed, the 48th Imam. They often took those mega-millionaires down, but they did not always emerge victorious. In one session they lost the equivalent of what was about $120,000 at the time to Andre Citroen, the famous car maker.

Other challengers came off the street, so to speak, and did their business rather anonymously. One of them was a businessman from California who identified himself, for purposes of being addressed, as "Mr. Day." He showed up in Deauville with a wad of cash with him and wanted to play the banker. He was allowed to just that. Then the Syndicate went to work. At one end of the table they bet against him to the tune of 500,000 francs (about $20,000) and at the other they wagered a million francs (about $40,000). The Syndicate wound up winning that particular round of play, pocketing approximately $60,000 on one hand.

One of the other legendary stories surrounded the night Zographos went on a particularly bad run, losing upwards of $650,000 in one week. This was enough to put a dent in any bank, even one the size of the Greek Syndicate's. Zographos reportedly took a break, returned with another million francs, presumably the last the Syndicate had available, and put it all on the line. On one "coup" he was dealt a pair of face cards, going up against an eight and a seven on the part of his opponents, then, with everything in the balance, drew a third card, which turned out to be nine of diamonds. He was saved, and went on a prodigious winning streak from there. He never forgot it, and used the nine of diamonds as his own personal "insignia" from that point on.

Vagliano pulled out of the Syndicate in 1928 and died the next year. Zographos and the others continued on with the baccarat activities, but they were interrupted by World War II, which had temporarily put an end to gambling on the European continent. They resumed play after the war, and Zographos continued until he died in 1953, having accumulated close to $5 million in winnings. After that, the Syndicate did indeed carry on, but it had lost some of its magic. One night in 1957, famed film producers Jack Warner and Darryl Zanuck were part of a group that took the Syndicate down for $347,000. All told, the Syndicate sustained an awful streak where it lost over $800,000, and that pretty much spelled the end of it.

With its continuous run of success for almost three decades, it is likely that we will never see anything like it again.

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