Russian Roulette – The Ultimate Gamble

As we have illustrated many times before, there are many bizarre forms of gambling out there. One of the more twisted practices is no doubt the game of Russian roulette. In it, a single round is placed into an empty revolver and the cylinder is spun. The revolver is then placed against the head of a person, and the trigger is pulled. It is a horrific and suicidal practice, and probably for this reason alone has captivated people around the world for centuries. After all, anyone who plays the game is either dead or crazy, and this type of thing always generates a certain amount of morbid appeal. In this article we intend to explore the origins of the practice, and how it earned its place in the world of gambling.

History of Russian Roulette

It is believed that the game originated in 19th century czarist Russia. Prison guards forced the prisoners to play the game, and they would place bets on the outcome. Although the true history of the practice is very difficult to prove, many scholars maintain that it was there the game developed, thus earning the name Russian roulette. Throughout the next hundred years – and particularly during the violent periods of the Russian Revolution – unhinged and suicidal Russian officers would play the game in front of other officers. What is even more surprising is that perfectly sane and healthy officers engaged in the practice merely to prove their bravery.

The Odds

The odds of the chamber containing a bullet appear to be easy to calculate (5 to1), but are nonetheless contested by some. It is believed that the weight of the bullet increases the likelihood that it will come to rest toward the bottom of the gun, thus skewing the odds and improving the chances of an empty chamber. To counteract this, it is believed that the cylinder would be spun on a vertical rather than horizontal axis, thus eliminating any probability bias.

In the Films

Probably the most widely-known cinematic portrayal of the practice of Russian roulette was in the 1978 film The Deer Hunter, starring Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken. The two childhood friends are sent to Vietnam to fight for their country and in the process are taken captive by the Viet Cong. As POWs, they are forced to play the game for the cruel amusement of their captors, who gamble on the outcome. Both survive the ordeal but are left deeply traumatized and Walken’s character enters the world of professional Russian roulette, where he inevitably shoots and kills himself. Several other films feature Russian roulette, but none of them convey the intense drama of the practice like Deer Hunter.

The Practice Today

Every year several people die from self-inflicted gunshot wounds to the head. Sadly, many of these deaths are young people trying to impress friends by trying to prove that they are brave and fearless. Although gambling and Russian roulette cannot coexist anywhere but underground and therefore go unreported, there are surely places where the game is still played.