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Russian roulette

Russian roulette

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Russian roulette is a potentially lethal game of chance
Game of chance
A game of chance is a game whose outcome is strongly influenced by some randomizing device, and upon which contestants may or may not wager money or anything of monetary value...

 in which participants place a single round
Cartridge (firearms)
A cartridge, also called a round, packages the bullet, gunpowder and primer into a single metallic case precisely made to fit the firing chamber of a firearm. The primer is a small charge of impact-sensitive chemical that may be located at the center of the case head or at its rim . Electrically...

 in a revolver, spin the cylinder, place the muzzle against their head and pull the trigger. "Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

n" refers to the supposed country of origin, and roulette
Roulette is a casino game named after a French diminutive for little wheel. In the game, players may choose to place bets on either a single number or a range of numbers, the colors red or black, or whether the number is odd or even....

 to the element of risk-taking and the spinning of the revolver's cylinder being reminiscent of spinning a roulette wheel.


The term "Russian Roulette" dates back to a 1937 short story:
‘Did you ever hear of Russian Roulette?’ [...] With the Russian army in Romania, around 1917, some officer would suddenly pull out his revolver, remove a cartridge from the cylinder, spin the cylinder, snap it back in place, put it to his head and pull the trigger.


Variation 1: Player(s) take turns spinning and firing the revolver so that each successive turn has an equal probability
Probability is ordinarily used to describe an attitude of mind towards some proposition of whose truth we arenot certain. The proposition of interest is usually of the form "Will a specific event occur?" The attitude of mind is of the form "How certain are we that the event will occur?" The...

 of failure. Assuming a common six-round cylinder
Cylinder (firearms)
In firearms terminology, the Cylinder refers to the cylindrical, rotating part of a revolver containing multiple cartridge chambers. The cylinder revolves around a central axis in the revolver to bring each individual chamber into alignment with the barrel for firing...

, the probability of getting shot after spinning is approximately 1/6. (This is affected by weight of the bullet, direction spin and angle the gun is held at while spinning the cylinder.) The game could continue indefinitely and gamblers could presumably only wager on which players will survive and how many turns the game will last.

Variation 2: If playing without respinning, the initial probability of the first player being shot is 1/6 (16.6%), but the probability of being shot changes every time the trigger is pulled. The second player has a 1/5 (20%) probability of being shot, and the probability of the player on the third attempt is 1/4 (25%). If the gun has not fired after five turns the chance of being shot on the sixth turn with a 6 chambered gun is 1/1 (100%) (assuming the cartridge works). With an 8 chambered gun, the chances are about 1/8 (with the weight of the bullet), then 1/7, and then 1/6, until the eighth person has a 1/1 (100%) chance of being shot.

Notable incidents

Numerous incidents have been reported regarding Russian roulette.
  • In his autobiography
    The Autobiography of Malcolm X
    The Autobiography of Malcolm X was published in 1965, the result of a collaboration between Malcolm X and journalist Alex Haley. Haley coauthored the autobiography based on a series of in-depth interviews he conducted between 1963 and Malcolm X's 1965 assassination...

    , Malcolm X
    Malcolm X
    Malcolm X , born Malcolm Little and also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz , was an African American Muslim minister and human rights activist. To his admirers he was a courageous advocate for the rights of African Americans, a man who indicted white America in the harshest terms for its...

     says that during his burglary career he once played Russian roulette, pulling the trigger three times in a row to convince his partners in crime that he was not afraid to die. In the epilogue to the book, Alex Haley
    Alex Haley
    Alexander Murray Palmer Haley was an African-American writer. He is best known as the author of Roots: The Saga of an American Family and the coauthor of The Autobiography of Malcolm X.-Early life:...

     states that Malcolm X revealed to him that he palmed
    Palming is a technique for holding or concealing an object in the palm of the hand. It is used frequently by magicians to conceal the presence of a card, coin, or other object. When done skillfully, the hand containing the palmed object appears to be completely empty.-Methods:Methods for palming...

     the round.
  • On December 24, 1954, the American blues
    Blues is the name given to both a musical form and a music genre that originated in African-American communities of primarily the "Deep South" of the United States at the end of the 19th century from spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts and chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads...

     musician Johnny Ace
    Johnny Ace
    Johnny Ace , born John Marshall Alexander, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee, was an American rhythm and blues singer. He scored a string of hit singles in the mid-1950s before dying of an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound....

     killed himself in Texas
    Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

     after a gun he pointed at his own head discharged. Many sources, including the Washington Post, attribute this to Russian roulette.
  • John Hinckley, Jr.
    John Hinckley, Jr.
    John Warnock Hinckley, Jr., attempted to assassinate U.S. President Ronald Reagan in Washington, D.C., on March 30, 1981, as the culmination of an effort to impress teen actress Jodie Foster. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity and has remained under institutional psychiatric care since...

    , the man who attempted to murder
    Reagan assassination attempt
    The Reagan assassination attempt occurred on Monday, March 30, 1981, just 69 days into the presidency of Ronald Reagan. While leaving a speaking engagement at the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C., President Reagan and three others were shot and wounded by John Hinckley, Jr...

     President Ronald Reagan
    Ronald Reagan
    Ronald Wilson Reagan was the 40th President of the United States , the 33rd Governor of California and, prior to that, a radio, film and television actor....

     in 1981, was known to play Russian roulette, alone, on two occasions. Hinckley also took a picture of himself in 1980 pointing a gun at his head.
  • PBS
    Public Broadcasting Service
    The Public Broadcasting Service is an American non-profit public broadcasting television network with 354 member TV stations in the United States which hold collective ownership. Its headquarters is in Arlington, Virginia....

     claims that William Shockley
    William Shockley
    William Bradford Shockley Jr. was an American physicist and inventor. Along with John Bardeen and Walter Houser Brattain, Shockley co-invented the transistor, for which all three were awarded the 1956 Nobel Prize in Physics.Shockley's attempts to commercialize a new transistor design in the 1950s...

    , co-inventor of the transistor
    A transistor is a semiconductor device used to amplify and switch electronic signals and power. It is composed of a semiconductor material with at least three terminals for connection to an external circuit. A voltage or current applied to one pair of the transistor's terminals changes the current...

     and winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics, had attempted suicide by playing a solo game of Russian roulette.
  • On October 5, 2003, psychological illusionist Derren Brown
    Derren Brown
    Derren Victor Brown is a British illusionist, mentalist, painter, writer and sceptic. He is known for his appearances in television specials, stage productions and British television series such as Trick of the Mind and Trick or Treat...

     took part in a game of Russian roulette on British television Channel 4
    Channel 4
    Channel 4 is a British public-service television broadcaster which began working on 2 November 1982. Although largely commercially self-funded, it is ultimately publicly owned; originally a subsidiary of the Independent Broadcasting Authority , the station is now owned and operated by the Channel...

    . The stunt was broadcast with a slight delay allowing the program to cut to a black screen if anything were to go wrong. Also, the final firing of the gun was not shown, as the gun had gone out of camera shot. A statement by the police said that they had been informed of the arrangements in advance, and were satisfied that "at no time was anyone at risk", confirming it as a hoax.
  • The BBC programme Who Do You Think You Are? on 13 September 2010 featured the actor Alan Cumming
    Alan Cumming
    Alan Cumming, OBE is a Scottish stage, television and film actor, singer, writer, director, producer and author. His roles have included the Emcee in Cabaret, Boris Grishenko in GoldenEye, Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler in X2: X-Men United, Mr. Elton in Emma, and Fegan Floop in the Spy Kids trilogy...

     investigating his grandfather Tommy Darling, who he discovered had died playing Russian roulette while serving as a police officer in Malaya
    British Malaya
    British Malaya loosely described a set of states on the Malay Peninsula and the Island of Singapore that were brought under British control between the 18th and the 20th centuries...

    . The family had previously believed that he had died accidentally while cleaning his gun.

See also

  • Russian roulette in popular culture
    Russian roulette in popular culture
    -In film:*At the end of the 1950 Bugs Bunny cartoon short Ballot Box Bunny, Bugs and Yosemite Sam play Russian roulette. Bugs loses and a shot is heard after the picture irises out, then the iris opens again to reveal Bugs saying "I missed!", followed by a pan over to reveal a singed and blackened...

  • Quantum Suicide
  • Russian Roulette (game show)
    Russian Roulette (game show)
    Russian Roulette is an American game show created by executive producer Gunnar Wetterberg that ran for two seasons on Game Show Network from June 3, 2002 to June 13, 2003. It was hosted by Mark L. Walberg, with Burton Richardson announcing. Todd Newton hosted an April Fool's Day episode in 2003....

  • Russian Roulette (song)
    Russian Roulette (song)
    "Russian Roulette" is a song by Barbadian recording artist Rihanna, taken from her fourth studio album Rated R . The song premiered on radio stations on October 20, 2009 and was released as the album's lead single on October 26, 2009 through Def Jam Recordings. It was written and produced by...

External links