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 the head or body (the opponent or themselves), and pulls the trigger. If the loaded chamber aligns with the barrel, the weapon will fire, killing or severely injuring the player.
Russian refers to the supposed country of origin, and roulette to the element of risk-taking and the spinning of the revolver's cylinder, similar to a roulette wheel.
According to Andrew Clarke, the first trace of Russian roulette can be found in the short story "The Fatalist", which was written in 1840, and was part of the collection A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov, a Russian poet and writer. In the story, which is set in a Cossack village, the protagonist, Grigory Alexandrovich Pechorin, claims that there is no predestination and proposes a bet in order to prove it, emptying about twenty gold pieces onto the table. A lieutenant of the dragoons of the Tsar, Vulič, a man of Serbian origins with a passion for gambling, accepts the challenge and randomly takes one of a number of pistols of various calibres from its nail, cocks it and pours gunpowder onto the pan. Nobody knows if the pistol is loaded or not. Vulič asks: "Gentlemen! Who will pay 20 gold pieces for me?", putting the muzzle of the pistol to his forehead. He then asks Grigory to throw a card in the air, and when this card touches the ground, he pulls the trigger. The weapons fails to fire, but when Vulič cocks the pistol again and aims it at a service cap hanging over the window, a shot rings out and smoke fills the room.
The term Russian roulette was possibly first used in a 1937 short story of the same name by Georges Surdez:
'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 [sic], 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 café, 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.
The game is commonly associated with six-shot revolvers.
With this variant, turn order is essential, because the probability of losing decreases the later one's turn is.
Given a six-shot revolver, for any given single trial (pull), the probability of losing is . However, since all players only come into the game if and when each of the players before them has caught an empty chamber, the all-game loss probability for player (starting from 0) is reduced to . The all-game loss probabilities for each of the six players are hence, in order, , , , , , and to 1 decimal place. More generally, for a revolver with chambers, player 's all-game loss probability is .
The probability of the revolver having fired after six pulls is , or about . More generally, for a revolver with chambers, the probability of the revolver having fired after pulls is , as this would be an instance of a geometric distribution where the success probability is .
The average number of pulls for the gun to fire in this variant is (6 for a six-shot revolver).
With this variant, turn order has no effect on the all-game loss probability, which remains the same for all players, but influences the single-pull probability, which increases with each pull.
Given a six-shot revolver, at pull (starting from 0), the fact that all previously tested chambers were empty reduces the total number of possible locations of the bullet to , and the loss probability is therefore . The single-pull loss probabilities for each of the six players are hence, in order, , , , , , and to 1 decimal place. More generally, for a revolver with chambers, the loss probability at pull (starting from 0) is .
However, since, like in the re-spinning variant, all players only come into the game if and when each of the players before them has caught an empty chamber, the all-game loss probability for player is for and for . Hence, the all-game loss probability for all players is to 1 decimal place.
The probability of the revolver having fired after six pulls is or in this variant (meaning the revolver will fire when the trigger is pulled). And, more generally, after pulls, it is .
The average number of pulls for the gun to fire would be (3.5 pulls for a six-shot revolver) in this variant.
There is a drinking game based on Russian roulette. The game involves six shot glasses filled by a non-player: five are filled with water, but the sixth 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.
There is also a game called "Beer Hunter" (titled after the Russian roulette scenes in the film The Deer Hunter). In this game, six cans of beer are placed between the participants: one can is vigorously shaken, and the cans are scrambled. The participants take turns opening the cans of beer right under their noses; the person who opens the shaken can (and thus sprays beer up their nose) is deemed the loser.
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