Born into the rubble and deprivation of postwar Germany, Horst Koch wanted out of his small-town cocoon, and at age 21 found his way to a poker table, where he learned to empty the pockets of less experienced players. For decades, Koch says, he earned a handsome living playing cards in Baden-Baden, Aruba, and Las Vegas. Yet he always lusted after the kind of esteem that’s hard for even a champion five-card-stud player to earn at the table.
So when Koch in 2013 heard he might be able to buy an aristocratic title, he considered it a path to newfound respect and admiration. These days, humble Horst Koch is known—legally and in every other way—as Horst Walter Count von Hessen-Homburg. He has his own coat of arms and a gilded family history stretching back centuries.