Absurdly High-Stakes Game
After all, it has to be entertaining and suspenseful, or else no one would want to do it. Unfortunately, as anyone who's watched Poker
on television knows, the same things that are fun to play can be painfully boring to watch.
But luckily, storytellers have come up with a way of making gambling interesting for viewers. They do this by raising the stakes to incredibly high levels, thus making this Serious Business
. For example, watching someone bet $20 at blackjack will probably not be very exciting. But if the main character is going to win millions of dollars if he wins and die if he loses, then the audience may be more interested.
Stories carrying this trope tend to have a few things in common:
- The player almost always stands to lose more than money. Historically, this has meant that if he loses, he will die, lose a body part, have his family members die, be forced into slavery, or suffer any number of other horrific consequences.
- The games are generally unusual or at least different from normal gambling games.
- These games are often run by an Eccentric Millionaire who enjoys watching these sorts of things.
- Players are rarely forced to play these games. They are generally given a choice of whether or not to play, even if it is a choice between playing and another bad situation.
- Players often don't negotiate the value of the thing in question. For example, a gambler might wager his house, with no agreement made about what he should win if he does in fact win the game. (Especially common in poker, where the rule that all "holding" players must have contributed equally to the pot is easily ignored by writers.) Under these circumstances, the thing will probably be lost.
- The games are usually based on skill, not simply luck. And when the game being played IS based on luck, cheating and Loophole Abuse is to be expected.
Make note: This includes some versions of Russian Roulette
. Deals with devils
are also common. May lead to being Trapped by Gambling Debts
. If the game is televised, it is probably a Deadly Game
. If you actually wager ownership of a person
, then you may end up Losing Him in a Card Game
or gaining a Wager Slave
. Related to The Bet
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
- Yu-Gi-Oh! - The manga (and the original anime), especially the Battle City arc where every game initiated by the Big Bad was on pain of death or maiming.note "Games with high stakes" is arguably the main plot device of the whole series.
- The early chapters did this with every game, most of which were fates worse than death, ranging from losing your soul and being beaten up by toy monsters, to going blind. Basically, a Shadow Game meant a Millennium Item holder (typically the main character's darker alter-ego) can challenge you to a game or contest and the challenger wagers his/her life. The challenger, should he/she lose, will be punished by the victor's "Penalty Game," which, in the manga, was often an unpleasant death or a permanent, no-escape-clause curse. The bad guy usually had it coming. (In the anime, it was often an illusion that could bad enough to border on Mind Rape, but nothing to enter Fate Worse than Death territory.) Original Manga Dark Yugi was basically The Spectre but had to wager for the right to do his thing.
- The Death-T arc had the Big Bad of the arc, Seto Kaiba (Penalty Game survivor - his was an illusion where he was being mauled by monsters), try to replicate these conditions using technology designed to kill Yugi and his friends in order to enact revenge.
- During the Duelist Kingdom arc, in his battle with the Player Killer of Darkness, Yugi made up for a deficit in Star Chips by betting his life. He did this twice. Also, in the manga, the Player Killer of Darkness ties a noose around Yugi's neck and planned to strangle Yugi if he won. Unfortunately for him, that just made HIS Penalty Game worse.
- Notably, cheating in any Shadow Game will always result in a Penalty Game. The initiator of a Shadow Game can set whatever special rules they want, and use of magic powers is always permitted, but violating the parameters of the game is not.
- In the 4Kids English "dub", almost every card game ends with the loser going to The Shadow Realm. Even one-time characters like Panik will give you a flamer-thrower blast to the face.
- Komugi of Hunter × Hunter plays every single game of Gungi, a fictional board game in the Hunterverse, with the resolve to end her life if she loses even once. She has played thousands of games of Gungi and never lost once, near the end of her life becoming skilled enough she was for all intents and purposes impossible to beat.
- Kaiji - The entire premise of the show revolves around this. Over the course of the show the main character bets his freedom, his life, and various body parts, in order to win money. These fingers◊ are being bet on a game of drawing lots from a tissue box!
- Usogui - Another manga series that focuses on high stakes games. The main character is an expert gambler who tends to bet on bizarre and dangerous wagers, for instance - whether or not he can escape a building with multiple armed guards chasing him.
- Akagi - In the final story arc for the anime, the hero plays an unusual version of Mahjong where he bets his own blood instead of money.
- Spiral - There are a few Absurdly High Stakes Games throughout the series, but the most obvious example would be when the hero wagers that he can guess which card his opponent is holding. If he wins, he will receive crucial information, but if he loses, he will have a swarm of deadly bees released on him.
- Liar Game - Throughout the story, the stakes have never been more than money. However, the money involved ranges from hundreds of millions to billions of yen, and the losers are expected to pay back every yen they lose, with the Liar Game officials promising they will do "whatever is necessary" to collect on those debts.
- At one point the characters discuss the possibility that the company would be willing to enslave their debtors, which is more befitting this trope; one character states that if she loses, Nao might be forced into prostitution to pay her debts.
- Played with in "24-Shot Russian Roulette", which was played with a special prop gun and "bullets" which only make a loud bang without actually firing any projectile. However, a player who fires one has to pay 50 million yen. And the game continues until all 6 "bullets" out of the 24 chambers have been fired. It's obviously better than dying, but each team is looking at potentially racking up 300 million yen (over US $3 million) in debt.
- In one episode of Samurai Champloo, Jin sees a man playing shogi against himself, and comments on the best strategy for the next move. The man then offers to play Jin- if Jin wins, he gets a large pouch of gold; if he loses, the man wins his life- the phrasing is ambiguous as to whether that means slavery or immediate death. Since he needs the money, Jin accepts.
- The Legend of Koizumi stakes natural resources, a fleet of F-15s, lives, and the fate of nations on Mah Jong.
- Gamble Fish quite often, where they are usually betting large amounts of money. In one case Tomu even bet his own finger, he lost and immediately had it chopped off with a chainsaw. The blood from his finger spilling on to the deck means that the card-sharp he's playing against can no longer shift cards without it becoming obvious
- Future Diary has characters betting their diaries and lives on a simple coin game with even odds. The game gets complicated because the diaries involved can tell the future — including the outcome of the coin game, and destroying a diary kills its owner. Magnificent Bastard Aru Akise manages to win even though he's the only one playing who can't predict the future.
- JoJo's Bizarre Adventure—
- The poker game Jotaro Kujo plays with Daniel J. D'arby in Part 3 ramps up the stakes to the souls of Jotaro's friends. Jotaro even puts his own on the line. Jotaro wins only through magnificent bluffing, betting every soul in play on a dud hand. This scene appeared in the OVA adaptation.
- Later he bets souls against Terrence D'arby, a video gamer. He has to cheat to win that one.
- Part 4 features Josuke trying to cheat at a die game with the help of a shapeshifting alien playing the part of the dice. Unfortunately, said alien doesn't know the meaning of the word subtlety and keeps giving out huge payouts in Josuke's favor until it's blatantly obvious he's cheating. Fortunately, the person he's playing again is more upset that he can't figure out how he's cheating, and let's him get away with it on the condition that if he finds out how he does it before the end of the game, he'll cut off one of Josuke's fingers. In the end, the other player accidentally sets his house on fire with a magnifying glass he was using to inspect the dice, and Josuke bails out with nothing, while the other player has to pay 7 million yen to repair the damages.
- YuYu Hakusho
- When Yuusuke's gang broke into Tarukane's mansion to save Yukina, Tarukane invited his friends from the Black Black Club to place bets on the outcome of the eventual fights. When Yusuke and Kuwabara were about to fight the Toguro brothers, Sakyo waged so much on the heroes' victory Tarukane had to risk practically everything he owned in order to accept the bet. Too bad for him the Toguro brothers were actually working for Sakyo. When Team Toguro and Team Urameshi later became the finalists of a tournament, Sakyo and Koenma waged their lives in the fight that decided the tournament. It was not the first time Sakyo bets his life but became the first time he lost. Also, during other stages of the tournament, some other people wagered their wealth and lost.
- A more straight example would be the word game Kurama plays against Kaito where the loser loses his soul. The video games against Game Master can count as well. Though slightly subverted in that they don't die or lose their soul. But if they don't win quickly, they'll be too late to seal the tunnel to demon world. They don't die or lose as long as they don't quit: by becoming the heroes of the video game brought to life, Yusuke's group can play the game again if they lose but will die if they let it go to game over. Also, Game Master took the place of the Big Bad, meaning that if he loses he'll die, as stated by the video game. Kurama made him realize this to unnerve him and win the game faster.
- In the exhibition match in Eyeshield 21 between the Deimon Devilbats and the NASA Aliens, Aliens' coach Apollo in response to an embarrassing viral video sent by Devilbats captain Hiruma, furiously announced that if the Aliens doesn't win more than 10 points, they will never return to America. Hiruma in turn responded that if the Devilbats doesn't win more than 10 points, they will leave Japan. Of course, Loophole Abuse was in play when the NASA Aliens won but not by a 10 point difference. Apollo changed the name of the team to NASA Shuttles so the NASA Aliens won't be returning to America. And the Devilbats do leave Japan but Hiruma never specified that they wouldn't be returning.
- Ranma ˝ - The Tendos and Ranma vs the Gambling King, wagering parts of their house in order to win back their dojo.
- The game in One Outs is technically just baseball. However, the main character is a pitcher with a bizarre contract that grants him money for every strike, and penalized him hugely for every run he lets through. This leads to some intricate and convoluted ways of 'winning'.
- Kenshiro enters into an arm-wrestling contest in Fist of the North Star that cuts the loser's arm off with a table saw. Though Kenshiro wins, he takes a third option by not cutting off the Mook's arm... just snapping it in half.
- In Sword Art Online, the titular Deep Immersion MMORPG is hijacked on its first day, trapping all of the players inside. If a player's HP drops to zero, they die in real life. None of them can log out until the final boss is defeated, which takes two years. In its "sister title" Accel World, the players do not die, but those who lose all points are banned from the game permanently and lose all special powers it grants along their memories of the entire ride.
- Even though contestants are forced to participate in a competition in Bokurano, it's still true that the fate of countless entire universes are at stake in this competition.
- In Life Is Money, the losers die violent deaths and the winners make more money with each death. (Note: Nobody is required to lose the game. If everyone lives, they will all win 50 million yen.) For Meguru, the stakes are even higher; if he doesn't win 100 million yen (or at least enough that it will be 100 million yen combined with what he's already earned) his younger sister will never receive a surgery she needs to survive.
- The Marvel Contest of Champions must apply.
- An issue of Spider-Man had a somewhat lighter hearted version of this. The New York superheroes have a yearly poker game with twenty dollar stakes with the winner donating their winnings to charity. Then along comes The Kingpin with a ridiculous amount of money. There's nothing really at stake more than pride and a good cause, but that doesn't mean it's any less entertaining to watch Spider-Man and Kingpin play out the final round with ludicrous piles of chips each. (Spidey won.)
- Batman in the Silver Age once played Russian Roulette to catch a criminal. The criminal had been playing with millionaires in the area, and the two participants each had to write out a will that left everything to the winner of the game. The gun had an extra safety catch so the criminal never lost. Batman discovered this with the aid of a mirror and won.
- In "Death Race!" in Tales of the Unexpected #102 a jockey who was sent to another planet was challenged to a race on beasts called "gartoos." If he lost he died, but if he won the aliens were permitted to attack Earth. The entire setup was actually An Aesop-heavy dream sequence designed to encourage him to make the right choice in a parallel situation in reality where if he lost that day's race the syndicate would give him $100,000 but if he won they'd kill him.
- The government in Decks Fall Everyone Dies is based around dice games. The characters plan a coup d'état to bring back the old card-based government.
- The usual stakes in the Sword Art Online canon have been upped even further in Fate Revelation Online due to the fact that even if they get out, the Mage's Association will proceed to eliminate all witnesses for revealing the fact that Magic is Real.
- Thirteen Tzameti - A group of men play a modified version of Russian Roulette while gamblers bet huge stakes on the outcome. The film received an American remake called 13.
- Three Extremes - In the segment "Cut," a man is forced to follow a madman's directions or else one of his wife's fingers will be cut off every five minutes.
- The James Bond movie Casino Royale centers on these. Early on, Bond wins an Aston-Martin in a poker game. Later, he plays an extremely high-stakes poker game, both in dollar figures (up to $150 million to the winner) and global security.
- In the original novel, Bond is trying to bankrupt Le Chiffre so that he will fall out of favor with the Russian counter-intelligence organization SMERSH. The game is baccarat rather than poker, but the stakes still run high (tens of millions of francs).
- In Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, the crew of the Flying Dutchman play liar's dice with the only thing they have left to wager - the years of service they owe to the ship. Will wagers his soul, meaning an eternity of service, against Jones to goad him into wagering the key to the chest containing his Soul Jar. Will's father takes the hit for him, only for Will to reveal he just wanted to see where Jones kept the key.
- The entire premise of Diggstown revolves around a high stakes boxing bet. In the long run one side of the bet is a man's life (because if he loses, the guy he borrowed the money from will kill him) and the other side is basically an entire town (about $2.5 million).
- In Intacto, the characters play strange gambling games, with the winner's taking the losers' luck, which is a tangible resource.
- Tarantino's short in Four Rooms involves one character betting he can light his Zippo 10 times in a row. The stakes? His pinkynote for a car. He fails to even light it once.
- The Saw series of films is based entirely around extremely dangerous, torturous games.
- Titanic: Jack wins his ticket on board in a poker game. The gamblers know it's a valuable thing to be betting, but only the audience knows how high the stakes really are.
- Clerks: The film itself. Kevin Smith financed the movie by hocking valuable comic books and buying supplies on his credit card. Had the movie flopped or not been picked up by a major studio, he'd have been left with tens of thousands in high-interest debt with no real job prospects.
- Oh, God!, You Devil!. God and the Devil play a poker hand over Bobby's soul. God raises the stakes, by allowing the Devil to consider any soul available for stealing (the Devil can only offer a contract if the person offers his soul first); the Devil folds. God bluffed him out of his full house with a busted flush, and won.
- Space Jam involves familiar Looney Tunes characters playing a basketball game against their would-be alien abductors. If the aliens win, the Looney Tunes characters will become slaves on the aliens' homeworld. If the Looney Tunes win, the aliens will leave them in peace. When Michael Jordan learned the aliens became monstrosities (or Monstars, as they were called) by stealing the talent of other professional basketball players, he talked the Big Bad into raising the stakes. If the Looney Tunes win, the aliens will not only leave them in peace as originally agreed but also give the talent back to their rightful owners. If the aliens win, Jordan, like the Looney Tunes, will also become a slave.
- In In Time, people can literally gamble away portions of their lifespan through variety games such as poker. There's also a game simply called "fighting" where contestants try to pull the lifespan directly out of each other.
- In the 2008 movie The Controller, a businessman's wife is kidnapped, and her captors order him to play and win at a video game with her life forfeit if he loses. The problem is that he's never played a video game in his life.
- A Big Hand For The Little Lady focuses on a yearly poker game played by "western rules" in which there are no table stakes. You can raise the bet to as much wealth as you can possibly raise. The film revolves around a hand in which a lady must run around town trying to find someone to lend her the funds to call an astronomical raise.
- Star Wars
- In Episode I: The Phantom Menace, a dice game is used to decide whether Anakin Skywalker or his mother will go free. Qui-Gon Jinn cheats and uses the Force to flip the dice such that Anakin gets to go free. Qui-Gon also wagers the ship the main cast came to Tatooine on, which would leave them stranded with no way to stop the Trade Federation if they lost.
- Sabaac is a well-known card game played by criminals and smugglers across the galaxy where you're allowed to wager anything, slaves, land, any amount of wealth, you name it. Han Solo won the Millennium Falcon from Lando this way, and this was also the way he got the planet that he took Leia to after "kidnapping" her in the expanded universe novel, The Courtship of Princess Leia.
- The Bet - An early example of this trope where a man makes a bet that he can remain in solitary confinement for 15 years. If he wins, he gets 2 million rubles, but if he loses, he has wasted years of his life.
- The Ledge - A man is forced to walk around the ledge of a skyscraper. If he succeeds, he will get large amounts of money and the wife of his tormentor. This was later adapted into a segment in Cats Eye.
- Roald Dahl
- The Man from the South - This story has the protagonist make a wager that he can light his Zippo ten times in a row without failing. If he wins, he gets a Cadillac, but if he loses, his pinky finger will be cut off. This was later twice adapted into episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (one during the original series, one during the revival), and a segment in the film Four Rooms.
- Taste: This one revolves around a man who accepts a bet that he can identify which wine is being served, right down to its vineyard of origin. If he wins, he gets his opponent's daughter's hand in marriage, but if he loses, he must give up both of his houses.
- The Culture
- In The Player of Games the Azad empire is named after their favorite game. Briefly, whoever wins the quadriennial tournament becomes emperor. Uncommonly people even bet limbs or lives on the outcome. The game is meant as a metaphor for life and the psychology of the player, so when a Culture citizen defeats the ministers of state and then the emperor, using the ideas of the Culture, the culture shock is immense.
- In Consider Phlebas we're introduced to Damage. Each player brings a team of Lives (mostly depressives, members of suicide cults, and other volunteers) and when the player loses a hand, one of the Lives is killed. When the player runs out of Lives, it's their own life on the line. Oh, and it's played in the most dangerous places in the galaxy - the game we see on-page takes place on a world in the process of being demolished.
- In Sommerset Maugham's story A Friend in Need, a businessman tells the narrator/ Author Avatar of his meeting with a Remittance Man type guy who wanted a job in his firm. The businessman says that he will extend a position if the guy can swim a stretch of water which he himself did in his youth, but which will be difficult for the Remittance Man on account of his wild lifestyle. the guy drowned and the businessman casually remarks that he didn't actually have a position open- he basically caused someone's death For the Lulz.
- Grand Central Arena by Ryk E. Spoor features an artificial construct where competitions are indeed serious business: a contest between individual contestants can result in entire worlds changing hands.
- William Sleator's Interstellar Pig revolves around the titular board game that is eventually revealed to be more than it seems with stakes that involve more or less the complete destruction of every planet in the universe except one, or, it would seem, just one. The actual stakes are ambiguous, however.
- The Game-Players of Titan is concerned with the fictional game "Bluff" where players wager spouses and entire cities among other things.
- Colin Kapp's The Survival Game describes how a pair of Star Kings wager on the capabilities of two individuals, who are sent to a Death World. One of the individuals is a volunteer (he used to live there and is confident he can survive) and the other is a human who is kidnapped along with some other people. This qualifies not only for the individuals, who face death as failure, but also for the Star Kings who are wagering 10-50 worlds for the winner.
- Richard Connell's short story, The Most Dangerous Game, features a big-game hunter who must consent to be hunted by a Cossack aristocrat on a deserted island, or be whipped to death.
- The pivotal element of the Indian epic, the Mahabharata, is a high-stakes game of dice between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, which ends up with Pandavas forfeiting their kingdom and spending 13 years in the jungles because they lost.
- In The Cambist and Lord Iron, Lord Iron entangles Olaf in one of these.
- In a Doctor Who Expanded Universe short story, Bernice Summerfield accidentally acquires a ticket to "the big game", and happily plays until she notices the look of horror on the face of the guy who lost all his chips. It's at that point that it occurs to her to ask what the stakes are, and is told "Exactly what you think they are."
- In the Discworld novels, people often challenge Death to various games of skill to wager for their lives. The only one to ever win was Granny Weatherwax playing for a little girl because Death let the person win.
- This is pretty much the whole point of The Hunger Games. Less so in the sequels, as by that point, a Civil War has erupted.
- In the Secret Histories novel Casino Infernale, Eddie and Molly infiltrate the eponymous casino, where the stakes are people's souls.
Live Action TV
- In season 5 the boys come across a traveling gambler that plays for years of peoples lives instead of money. It should be noted that the witch doesn't cheat. He has simply gotten that good over the centuries. In fact, he will sometimes feel pity for his opponent and intentionally fold a good hand, as was in the case of an old man just wanting a few more years to see his grandkids grow up.
- Not exactly a game, but similar... In the season 8 episode, "What's Up Tiger Mommy," the boys are at an auction in which the bidding ranges from tons of dwarven gold to five-eighths of a virgin and people's souls to Vatican City and Alaska.
- Season 4, early on, featured a casino that would scan customers for destinies, and (in a bit of a subversion) direct those with important ones into a no-win game to have their destiny auctioned off to the highest bidder.
- There was also 'Double Or Nothing' in season 3, with Angel playing the casino owner demon to try and save Gunn from having to give up his soul, which he'd sold several years earlier for his truck. Angel ends up losing the game, but avoids the consequences by beheading the casino owner.
- Henry Coleman From As the World Turns tends to get himself in these sorts of situations.
- In episode 1.06 of White Collar, "All In," Neal bets hundreds of thousands of dollars in a high-stakes Pai Gow game against a Chinese money-launderer. Especially considering he barely knows how to play, with Mozzie teaching him by watching Chinese movies centered on the game but with few artistic additions, such as the dreaded "Death Tile". Neal loses the game, but arranges for his watch, which contains a listening device, to be part of the spoils. The FBI gets all the evidence they need to arrest the money-launderer.
- The Tales from the Crypt episode "Cutting Cards" features two feuding gamblers who want nothing more than to see each other leave town forever. They start with a dice roll (both get a double-six), then move on to Russian Roulette (the one bullet turns out to be a dud). Finally they play five-card draw poker in which the loser of each hand gets a body part chopped off, starting with fingers. The final scene reveals that they have once again come out even, having lost their arms and legs to the game.
- The Middleman - Shabumi. This one is based on skill, run by an eccentric millionaire, and highly unusual.
- "Each player is dealt a full deck of cards. Every card has its own name. There are 589 unique physical and verbal challenges to every hand. And if anyone shows the slightest ignorance of the game's byzantine rules, they are decapitated by [...] the thoughtless, speechless brute, Govindar."
- The game might also be based on cheating and not getting caught... despite a table of five players, each dealt a normal 52-card deck, at one point our hero plays a winning hand of 52-of-a-kind; every one a Deuce of Spades. His prize is the official schematics for the Lunar Landing Sound Stage (he entered the game with a buy-in of The Missing 18-and-a-half Minutes).
- When our heroine joins the game, she is dealt a deck of cards... and a white rabbit.
- The game ends when a player builds a five-foot-tall house of cards with his hand, but is caught with a glue stick.
- Rygel on Farscape is prone to this. To distract a pirate crew that boarded Moya (as well as alleviate his own boredom) in one episode, Rygel played a low-stakes game of Tadek with the crew's captain. When Rygel accidentally revealed Moya had recently hosted a fugitive the pirate's were hunting, the game suddenly turned extremely high-stakes with Rygel forced to wager the location of the man (and their shipmates) in exchange for his life. The pirate captain won, but it turns out that the entire thing was a Batman Gambit and that Rygel intentionally threw the game (which itself was quite a challenge because his opponent was a horrible player) once he realized that unless the pirates thought they would leave with something of particular value, they would have simply killed everyone aboard when they departed regardless of an earlier promise to leave them in peace. For good measure, Rygel had pilot change their Comms frequencies the moment the pirates boarded, and the frequency he gave to pay his wager was a fake, leading the pirates on a wild goose chase far from their actual target.
- Rygel is less than successful on other occasions, however, having been defeated when gambling for food in a later episode. In the novel House of Cards he also loses Moya to a local despot entirely. To Rygel's credit, however, his opponents cheated in both cases and it is clearly established that Rygel is a highly skilled gambler, even at games he is initially unfamiliar with.
- Since Mr. Lucky is a series about a professional gambler, this trope was almost bound to make an appearance. In "That Stands For Pool" the main character, Mr. Lucky, is forced into playing a game of pool in which the stakes are threefold: a huge wad of cash, his own life and the life of his friend, Andamo. Unfortunately, he stands to lose one or more of those things even if he wins...
- A NewsRadio episode has Jimmy lose Bill's employment contract in a poker game.
- In Season 2 Luther encounters two brothers who commit random acts of violence decided by the throw of a dice. One brother offers to help capture the other if he loses a throw; unfortunately Luther loses. The police then find the brother, but he's got a Dead Man Switch and an explosive vest. So Luther pours petrol on himself, throws him a lighter and offers to decide the matter on a dice throw as well. If Luther can guess what number has come up, the man will surrender, if not Luther goes up in smoke. But he has to deactivate the switch anyway to roll the dice, as he has Luther's lighter in his other hand. Luther (who is wired for sound) then tells the snipers where to shoot.
- "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" - This well-known song tells the story of a boy named Johnny who competes against the devil in a fiddle contest. If he wins, he gets a golden fiddle, but if he loses, the devil gets Johnny's soul.
- A planet of The Empire in the Phase World setting is run by a dictator with an obsession with games of chance. Every few years, he holds a big gambling festival, culminating with a challenge to one of the best players. If the guest wins the game, they get control of the planet. If they lose, they are summarily executed.
- In Deadlands, the character type called the Huckster plays hands of poker to cast their spells, where they need to get a good enough hand..or else a demon might fry a chunk of their brain, drive them insane, or just tear their body asunder. The interesting part here being that the PLAYER is the one who plays this Absurdly High Stakes Game with his character's life.
- A similar situation exists in Dungeons & Dragons and several of its descendants; with the Deck of Many Things, you declare how many cards you are going to draw from it first, and then your character has to draw the cards. If he doesn't draw his next card, it flips out of the deck on its own an hour after the last draw. Each card has some very permanent effect on the character, world, and sometimes even setting, so allowing a Deck of Many Things into your campaign is one of the easiest ways to break the story, if you have one.
- The first set in the Star Trek CCG had a card called Raise the Stakes. The opponent of the player either had to forfeit or agree that the eventual winner would permanently get a card from the loser's deck. It was the first card banned from tournament play.
- Magic: The Gathering had an Ante rule, whereby after shuffling but before drawing hands, the first card in each player's deck would become an Ante card. The winner of the game gets both cards. Adding to this, a few cards manipulated the ante. This was eventually dropped, since 1) nobody wanted to risk losing their cards and 2) Wizards didn't want Magic to be classified as a form of gambling in markets where such things would be frowned upon.
- In one sidestory in GURPS Traveller: Starports there is a bar story about a floating poker game between the top spymasters in the Imperium with pieces of interstellar intelligence as the stakes.
- Hoyles Rules Of Dragon Poker has exactly one limitation on betting: kids lost in game must be returned to their parents before the police have to get involved. Not don't do it, just don't get caught. Beyond that, anything that can be successfully argued to the group is fair game. Names are specifically mentioned.
- Guys and Dolls's Sky Masterson got his name from his love for "crazy" bets. In the climax of the show ("Luck Be A Lady"), bets every man at the craps game $1,000 against their souls - if he wins, they have to show up at the Save-a-Soul Mission.
- In Vanguard Bandits, Lord Alden, undefeated Chessmaster of the continent, is more than willing to wager his powerful Altagrave ATAC against a completely new chess player.
- In Arcanum, at one point, you need a ship. One of the options is to win one in a game of dice.
- In Killer7, there is a climactic game of Russian Roulette between Garcian Smith and Benjamin Keane. If Garcian wins, Keane will tell him the secret to hitting on any woman with 100% success. If Keane wins, Garcian must kill the President. The stakes end up being pretty meaningless anyway.
- The slots-o-death machine in Space Quest. You can win a relatively paltry sum, but roll three skulls and you are toast. The only way for Roger to earn enough cash for a ticket out of Ulence Flats is by Save Scumming or (in the remake) a magnet on the bottom of the machine.
- Return To Zork has a board game called "Survivor" with really simple rules: One player controls a piece called "the Wizard" and the other a piece called "Canuck." Canuck can move wherever he wants, the Wizard can only move in L-formations and leaves pits when he vacates a space. The goal of the game is for the other player to be forced to move into a pit (and thus lose). You play this game twice, and the second time is the final boss of the game, with the fate of all Zork riding on the outcome. For good measure, losing will also result in you being turned to stone and having your strategic abilities assimilated by the villain.
- Fallen London has the Marvellous, described as "a notorious card game in which you can stake your soul and win your heart's desire", played with 77 First City coins as tokens. This stake doesn't actually seem very high, in-universe, as opportunities to lose your soul aren't exactly rare, but... losers of past games have wagered and lost far more precious things than their souls. Yes, that's possible.
- In Far Cry 3, upon revealing that he knew who Jason really was, Hoyt turns the poker game into this. One finger cut off for every time he loses a hand.
- Jean-Eric Louvier of Endless Ocean: Blue World won an island in a game of nine ball. It's appropriately named Nineball Island.
- Last Res0rt pits several contestants against each other, and heavily encouraged to kill each other off in other to ensure their own survival until the end… most of the players are hardened criminals eager to use the show as a way to get out, but not all. Word of God has stated that the contestants are NOT required to kill anyone during the show. But, the stakes up for grabs are either death, going back to jail or freedom with a full pardon. The producers are waiting for the contestants to take advantage of the payoff of a full pardon of all their crimes.
- Collar 6 - Sixx makes a bet to become a slave if she doesn't win a spanking contest.
- In Homestuck, whenever you play Sburb, your planet and entire species are the initial wage, the quarter in the arcade cabinet, to be lost forever whether you win or lose. The prize is creating a whole new universe.
- Although it's not like you ever had the option of not betting. If a single session is ever started, then it's The End of the World as We Know It. Also, of the four sessions seen so far, two of them didn't know that that would happen, and a third had only one person know.
- Futurama parodied the song "The Devil Went Down to Georgia". In the episode, Leela and Fry have to get Bender out of Robot Hell. The Robot Devil, after failing to get them to sign a "fiddle contest waiver", explains that they can have Bender if they can outplay him on a golden fiddle (when Fry points out the poor construction of such an instrument, he admits it's mostly for show). If they lose, they would only receive a silver fiddle as a consolation prize. He then offhanded added that he'd kill Fry, as if it were expected of him instead of something he actually wanted to do.
- One episode of The Simpsons made an allusion to The Lady or the Tiger?. In that episode, Mr. Burns had transferred his plant's operations to India. Because he was required by federal law to keep at least one union worker in his payroll, Homer got sent there to oversee the plant. When Lenny and Carl went there to visit him, they met a man who showed them two doors, telling them that Homer Simpson was behind one of the doors and that there was a tiger behind the other door. The found a tiger behind the first door they opened and quickly closed it. As they opened the other door, they found... another tiger. Lenny and Carl were then told that one of the tigers was named "Homer Simpson".
- In Regular Show the episode "Skips Strikes" has Rigby making a bet with Death: If Death's Team wins he'll get the team's souls and if Rigby's Team wins he gets a bowling ball filled with souls. Mordecai and Benson aren't happy about this.
- "Over the Top" has Skips arm wrestling Death for Rigby's soul.
- In "Slam Dunk", Mordecai eventually bets his computer privileges for life on a basketball game just so he can help Margaret make a website in hopes of impressing her.
- In the ThunderCats (2011) episode "The Duelist and the Drifter", Professional Gambler and Master Swordsman the Duelist makes a habit of betting swordsmen they can't defeat him and offering up his own best blade as incentive, taking theirs as trophies when they inevitably lose. When young hero Lion-O challenges him and tries to raise the stakes so he can win the Duelist's entire sword collection, the Duelist insists that since Lion-O has only one to offer in return, the boy should agree to give up his life if he loses. Lion-O agrees to the terms.
- One Batman Beyond episode features the Derby, an annual poker game held by mob leaders for incredibly high stakes, which Bruce Wayne says is a tradition that goes back even before his time. (A minor example, as they only play for money, although it is a veritable fortune.)
- Famous Jewish-Roman historian Josephus once survived a systematic mass suicide among his fellow soldiers. Rather than surrender to the Romans, the Jewish rebels arranged themselves in a circle and killed every seventh man until only Josephus remained. Although not technically a "game", the situation and his ingenious solution has been studied by mathematical game theorists for centuries.
- H.L. Hunt bet nearly his entire net wealth on a hand of poker and won his first oil well. He then used that to build a financial empire making him one of the 10 richest Americans in the 1950's.
- Ashley Revell briefly gained notoriety for cashing out his savings and selling all his possessions (including his clothes... he started wearing rented tuxedos), then placing the total (a good $135,000) on a "double-or-nothing" roulette wheel bet filmed for Sky One.He won, gave a $600 tip to the spinner, then immediately left to form an online poker company.
- The legendary Kerry Packer is of course well-known for making outrageous wagers in general, but one particular anecdote has a rich Texan bragging to him that he's worth $150 million dollars. Packer then offers to wager for this man's entire net worth on a coin toss.
- The real life Oskar Schindler won Helen Hirsch (a Jew being forced to work as a maid before her inevitable execution) from Amon Goeth in a card game so he could keep her safe at his factory. According to Hirsch's testimony, Schindler cheated outrageously throughout the game, and when he won and Goeth tried to wriggle out of the bet, he had the balls to chide Goeth for not playing fair!