Russian roulette

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A revolver, specifically a Russian Nagant M1895, said by folklore to be the original gun used in Russian Roulette.

Russian roulette is a potentially lethal game of chance in which a "player" places a single round in a revolver, spins the cylinder, places the muzzle against their head, and pulls the trigger. "Russian" refers to the supposed country of origin, and roulette to the element of risk-taking and the spinning of the revolver's cylinder being reminiscent of spinning a roulette wheel.

Because only one chamber is loaded, the player has a one in n chance of hitting the loaded chamber, where n is the number of chambers in the cylinder. So, for instance, for a revolver that holds six rounds, the chance is one in six. That assumes that each chamber is equally likely to come to rest in the "correct" position. However due to gravity, in a properly maintained weapon with a single round inside the cylinder, the full chamber, which weighs more than the empty chambers, will usually end up near the bottom of the cylinder when its axis is not vertical, altering the odds in favor of the "player". This only applies to swing-out cylinder type revolvers, and only if the cylinder is spun outside of the revolver and allowed to come to a complete stop before locked back in.


In writing, the term "Russian Roulette" was first used in an eponymous 1937 short story by Georges Surdez:

'Did you ever hear of Russian Roulette?' ... With the Russian army in Romania, around 1917, some officer would suddenly pull out his revolver, put a single bullet in the cylinder, spin the cylinder, snap it back in place, put it to his head and pull the trigger.[1]

It is claimed, that this practice was widely known in Russia in the early 19th century. However, there is only one written source before the 20th century: in Mikhail Lermontov's 1840 "The Fatalist", one of five novellas comprising his A Hero of Our Time, a minor character survives a version of Russian roulette.

Legal case (Pennsylvania, United States)[edit]

In Commonwealth v. Malone, 47 A.2d 445 (1946), a Pennsylvania teenager's conviction for manslaughter as a result of shooting a friend during a game of Russian roulette was upheld by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The court ruled that "When an individual commits an act of gross recklessness without regard to the probability that death to another is likely to result, that individual exhibits the state of mind required to uphold a conviction of manslaughter even if the individual did not intend for death to ensue."[2] It is worth noting, however, that in the Malone case the teenagers involved played a modified version of Russian roulette in which they took turns aiming and pulling the trigger of the revolver at each other, rather than at their own heads. It has not yet been established whether simply participating in a game of Russian roulette in which another participant kills himself by his own hand would constitute manslaughter or some lesser form of conspiracy or homicide.

Notable incidents[edit]

Numerous incidents have been reported regarding Russian roulette.

Drinking Game[edit]

There exists a drinking game based upon the infamous game of chance. The drinking game involves six shot glasses filled by a non-player. Five are filled with water and the sixth is filled with vodka. Among some groups, low quality vodka is preferred as it makes the glass representing the filled chamber less desirable. The glasses are arranged in a circle and players take turns choosing a glass to take a shot from at random.

In popular culture[edit]

Russian roulette has been portrayed in many different works of modern culture.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Georges Surdez, "Russian Roulette," Collier's Illustrated Weekly 30 Jan. 16, 1937; "Russian roulette n.", Oxford English Dictionary.
  2. ^ "Commonwealth v. Malone". Retrieved 26 July 2014. 
  3. ^ "Really Old School", Washington Post, December 25, 1998.
  4. ^ Obit of Curtis Tillmann, who witnessed the death
  5. ^
  6. ^ GoogleNews: Toledo,Ohio, Sept 10, 1976
  7. ^ Garbus, Martin (2002-09-17) [2002]. Courting Disaster: The Supreme Court and the Unmaking of American Law (hardcover ed.). Times Books. ISBN 978-0-8050-6918-1. 
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  19. ^ Stuart, Keith (November 9, 2010). "Call of Duty: Black Ops – review". The Guardian. Retrieved May 15, 2013. 
  20. ^ "Alex Rider’s nemesis: from terrified teen to assassin". The Irish Times. November 1, 2013. Retrieved March 17, 2014.