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Russian Roulette: The Deadliest Game Ever Played


Russian roulette is… an interesting game to say the least. It’s become a part of pop culture, so you probably know what it already means. To those of you who still have their child-like innocence, the Russian roulette game has quite the finite end. It doesn’t end when the house wins or when you’re left with no money; it literally ends with death.

What Exactly is Russian Roulette

Two people face each other and whoever loses, dies. If that sounds grim, but you’re really curious as to how the Russian roulette gambling game works, then read this article. We will tell you about the Russian roulette rules and about the history of the game itself.

If anyone were to offer you to play the game, you should politely decline. This is not your regular roulette game, so if you are into the casino game, rather than this “game of life”, then you can go ahead and check out the best online roulette sites.

  •  Russian Roulette Rules
  •  Russian Roulette Odds
  • History of Russian Roulette: Origins
    •  Cases of Russian Roulette Gambling
The Rules of Russian Roulette

The Russian roulette rules and quite simple. Two or more people produce a revolver and put a single bullet in one of the chambers of the cylinder. The first contestant then spins the cylinder and locks it in. Afterwards, that person puts the muzzle against their body (usually the temple) and they pull the trigger.

If a click is heard, the contestant hands the gun to the next contestant. The next contestant can choose to re-spin the cylinder or just pull the trigger. In some variations of the game, however, the contestants are not allowed to re-spin the cylinder before they pull the trigger; it can only be done in the beginning.

If the chamber containing the live round aligns with the barrel though, the gun will fire (unless there is a misfire) and the contestant will either die or be severely injured, thus putting an end to the game. The game is mostly played with two players, but there could be up to six, corresponding to each of the chambers of the revolver. It’s also possible to have variations of the game with more than one live round.

Russian Roulette Odds – They are Not in your Favor
Russian Roulette: Odds

Okay, let’s talk about the Russian Roulette odds now. The calculation is quite simple. Since a revolver has six chambers and only one contains a live round, then your chance to survive is 5 to 6, or around 83%, and your chance to lose is 1 to 6, or around 17%.

In the variant of the game where players are not allowed to re-spin the cylinder after the first round, the loss probability naturally increases with every single round whereas there could be a maximum of six trigger pulls before the gun fires.

Even in the case of re-spinning the cylinder, however, the probability to align the barrel with the chamber containing the live round still increases with every pull. You can test that in a safe way by throwing a six-sided die. You might not be able to get a six the first time/s, but with each time, your chances to hit it increase.

You can also try playing the Russian roulette game online. There are Russian roulette simulators online where you press a button and see if you get the live round or not. We only recommend you play this safe version of the game.

The History of Russian Roulette: Origins

You might be wondering what psychopath came up with this insidious game. Well, the answer’s not that simple. People still argue whether Russian roulette was really a thing, meaning if people actually played it before the game was described by the famous Russian author Mikhail Lermontov.

Lermontov wrote the story ‘The Fatalist’ in 1840; it was part of his novel A Hero of Our Time. The story tells the story of Grigory Alexandrovich Pechorin who has a very conflicted personality, a slight contempt for other people, and a belief that there is no predestination. Pechorin is also scared of death.

He spends some time in a Cossack village gambling where he meets the Tsarist lieutenant Vulic. Pechorin proposes a bet of twenty golden pieces to prove that predestination is not real. Vulic accepts it and grabs a gun, fills it with gun powder and asks for the twenty gold pieces if he survives; nobody knows if the pistol is loaded.

Vulic then proceeds to aim it at his forehead and fires. When Vulic cocks the pistol again though and aims at a hat, the gun fires. The very same night Vulic is killed by a Cossack, and he admits to Pechorin that he was right about destiny.

The events portrayed in the story doesn’t remind of the classic game of Russian roulette, but that’s the first mention of a similar “game” starting in Russia. In 1937, the Swiss author Georges Surdez published the short story “Russian Roulette”, which claims that Russian officers would play the game.

It wasn’t a Russian roulette gambling game, but a way for them to commit suicide. It says that by the end of World War I, when the situation seemed dire and they felt dishonored, Russian soldiers would take a revolver, remove one bullet and then pull the trigger. The probability of survival was 5 to 1.

Whether this happened or not, nobody can tell for sure. It’s unclear whether art imitates life or the opposite in the case of Russian roulette. Some claim that Russian soldiers did play the game to either gamble or to find an inventive way to commit suicide.

There is also the famous 1978 film The Deer Hunter, which takes place in Vietnam during the war. One scene portrays how Vietcong soldiers torture American POWs by making them play Russian roulette.

The scene was effective, but it also brought a lot of controversy, first because the Vietcong was fighting off an invading army (the US) and because there are no documented cases of soldiers forcing their prisoners of war to play the deadly Russian roulette game.

As shown, Russian roulette was first described in literature and then film, so it could be a case study for life imitates art, as instances of people actually playing the game did occur in the 20th century.

Cases of People Playing Russian Roulette

We will use this section to tell you about some real cases of people playing Russian roulette over the years. Russian roulette might have started as a literary invention morphing into a powerful urban legend, but unfortunately people have died playing this game. We will include known victims and some who have played and survived.

William H. Long1946
Johnny Ace1954
Santos Rodriguez1973
Unnamed 16-year-old1980
Unnamed 23-year-old1981
Katlyn Alix2020

In 1946, two American teenagers (William H. Long and James J. Malone) played Russian roulette, but rather than pointing at their own heads, they pointed at each other when they took the shots. Tragically, one of them, Long, died, which led to the case Commonwealth v. Malone. The teenager who shot his friend was convicted of manslaughter, because despite the fact that he didn’t want to kill his friend, he still played in a game that shows a total disregard for life. This legal case set a precedent in the United States.

In 1954, famous blues musician Johnny Ace killed himself with a pistol. Some claim that it happened accidentally as he was cleaning his gun, but the official reports state that he was playing Russian roulette by himself.

Malcolm X, the famous civil rights advocate, claims in his autobiography that he played Russian roulette with himself to show his peers that he was not afraid of death. However, he confesses that he never actually loaded the gun, opting to palm the bullet instead.

In 1972, pop singer and actor Johnny Halliday played Russian roulette with his mistress, and then possibly with friends. His wife confirms that Halliday has played the game at least a few times during his lifetime.

In 1973, in Dallas, Texas, perhaps the most controversial game of Russian roulette was played. Two Mexican American boys, David and Santos Rodriguez, aged 13 and 12, respectively, were arrested by policeman Darrel Cain who alleged they stole $8 from a Coke machine. Neither one of the boys confessed to the crime, which prompted Cain (a very fitting name) to play a game of Russian roulette in the hopes of making them confess. He pointed his gun to Santos’s head; the gun fired and killed him instantly. Cain argued that he thought he emptied the barrel beforehand.

The film The Deer Hunter that we mentioned earlier apparently led to real life games of Russian roulette. Research claims that the film directly led to 28 shootings and 25 confirmed deaths from Russian roulette in the US. For instance, a 16-year-old boy died in 1980 and a 23-year-old man died in 1981.

The most recent documented case of Russian roulette occurred in 2020. Two on-duty police officers from St Louis, Missouri apparently played the game. Katlyn Alix pointed a gun at Nathaniel Hendren, after Hendren loaded a single round. She pulled the trigger and heard the click. When Hendren proceeded to do the same, this time pointing at Alix, he shot and killed her. Hendren pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 7 years in prison.

Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

Thank you for reading our article on the game of Russian roulette. We hope you found it interesting and that you learn something new today. Below we gathered the most common questions and answers regarding the topic. If you have any other, do not hesitate to contact us.

What are the Russian roulette odds?

The Russian roulette odds are quite easy to calculate. A revolver with six chambers is used in the Russian roulette gambling game and one bullet is put in the chamber, so the chance to lose is 1 to 6 or 17%.

What are the rules of Russian roulette?

The Russian rules are very simple. Between two to six people can play the game and they only need a revolver and one bullet. The bullet is put into one chamber, the cylinder is spun, and each contestant takes turn pulling the trigger.

Where did Russian roulette come from?

This is a hard question to answer, because there’s no one source of Russian roulette. The history of Russian roulette is a complex one, but it’s thought that the game emerged from literature, first in the story of a Russian writer, and then in that of a Swiss writer.

Have people actually died playing Russian roulette?

Unfortunately, people have died playing Russian roulette. Most cases of people playing Russian roulette gambling game have ended in deaths, but some people still have bragged that they have played and survived. Still, do not ever try to do this yourself even as a joke.

Is there a Russian roulette game online?

Yes, there actually is a Russian roulette game online. The online game is a bit of harmless fun whereas you push a button and you either win or you lose. Most of these games are pretty old, but they were cool when the Internet was new.

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