Famous gamblers throughout history
Ask someone to name a famous gambler and they’ll more than likely come up with at least one recognisable name. Archie Karas, Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu – many gamblers and poker players have become household names due to gambling’s widespread coverage on television and social media. But did you know gambling was every bit as popular centuries ago as it is today – and with many famous historical figures too? Take a look at some of gambling’s biggest fans throughout the ages, and see how just how many you’re already familiar with.
1. Fyodor Dostoevsky
From ‘Crime and Punishment’ to ‘The Brothers Karamazov’, Dostoevksy is known as one of Russia’s most famous novelists. Even if you’ve never read any of his works, you’ve more than likely heard of him – but did you know that he was an avid gambler as well as a writer? In fact, his novel ‘The Gambler’ is said to be based on his own experiences with games of skill and chance, and he was said to have used the psychology of gambling addiction as the inspiration for many of his novels. Legend also has it that the final chapters of ‘Crime and Punishment’ were written speedily in order to secure the funds needed to pay off his gambling debts. If that doesn’t intrigue you enough to finally pick up a copy, we don’t know what will!
2. John Montagu
You may not have heard of Montagu, but you’ve definitely heard of sandwiches, right? Introducing John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich and the British Secretary of State and First Lord of the Admiralty to boot. But apart from his military prowess, particularly in the American Revolutionary War, Montagu is most known for his exploits as a gambler, and notably, his contribution to global gastronomy. As an avid gambler, Montagu hated having to leave the table when in the middle of a session, and would even skip meals as a result. On one occasion, he famously asked one of his servants to bring him a slice of meat in between two slices of bread – and once his opponents saw the result, they began to order ‘same as Sandwich’ for themselves. The rest is history, and while we may not know much of the Earl of Sandwich outside of these few facts (and even if the story is real, as opposed to an urban legend) what we do know is that sandwiches are delicious! In fact, we could do with a ham and cheese on white right about now…
3. Claude Monet
Think Monet and you think lilies – not necessarily gambling. However, aside from painting, it’s a pastime that French impressionist Claude Monet soon became fond of. Already having sold paintings for extra money while at the art school Le Havre, Monet found himself still struggling to support himself after moving to Paris. In order to fund his painting, Monet began frequenting the tables at the casinos, and is rumoured to have won more than $13 000 on a single bet. As it turns out, the bet was lucky for both Monet, and the art world too, as winning such a large sum allowed him to quit his day job and turn his painting from a hobby into a full-time profession. We don’t know how much Monet wagered on his bet, but it was worth every last penny!
4. Wild Bill Hickok
From Paris to the Wild Wild West, and the tale of Wild Bill Hickok. Known throughout history as a gunfighter, a war hero and a lawman, Wild Bill was a gambler too, and an avid poker player. In fact, Wild Bill’s poker skill was so great that he was even inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1979. Unfortunately, it was his love of the game that was ultimately his undoing, as, during a game in a saloon, Hickock was shot in the back of the head by Jack McCall and killed instantly. Reasons abound as to why, but one theory is that McCall owed Hickok money for gambling debts. Hickok was holding a two pair of aces and eights when he was shot, and today a hand of aces and eights is known as the ‘Dead Man’s Hand’ for that exact reason. If you ever end up with one, make sure you’re facing the door while you play – and that no one owes you any money. Just in case…
5. Giacomo Casanova
Perhaps known more for his romantic exploits than anything else, Giacomo Casanova was in fact also a writer, an adventurer, and a keen gambler. Having been trained by professional gamblers, Casanova joined the National Lottery after having moved from Italy to France in 1757. Thanks to his skill, he quickly built a large fortune for himself from his gambling winnings, mostly due to his love for card games. While he debated becoming a professional gambler, he soon realised that he displayed many addictive tendencies, such as being unable to stop playing despite financial difficulties. As a result, he gave up gambling and concentrated on other pursuits instead – mostly women, if films, books and legend are to be believed.
6. Queen Marie Antoinette
When Marie Antoinette of France wasn’t banging on about poor people eating cake, she was spending money, either on clothes, fripperies, or gambling, one of her favourite pastimes. Which usually wouldn’t have been a problem, except for the fact that she was indulging in huge excess while the population of France was starving. Small wonder then that she was looked upon extremely unsympathetically, both by her countrymen and by history itself.
7. King Charles II
Marie Antoinette wasn’t the only royal in love with gambling – England’s King Charles II was equally enamoured with the pastime. Known as ‘the merry king’, Charles II made gambling a focus in his court, writing a book on the subject and ultimately becoming responsible for the spread of gambling throughout England and all the way to North America by way of the colonists. It’s good to be the king!
Spin your way to fame!