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Russian roulette

Russian roulette is a gambling game.


The primary piece of equipment used to play modern Russian roulette is a toy gun that has a 1/6 probability of activating when the trigger is pulled. It's straightforward to convert a video game light gun for this purpose.


All players put money in the pot. Each player in turn points the gun at her head and pulls the trigger. If the gun activates, the person holding the gun is eliminated from the game. The last player remaining wins the pot.


It is claimed that the original "game" of Russian roulette was "played" with a real six-shooter revolver and real ammunition. In one version of the legend, 19th century Russian prisoners were forced to play the game while the prison guards bet on the outcome. In another version, desperate and suicidal officers in the Russian army played the game to impress each other. Some accounts reverse the odds mentioned above, giving a 5/6 probability of death.

The earliest known use of the term is from "Russian Roulette," a short story by Georges Surdez in the January 30, 1937, issue of Collier's magazine. A Russian sergeant in the French Foreign Legion asks the narrator,

"'Feldheim . . . did you ever hear of Russian Roulette?' When I said I had not, he told me all about it. When he was with the Russian army in Rumania, around 1917, and things were cracking up, so that their officers felt that they were not only losing prestige, money, family, and country, but were being also dishonored before their colleagues of the Allied armies, some officer would suddenly pull out his revolver, anywhere, at the table, in a cafe, at a gathering of friends, remove a cartridge from the cylinder, spin the cylinder, snap it back in place, put it to his head, and pull the trigger. There were five chances to one that the hammer would set off a live cartridge and blow his brains all over the place. Sometimes it happened, sometimes not."

Whether Czarist officers actually played Russian roulette is unclear. In a text on the Czarist officer corps, John Bushnell, a Russian history expert at Northwestern University, cited two near-contemporary memoirs by Russian army veterans, The Duel (1905) by Aleksandr Kuprin and From Double Eagle to Red Flag (1921) by Petr Krasnov. Both books tell of officers' suicidal and outrageous behaviour, but Russian roulette is not mentioned in either text. The only reference to anything like Russian roulette in Russian literature is in a book entitled A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov (1840, translated by Vladimir Nabokov in 1958), where a similar act is performed by a Serbian soldier: the dare however is not named as "Russian roulette". (Russian officers did play a game called "cuckoo" with a Nagant revolver, whereby one officer would stand on a table or a chair in a dark room. Others would hide and yell "cuckoo" hoping not to be hit by gunfire.)

See also roulette.

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