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Absurdly High-Stakes Game

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"You see, Mario, you're not just playing for the enjoyment of our studio audience and millions around the world... You're playing for your life."
Snifit or Whifit Host, Paper Mario: Color Splash

Gambling games are fun for the participants. But, as anyone who's watched Poker on television can attest, the same games that are fun to play can be painfully boring to watch, as spectators have no stake in the proceedings and do not experience the thrill of winning.

Therefore, storytellers will crank the stakes up by causing characters to bet enormous sums of money well above the table limits of a casino game. Cars, houses, family members, organs, their life, or other non-liquid assets they can't afford to lose will be wagered by a desperate, cash-starved gambler.

The item wagered is usually not appraised, with no agreement made about what reward the player should receive in the unlikely event he does, somehow, win the game. (Especially common in poker, where the rule that all "holding" players must have contributed equally to the pot is easily ignored.)

Losers will honor the bet even though there is no legal grounds compelling them to follow through. This is usually justified by setting the game in an underground gambling facility, possibly operated by an Eccentric Millionaire, where unconventional bets are accepted and violence can be used to collect on debts.

Players are rarely forced to play these games or make the absurdly high wager. They are generally given a choice of whether or not to participate, even if the alternative is another bad situation. Often, the wager is made due to overconfidence, or an attempt to escape from gambling debts.

The games are usually based on skill, not simply luck. When the player inevitably loses, they will invoke Rules Lawyer or Loophole Abuse to avoid paying out. If the game being played IS based on luck, cheating is to be expected (and perhaps even encouraged).

Deals with Devils and Chess with Death are common examples. If the game is televised, expect it to be an Immoral Reality Show. Entertainment-hungry psychopaths might invoke this trope along with Criminal Mind Games. Life-or-Death Question will usually be an element. Related to The Bet.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • 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. Akagi eventually won all of Washizu's money so the game continues with both competitors wage blood.
  • 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.
  • Choujin Sensen: The [Superhuman Game] grants the winner of the death match anything they so desired, provided if the winner does survive in the first place.
  • At one point in Code Geass, Mao kidnaps Nunnally and challenges Lelouch to a game of chess: if Lelouch wins, he lets Nunnally go, but if he loses, she dies. Subverted when, after Lelouch loses, it's revealed that he had already formulated a plan to rescue her and then geassed himself to forget about it so that the mind-reading Mao wouldn't find out. While he and Mao both thought the stakes were high, in reality, Nunnally was never in any danger.
  • 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 by more than 10 points, they will never return to America. Hiruma in turn responded that if the Devilbats don't win by 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.
  • 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 Food Wars! anything and everything can be staked in a shokugeki. In fact, the bylaws that govern the shokugeki state that both parties must put up stakes of equal value, to be agreed upon by the participants. So far, we have seen prized kitchen knives, booth sites for the School Festival, a secretarial job, a Hollywood Restraining Order, several club rooms (along with millions of yen in cooking equipment), significant areas of farmland, seats on the Absurdly Powerful Student Council and a chef's entire career staked in shokugeki at some point.
  • 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. Guile Hero Aru Akise manages to win even though he's the only one playing who can't predict the future.
  • Happens in 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 meant that the card shark he was playing against could no longer shift cards without it becoming obvious.
  • 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.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
    • Stardust Crusaders:
      • Daniel J. D'Arby has the power to take the souls of whoever loses to him in a game, which he uses successfully against Polnareff and Joseph. Also, if you kill him, the souls will be trapped unconscious forever, and knocking him unconscious doesn't work either. When Jotaro faces him in a game of poker, Jotaro loses half of his soul on one hand, then ramps the stakes up massively for the second. Jotaro bets his own soul, Avdol's, and Kakyoinnote 's to get back the ones taken. Jotaro then bets the soul of his own mother (who would die anyway if their quest ended in failure), against D'Arby revealing the power of DIO's Stand (and facing a certain, horrible death as a consequence). Jotaro wins only through magnificent bluffing, putting this all on a hand he didn't even look at. D'Arby is so shocked by Jotaro's confidence that he himself becomes too afraid to call Jotaro's bluff, believing that Jotaro used Star Platinum's extreme speed to switch out cards without D'Arby noticing after Jotaro uses it to do just that to grab a cigarette and a drink. The thought of him being punished for betraying DIO's secret sends him into a tailspin, and he passes out, thus forfeiting. Jotaro's hand turned out to be worthless, and Jotaro admits that if he had looked and realized how shit his hand really was, he would have had a heart attack.
      • Later on, the heroes encounter D'Arby's younger brother Telence, who has a similar power but prefers to play video games, trapping Kakyoin's soul after winning. He's even worse than his brother because he keeps his victims fully aware. Jotaro has to cheat to win this time, because Telence's Stand gives him the power to "read" a person's aura, letting him predict what his opponents will do by asking them simple "yes or no" questions. He gets around this by having his grandpa Joseph control the game secretly using his Stand so that Telence can no longer figure out his strategy.
    • Diamond is Unbreakable:
      • Rohan encounters one of the Stand Users created by Yoshikage Kira's father using the Stand Arrow; a boy whose Stand lets him steal another person's Stand if he can beat them three times out of five at Rock–Paper–Scissors. It comes down to the wire, but Rohan wins in the end by physically beating the boy to damage his confidence.
      • Later, Josuke challenges Rohan to a game of dice, using dice that are actually a shapeshifting "alien". Unfortunately, the alien has no idea of subtlety, resulting in increasingly improbable rolls (i.e. rolling perfect twenties more than five times in a row). Rohan knows Josuke is cheating, but isn't sure how, and raises the stakes to betting fingers. Rohan almost completely chops off his pinky and says that Josuke can heal it if and only if he can keep cheating successfully, but if Rohan can suss out his trick he'll be chopping off one of Josuke's fingers as punishment note . Josuke manages to get out of it when Rohan's house accidentally catches fire due to a misplaced magnifying glass that Rohan had used earlier to inspect the dice; Josuke quickly heals Rohan while he's distracted and beats a hasty retreat. He walks away with nothing, while Rohan pays 7 million yen to repair his house and his hatred of Josuke gets even stronger.
      • Rohan once again encounters this in the spinoff manga Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan, where an innocuous game at the gym involving two treadmills and a remote control becomes an impromptu Jigsaw Trap where the loser gets thrown out of a window, all because Rohan failed to realize the person who he was playing against had been possessed by the Greek God Hermes, who is no less prone to Blue-and-Orange Morality and Disproportionate Retribution than his Olympian brethren.
    • Stone Ocean: Miraschon's Stand allows her to automatically collect the wager of a bet somone makes with her whenever her opponent loses. The problem is that if you don't have enough money to pay her, her Stand will take your body parts (like your liver) to cover your bet - and is completely invincible while doing so. On top of that, she can freely cheat all she wants; but, if her opponents even thinks of cheating, they automatically lose. However, unlike the D'Arby brothers' Stands, Miraschon's Stand is subject to Exact Words and Loophole Abuse. When it looks like Miraschon has managed to sabotage a game of catch by having a prison guard confiscate the ball and trapping Jolyne in an elevator with her, which allegedly means that the game is over with Jolyne as the loser, Jolyne reveals that technically, she didn't specify who her partner for the game would be, meaning that the guard counts as well, before using her own string-based Stand to reach over to the guard's pocket, unravel the ball into a lump of string, and retrieve it. Since Jolyne didn't lose, Miraschon's stand returns everything it confiscated before disappearing, and since Miraschon is now trapped inside an elevator with Jolyne, she is powerless to defend herself against Jolyne delivering a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown, bouncing the ball off of Miraschon's face enough times to win the bet.
    • JoJolion: Josuke is challenged to a game by Daiya, who possesses a Stand that allows her to steal her opponent's memories if they break one of the game's rules, forcing Josuke to tread carefully to prevent Daiya from permanently destroying his memories. Josuke manages to recover his stolen memories after getting Daiya to step on his shadow.
  • 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!.
  • The central setting of Kakegurui has a vast underground gambling scene where millions and occasionally billions of yen are wagered on a daily basis on everything from poker to roulette to rock-paper-scissors. Those who fall deep in debt and can't afford to pay their dues to the Absurdly Powerful Student Council are treated like animals, and (especially in Mary Saotome's case) people who were once friends/associates will turn against the losers on a dime once their debts are made public.
  • The Legend of Koizumi stakes natural resources, a fleet of F-15s, lives, and the fate of nations on Mahjong.
  • 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 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.
  • No Game No Life:
    • The entire world of Disboard revolves around this trope. Tet, the One True God of Disboard after the great war, forbade all robbery, war and murder after he rose to power. Disputes are decided by games - enforced via Magically-Binding Contract - where both participants wager things they agree are of equal value. These things can be anything from money to servitude to entire kingdoms.
    • One of the first things that Sora and Shiro do after becoming king is bet Imanity's Race Piece—meaning that if they lose, Imanity will lose their rights as a sapient species, and no longer be protected from robbery, war, and murder. Worse, what they get if they win is relatively minor in comparison, just some lands that they don't need and lost years ago. Their people are understandably upset about this, and riots break out. Turns out the whole point was to bait the enemy into a game they otherwise wouldn't play because it would be far too suspicious to pass up such a good bet.
  • 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'.
  • The Davy Back Fight in One Piece is a series of contests between pirate crews. After each game, the captain of the winning crew gets to take something, anything, from the losing crew- Whether it be personal property, their Jolly Roger, or even crewmates! "Silver Fox" Foxy has built a massive crew of at least 500 by winning people in these games, and actually won Chopper for a short time before the Straw Hats won their doctor back. Furthermore, he's a total cheat who goes out of his way to rig things in his crew's favor, whether it's interfering in a race or having a crooked referee for a ball game. Ultimately, Foxy loses to Luffy in the final boxing match, and Luffy (Not wanting any of Foxy's crew), takes Foxy's flag, leaving a horribly drawn replacement.
  • Ranma ½: The Tendos and Ranma vs the Gambling King, wagering parts of their house in order to win back their dojo.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • At the climax of Summer Wars, a game of Hanafuda is played with avatars as currency. If Love Machine wins, it plans to use a hijacked satellite as a ballistic missile to blow up a nuclear plant, causing untold collateral damage.
  • 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 with their memories of the entire ride.
  • 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.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!. Weirdly enough, in the manga, Atem has a policy of not playing the Duel Monsters card game with an ante because he doesn't want to bet his precious cards on a wager, but he is perfectly fine to bet his and Yugi's life to compensate the lack of Star Chips... only to instead inflict penalty games on evildoers, where if they cheat they suffer psychosis or death.
    • Later, the Duel Monsters series has no qualms about not only introducing an ante rule for both rare cards, Star Chips, and Locator Cards for tournament progression, but the villain plans often include wagers of souls. The most bizarre stakes often belong to minor antagonists, though. Especially during the arc where an entire city has its streets taken over 24/7 by holographic card games:
      • If the protagonist loses, they're burned alive, or trapped in a cave forever - Pegasus' Eliminators Panik and the Brothers Paradox, respectively
      • The loser gets their death by bleeding out from having their ankles severed by a buzzsaw (or sent to the Shadow Realm via Dark Energy Disk, in the dub) - Marik's Rare Hunter Arkana
      • The loser is dropped through an exploding glass skydeck, through a busy shopping mall, to their death (or dropped into a portal to the Shadow Realm, in the dub) - Marik's Rare Hunters Lumis and Umbra
      • The loser is drowned after being tied to a giant weight - Marik forcing Yugi and Joey to duel each other. This one actually isn't changed in the dub.
      • Losing any monster cards causes an important person to be wiped from the player's memory - Marik, vs. Mai
      • The loser's body is forefeit to the winner's mental possession, while the loser is trapped in a digital world - The Big Five
      • Losing any monster cards causes physical pain - Marik, vs. Joey
      • The loser loses their soul to fuel a giant demon - DOMA and the Seal of Orichalcos
      • Playing a counterfeit Egyptian God Card will cause a Bolt of Divine Retribution to descend from the sky, knocking the victim and possible bystanders into a coma
      • Parodied in one ProZD video, with the suggestion that either the writers are sadists, or the protagonist is a masochist.
    • In Yu-Gi-Oh!: Capsule Monsters, it's implied that anyone who loses all their Capsule Monsters in the final round will die. In the final battle, the power to control the world is up for grabs.
    • In Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, Prince Ojin wagered the Doomsday Device his government had built in a duel against Saiou, for no other reason than to prove how badass he was. Whether he was brainwashed by the villain or not when he made the bet is unclear, but he certainly was after he lost. Even worse, Saiou's ante was the Destiny Hero cards, which he didn't even have, meaning it was a wager he couldn't have kept.
  • 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.
    • The word game Kurama plays against Kaito is bet with souls.
    • The video games against Game Master can count as well. 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.

    Comic Books 
  • 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- his Spider Sense means that he always knows whether or not someone's bluffing.)
  • Batman in the Bronze 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.
  • Button Man: Millions of pounds are bet on every single Game. It's explicitly mentioned that a modestly wealthy person who becomes a Voice for a talented button man can become obscenely rich.
  • Laff-A-Lympics #4 had an alien named Moon Man Murray challenge of selection of Laff-A-Lympics team members transported to the Moon and compete in a series of events with the Earth at stake. Murray hedges his bets by fitting the contestants out with belts that negate their lack of gravity.
  • Wolverine loves to play poker and has been known to invoke this trope on occasion.
    Wolverine: "I'm going all in."
    Player: "How? You don't have any chips left!"
    Wolverine: "When I say all in, bub, I mean all in. You win, you get to kill me. I win, I get to kill you."
    Player: "I fold."
  • Rick and Morty (Oni): After being goaded into an argument with Jerry about the 'noble nature' of sports, Rick takes Jerry and Morty to the biggest game in the Galaxy, where parents bet on their children as they fight to the death. Then, after getting into an argument with another fan, Rick bets that Morty could win the next match.
  • Avengers: No Surrender does it during its climax with a poker game. Begins with Lightning betting his freedom to free another Avenger. Then betting his life for two comrades' freedom. Then he bets Earth to be destroyed against Earth to be restored. Then Lightning bets that the loser will be erased from history, and Grandmaster folds. Try to match this, Kakegurui!

    Fairy Tales 
  • The Golden Phoenix: The game of hide-and-seek to which the Sultan challenges the young prince. If he wins the first round, he will escape with his life. If he wins a second time, he may marry the Sultan's daughter, and if he wins a third time, the Sultan must give him his choice of dowry.

    Fan Works 
  • In Cabin Fever: Parting Shot, Jeff and Bert squabble over who is the better marksman, leading to a shooting contest between them. Bert goads Jeff into wagering a 'roll in the hay' with his girlfriend, Marcy, as the winner's reward. It goes without saying that Marcy is less than pleased with this arrangement. Though ultimately she consents to give the Dark Horse third entrant this prize, mainly out of spite towards Jeff for making the bet in the first place.
  • In the canon of Super Smash Bros., fights are usually low-stakes, so long as your opponent is a good sport. However, in the JoJo's Bizarre Adventure fanfic Crusader of Life III, Emily and Lucio find that if they lose, they could be trapped in that world forever.
  • 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.
  • Despite being based on Yu-Gi-Oh!, most stories from Arc-Ved Protagonists advert this. It is however played straight in "Reluctant Choice" and "Dark Fusion" where at least 1 party is at risk of turning into a card should they lose.
  • 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.
  • Apparently happened out-of-scene in Never Cut Twice, wherein Itachi Uchiha wins, among other things, "a mansion on the north end of town, a summer house by the sea, a company that makes shingles, a horse named "Tobasco," the patent to an invention that slices bagels, a candy store, and some guy's wife." in a series of card games.
  • Soul Eater: Troubled Souls: To figure out how to curse somebody, Medusa subjects the protagonists to a series of four of these. In summation, they are: destroy all cobras even though they constantly regenerate and can multiply, get through an elaborate maze full of traps with no directions on time, solve an excruciatingly difficult puzzle, and finally survive fights with full-powered doppelgangers. The stakes are powers and abilities, personality traits, and their lives.
  • Played for Laughs in The Ouroboros. Leo wagered his position as team leader during a round of UNO... and lost. To Casey's left sneaker. Much to his irritation when he's reminded of that while trying to invoke his authority over his brothers.
  • The Petriculture Cycle: Pandelirium, Discord has a chance to win unrestricted freedom, but only if he can make Penumbra laugh, but it's not easy. She has a strange sense of humor and is very dour.
  • Halloween Unspectacular X features this as a key part of the story "A House in New Orleans". The titular house is a gambling den that's fairly normal, but the private second level is magically addictive, and even winners are compelled to come back for the thrill over and over until eventually they run out of money and have to start wagering other things as collateral — things like their memories, their freedom, and finally their souls. Gaz ended up losing all three, being reduced to just another mindless employee of the casino. Dib is made to play for her freedom with his collateral being Gaz's very existence... and one scene break later, he's heading home, having completely forgotten why he was in New Orleans to begin with.
  • Pretty much the premise of The Night the House of Cards was Built. A six-year-old Naruto and several others take part in a poker game. Over half a dozen different people are wagered, as well as a mansion, the deeds to several food stalls, and a puppy.

  • 13 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 (2006) 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. Several of the other players are terrorists, so if they win then the British government "will have directly financed terrorism".
    • 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 - Le Chiffre has been embezzling from SMERSH’s funds and is trying to square his accounts with a big night at the table. The game is baccarat rather than poker, but the stakes still run high (tens of millions of francs).
    • In the film, Bond is trying to bankrupt Le Chiffre so he cannot settle his outstanding criminal debts and will trade information to MI6 to protect him from retaliation.
  • 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 "The Man from Hollywood" 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 (1997): 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 various 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 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.
  • Subverted in Cabin Fever. Jeff and Bert make a bet that they'll only drink beer for the duration of their vacation. Though the only thing they intentionally wager is their pride, unbeknownst to either of them, the stakes are actually much higher. Their cabin's water supply is infected with a deadly flesh-eating virus. So whoever breaks the wager and drinks water... dies.
  • Star Wars aro
    • 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.
      • Based on Watto's reaction, he was using a loaded die and therefore knows Qui-Gon had to have cheated. But since he can't act on this knowledge without revealing that he was cheating himself, he has to let the result stand. Just as Qui-Gon planned.
    • Sabacc 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 in Solo: A Star Wars Story.
      • This was also the way Han got the planet that he took Leia to after "kidnapping" her in the Star Wars Legends novel The Courtship of Princess Leia.
  • Around the World in 80 Days (2004): If Phileas Fogg circumnavigates the world in eighty days, he'll replace Lord Kelvin as Minister of Science. If he doesn't, he'll have to destroy his lab and never invent anything again.
  • Spies Like Us: The final scene has Emmett Fitz-Hume and Austin Millbarge working on "peaceful negotiations for nuclear disarmament" with the Russian government (read: making Russia bet their silos on a combination between Risk and Trivial Pursuit).
  • In Outlaw Women, Woody and Mae play one hand of five-card stud for ownership of the Paradise Saloon.
  • In Gentlemen Explorers, Riley is sent to infiltrate a high stakes poker by posing as the American representative. The game is a winner-takes-all game of Texas hold 'em where the Mexican representative is wagering a boxcar of gold, the Prussian a shipment of high-tech rifles, and the American the territories the U.S. won in the Mexican–American War.
  • In Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, the title characters play games with Death to win back custody of their souls. Instead of playing chess, like in The Seventh Seal, they pick kid's board games like Battleship and Twister.

  • Around the World in Eighty Days: Phileas Fogg wages half his fortune that he can travel around the world in eighty days and expects the other half to be spent on his efforts to win. If he wins, he'll have as much money as he'd have if he never entered the bet. If he loses, he's broke.
  • Anton Chekhov's 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.
  • In The Cambist and Lord Iron, Lord Iron entangles Olaf in one of these.
  • In the Secret Histories novel Casino Infernale, Eddie and Molly infiltrate the eponymous casino, where the stakes are people's souls.
  • A downplayed example in The Courtship of Princess Leia. Force Sabaac is a known (if obscure) variant of the standard Star Wars card game, and Han legitimately worked his way up from high-but-reasonable stakes until he held some 800 million credits when he went head-to-head with an eccentric alien warlord. But the fact remains that he sat down to a card game and walked away with the deed to a planet.
  • 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.
  • Death World opens with Kirk Pyrrus needing three billion credits to pay for a shipment of weapons, but only 27 million to pay with. He makes Jason dinAlt, a professional gambler with the ability to control dice, an offer he can't refuse: turn the 27 million into at least three billion in a single night of gambling. On the final roll of the dice, with two billion riding on the outcome, Jason's powers desert him.
  • 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 lost on purpose.
  • 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 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.
  • The Game-Players of Titan is concerned with the fictional game "Bluff" where players wager spouses and entire cities among other things.
  • 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 star systems changing hands.
  • Halcyon Park: In the underground bot fights, betting can easily range into the millions. The cost of building and customizing an illegal bot is enormous, so losing also often means instant bankruptcy at best and debts to vicious loan sharks at worst. Once the cartel enforcers take over, it becomes a blood sport.
  • This is pretty much the whole point of The Hunger Games. Win, and not only are you rich for life, but your whole district gets monthly deliveries of food, which makes a big difference for a place where most people are perpetually on the brink of starvation. Lose, and you die, likely in a painful and violent way. Certainly in a public way. The games are mandatory viewing for everyone in the country, including your family and anyone who may care about you, and there's always a full recap of each death. They feature less in the sequels, as by that point, a Civil War has erupted.
  • 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.
  • Stephen King:
    • 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 Cat's Eye.
    • The Long Walk revolves around one of these. Every year, 100 teenage boys are chosen from thousands of volunteer applicants to take part in an endurance walking contest. There are no stops or rest periods, and the Walk only ends when 99 of them are dead. The last survivor receives "The Prize": anything he wants for the rest of his life.
    • The Running Man: The protagonist participates in a reality TV game show in which, with a 12 hour head start, he attempts to elude elite hunters trying to kill him, earning $100 for each hour on the run and $1 billion if he can successfully survive 30 days.
  • Nine Kings is a popular game among the nobility of the Seven Satrapies in The Lightbringer Series. There are some stories of people losing fortunes in matches of Nine Kings, but the real example focuses on the games between Kip and his grandfather Andross. The stakes include the fate of Kip's friends (including one's contract as a slave), Kip's marriage, and learning what led to his birth. In the final book, Andross even uses a game to try to predict the major battle that will come the following day and determine which of two empires survives.
  • The Stephen King novel The Long Walk revolves around one of these. Every year, 100 teenage boys are chosen from thousands of volunteer applicants to take part in an endurance walking contest. There are no stops or rest periods, and the Walk only ends when 99 of them are dead. The last survivor receives "The Prize": anything he wants for the rest of his life.
  • The Ur-Example may be the Indian epic Mahabharata in which Yudhistir the eldest and “wisest” of the Pandava brothers first bets a gold necklace, then a thousand gold coins, a thousand maids, a thousand elephants, then his personal chariot, his kingdom’s entire treasury, then his kingdom, then his own brothers, then himself and finally his wife Draupadi. He loses it all, going from being an emperor to a slave whose wife is brought to the court to be sexually humiliated.
  • The Man from the South by Roald Dahl - 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.
  • 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 Night Circus has the Challenge where two magicians pit their proteges who use the entire circus as their exhibit without knowing the rules or how to win the competition. They later find out the Challenge ends when one student breaks first and only when one competitor kills themselves does the contest conclude.
  • Roots: In an attempt to buy his freedom, the slave George engages in cockfighting and becomes one of the best cockfighters in the state. Eventually, he convinces his master Tom Lea to bet an absurdly high bet on a fight against an English nobleman - more than Tom owns in total, including all of his slaves. He wins - but then Tom agrees on a rematch with the stakes doubled. Now he loses, and with it his entire property, and George is denied freedom.
  • Robert B. Parker's Spenser named the houseboat he lives on after the poker hand that he used to win it: the Busted Flush. This is only moderately high stakes, except that the person who lost the houseboat wanted to play another hand with his South American girlfriend as the stakes. Spenser declined.
  • Star Trek Voyager EU novels Star Trek: String Theory has a pandimensional casino frequented by the Q and other non-corporeal entities where gamblers wager pandimensional deeds to any number of interstellar objects from asteroids to nebula. Some patrons are known to be "destroyers" who delight in destroying whatever object they just won, especially if it has any sentimental value to whoever just lost it.
  • 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.
  • Taste by Roald Dahl: 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.
  • In the short story "Untropy" by Christopher Anvil, the narrator refers to having seen a roulette-like game with seven wheels. If all seven wheels land on zero, the player loses, not just their stake, but all their possessions.
  • In the Dr. Watson At War series by Robert Ryan, Watson has to parachute out of a bomber at a time when it's still a highly dangerous technique (he's told the fatality rate is one in three, through that's from aircraft that are already spinning out of control or in flames). It's pretty risky for the bomber crew as well, as when they descend to drop a parachutist they're a sitting duck for the enemy defenses. Watson and the bomber pilot end up playing chess with the stakes being what height they drop him from—one thousand or three thousand feet. Watson loses the game, but the pilot drops him from a thousand feet anyway.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the 30 Rock episode "Blind Date", Jack joins the weekly poker game in the writer's room and proceeds to completely decimate almost everyone. Pete, all out of cash, tosses in his wedding ring; once he loses it, he realizes what's about to happen when he gets home, and Kenneth takes his place at the table because Pete is currently in the bathroom "laying in his own sick". Kenneth wins the lot of it because Jack can't read him at all, which infuriates him so much that he challenges him to another game, this time in front of the entire crew. He taunts Kenneth about his humble origins to try and rattle him, and goads him into putting his page jacket on the table, therefore betting his job. He loses to Jack's hand and tells Liz that he did it because he both likes living on the edge and was confused about the rules, but Jack stops him from leaving, gives back his jacket, and tells him that he just wanted to remind him that he could fire him if he wanted to.
  • Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Roald Dahl's "The Man from the South", written in 1948, appeared both on the original show (with Steve McQueen and Peter Lorre) and the 1985 revival (with John Huston and Steven Bauer). It also inspired the segment of Four Rooms mentioned above in Film.
  • Angel
    • In "Double Or Nothing" in season 3, it is revealed that Gunn had sold his soul to a casino-owning demon years earlier in return for his truck. To save him, Angel played cards against the demon double-or-nothing with his own soul on the line. In a twist, Angel lost the game, but then beheads the casino owner and asks all of the casino patrons and staff how much they had owed him as well.
    • "The House Always Wins" featured a Las Vegas casino which forced Lorne to read the destinies of casino patrons; those with "good" destinies (Fortune, fame, political power, etc.) were directed to a complimentary free spin on a million-dollar prize wheel, and their destinies were taken and sold to the highest bidder when they lost. They are never told that they are risking their futures on the spin, and the game itself is rigged to always lose; afterwards, they become aimless, nearly-mindless casino patrons who spend all their time pointlessly shuffling coins into slot machines. Angel himself is tricked into putting down a chip onto the game but is saved when the team busts up the operation at the end of the episode.
  • Henry Coleman from As the World Turns tends to get himself in these sorts of situations.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The 11th Doctor episode "The Wedding of River Song" gives us "Live Chess". Live, as in the pieces are electrified, and each time a piece is moved the voltage in it increases.
    • Another 11th Doctor episode, "Nightmare in Silver", has the Doctor play a game of chess against himself. Actually, a Cyber-Planner is trying to take over his body and had intermittent control. If the Doctor loses the game, then the Cybermen will have him as their new leader.
  • The Dukes of Hazzard:
    • "The $10 Million Sheriff", Roscoe inherits a lot of money. He and Boss Hogg play a hand of poker against each other, with both ultimately betting everything they own. Roscoe wins and declares "I just made the richest man in Hazzard the poorest in the state!"
    • "The Boars Nest Bears," where Boss Hogg exemplifies everything that is wrong with youth sports: Gambling (with a rival county bossnote ), and more importantly, Boss making Bo and Luke's very freedom ride on the Bears winning the game, since Boss is well aware of his rival's tricks and, expecting Hazzard to lose, plans to have Bo and Luke cuffed and stuffed, charged with several felonies (which would, by the way, never stick in a real-life criminal justice system) even before the final buzzer quits sounding.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer has the occasional scene where some of the show's more benign demons, including Spike, are in a closed-door poker game where the stakes are kittens. Perfectly mundane, live, purring, walking kittens. Not very large stakes in terms of monetary value, but of enormous personal value from the kittens' perspective.
  • El Chapulín Colorado once was in a carambole game with the Cuajináis betting his life.
    Tripaseca: Why don't you add some 20 pesos? To add some excitement.
  • In Gossip Girl, Serena and Nate join a high-stakes poker game hoping to clear Carter Baizen's debt, the stakes becoming even higher when Nate gives Serena a photo to wager that could cost Chip the election.
    Nate: Didn’t you spend a summer in Monte Carlo when she dated Carlos Mortsenson?
    Serena: I was nine. Carlos taught me to play using Necco wafers as chips.
    Nate: Well, just imagine Carter owes the Buckleys half a million Necco wafers.
    • ends up being averted; Serena loses, but Nate meant her to. The picture is photoshopped, so when the Buckleys attempt to use it, the van der Bilts will 'expose' them as liars.
  • 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 pirates 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.
  • LazyTown: Robbie often schemes to give games ridiculously high stakes, like Sportacus leaving town forever if he loses.
  • One of the final episodes of Lexx, "The Game", has Kai, who has never played chess before in his life (or undeath), playing a game against Prince. If Kai wins, Prince will restore Kai from the state of undeath he had been in for 5000 years. If Prince wins, he will take the souls of Stan and Zev.
  • On the short-lived 80's show, Lottery, a man ran out of money playing poker with his buddies and put his lottery tickets in the pot (they credited him $5 for them). Then the protagonists show up and verify one of the tickets is a multi-million dollar winner. After putting the money in the pot, they tell the players to just show their hands, as the pot is now so big no one is going to let themselves be bluffed out of it.
  • 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's 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 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.
  • Midsomer Murders: In "The Dagger Club", The Gambling Addict is playing poker in an attempt to win his way out of debts. After going all in, the woman who holds his gambling debts goads him into betting more: his share of the book store he co-owns, and the missing manuscript that is the MacGuffin of the episode. He accepts and loses. When it turns out he never had the manuscript, the woman claims his wife's share of the book store as well, as recompense.
  • Miracle Workers (Season One): Eliza bets God that she and Craig can answer one impossible prayer in exchange for giving Earth a reprieve from fiery destruction. If Eliza loses, God blows the Earth up and she has to eat a worm in front of her co-workers.
  • 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...
  • Murdoch Mysteries: In "Stairway to Heaven", a small society meets annually and plays faro for the chance to die in controlled circumstances and be revived in an effort to learn about the afterlife. One of the players extols the pure chance of the game allowing everyone to have the same chance of winning, but it turns out one of the players cheated with marked cards.
  • A NewsRadio episode has Jimmy lose Bill's employment contract in a poker game.
  • In Squid Game, the stakes for the kid games are the lives of those who participate. At the end of each set of games, there's only one winner, meaning the rest of the players have been killed.
  • Supernatural
    • In "The Curious Case of Dean Winchester", the boys come across a traveling witch-gambler who plays poker for years of people's lives instead of money; the loser instantly ages the number of years that they have lost, while the winner remains young for that much longer. The witch is not particularly mean-spirited and doesn't cheat, he just wants to keep living himself. He will sometimes take pity on his opponents who are desperate for more time of their own, as was the case of an old man just wanting a few more years to see his grandkids grow up; he folded his own hand so that the old man would get the years.
    • In "What's Up, Tiger Mommy?", the boys are not at a game, but at a supernatural auction. The bidding includes offers of tons of dwarves' gold, five-eighths of a virgin, people's souls, Vatican City, Alaska, and the Moon.
  • 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.
  • In Ten Items Or Less, the butcher at the Greens & Grains wins two live cows in a poker game.
  • In Ugly Betty, Daniel and Alexis agree to decide control of Meade Publications, a billion-dollar company, with a paintball game.
  • An episode of Warehouse 13 uses a chessboard as a puzzle lock to a door. "Players" are manacled into their chair and faced with a board that will result in checkmate against them in 3 moves. Winning the game frees them and unlocks the door, losing the game results in an axe cleaving their head in two. The person who made that lock is well-known for stressing outside-the-box thinking, and thus the only way to win is to cheat by making impossible moves.
  • 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.
  • In the final episode of The Wonder Years, Kevin takes a job at a resort and occasionally plays poker with the Mexican band, usually winning. Right after being fired, he tries to win enough money to get home and bets his car, later finding the band was suckering him into such an outrageous bet. He ends up walking.
  • The X-Files: In the episode "Hell Money", Mulder and Sculley investigate a Chinese gambling ring in San Francisco where the losers are forced to donate their organs.

  • "The Game" by The Levellers is a Take That! against warmongers and power brokers using the metaphor of two men playing a card game in the dark corner of a crowded bar.
  • "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. Johnny wins, and taunts the devil as he leaves with his prize.
  • Chris de Burgh's "Spanish Train" - In this song, Jesus and the Devil play poker on the bed of a dying man, for his soul as well as the ten thousand residing in the eponymous train. The Devil cheats and wins, and at the end of the story he and Jesus have moved on to playing chess. With predictable results.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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. The more cards you draw, the more likely that you'll hit one of the negative effects (ranging from instant poverty to being magically imprisoned to possible permadeath), and you have to draw exactly the number that you pick, so no quitting after you've drawn one good card.
  • 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.
  • Hoyle's 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.
  • Expect to see this show up in Spirit of the Century games in which at least one player character actually has a significant Gambling skill on his or her sheet. While the skill has its "mundane" applications (mostly rolling to see if the gambler can supplement their regular income with winnings), it's niche enough that the GM is advised to take having it as an indicator of interest in scenes like this as per the pulp tradition.

  • 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.
  • On a meta-level, this applies to a lot of theatre: directors influenced by Stanislavsky often ask actors to "raise the stakes" (i.e. imagine extreme potential consequences) in an attempt to get more dynamic performances. So if you're ever at a show where the emotions seem just a bit too overwrought for the situation, you probably have Absurdly High Stakes to thank.

    Video Games 
  • In Arcanum, at one point, you need a ship. One of the options is to win one in a game of dice.
  • Cuphead's plot is kicked off by Cuphead losing a game of Craps, where he bet his and Mugman's souls against the Devil's vast fortune.
  • In Dicey Dungeons, the six contestants, who were turned into dice by Lady Luck, are forced to compete in her gameshow where they must fight enemies in the dungeons in order to escape. Should they lose Lady Luck's game, their soul belongs to her.
  • Jean-Eric Louvier of Endless Ocean: Blue World won an island in a game of nine ball. It's appropriately named Nineball Island.
  • 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. As to winning your Heart's Desire, this part is also entirely true. Imprisoning a Master of the Bazaar has been one of the previous prizes, and even if your Heart's Desire is extremely hard to attain (which, in your character's case, it will) or even abstract, the Masters will make it happen. You can also invert this against your final opponent, knowing he is The Gambling Addict, and just bet a single penny to watch him take the bet anyways despite himself.
  • 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.
  • Fire Emblem: Awakening: During Chrom and Vaike's support conversations, Vaike suggests that in order to make their sparring more interesting, they should make some sort of wager... namely, everything they own. Chrom points out that he's royalty and they're in the middle of a war, so Vaike comes up with a much more reasonable wager that still arguably fits this trope: loser has to sneak behind resident badass Frederick, and pull down his pants.
  • In Fleuret Blanc, members of FOIL must wager their most prized possessions in fencing bouts. This case is actually pretty gentle by the trope's standards, as it's not permanent; prized possessions can be easily won or bought back most of the time.
  • 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.
  • In Noel The Mortal Fate, Chapter 6 revolves around Noel taking on Madame Coffin, the head of Casino Misty in a bet by gambling everything the casino offers with herself and the others at stake by settling it with Blackjack.
  • In No More Heroes III, the boss fight with Velvet Chair Girl takes the form of an absurdly high-stakes game of musical chairs. Those eliminated from play are blown away by Ohma's Gastro Cannon. When Velvet Chair Girl, herself, is eliminated, she is Driven to Suicide.
  • In Paper Mario: Color Splash, Mario competes on a Game Show called Snifit or Whiffit. If he wins, he gets the Mini Paint Star he's been looking for. Playing it perfectly also gets Mario an instant camera, which he'll need later. If he loses, the Snifits drown him in the ocean.
  • Undead Poker in Pirates of the Caribbean Online is played as part of the Raven's Cove story quest. Winning games will gain you a lot of money, as well as bringing you one step closer to entering the mines. Losing them, however, will reduce your health. HP regeneration is also disabled while in the area, so you can't cheat your way out of it by taking a breather and stepping away from the table.
  • In Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, there's a piece of cut footage, later added into the game by a paid DLC, called 21note . In this sequence, the player has to take part in three rounds of blackjack for his life. In the first round, the player loses their fingers if they lose. In the second round, they get treated to an increasingly high current of electricity. In the third round, the loser gets their face torn apart by a homemade buzzsaw.
  • 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.
  • Soul At Stake: In order to be able to play the game, the gamblers have offered up their souls.
  • 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.
  • In Undertale, Mettaton makes his bombastic introduction by having the player compete in his game show with only one rule: "Answer correctly, or you die." Answering questions wrong will result in damage. Thankfully, Alphys is standing by sneakily giving you the correct answers.
  • 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.
  • Wintermoor Tactics Club: A series of snowball fights determine which club will be allowed to stay at the titular school. First prize is one club being named the Ultimate Club. Second prize, as well as every other prize? Dissolution of the club.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! Nightmare Troubadour, losing a Shadow Game causes your soul to be lost to the darkness and you get a Game Over.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! Capsule Monster Coliseum, Yami Marik and Yami Bakura's duels are Shadow Games, which makes them deadly.

    Web Animation 

  • Collar 6: Sixx makes a bet to become a slave if she doesn't win a spanking contest.
  • Parodied in El Goonish Shive, when the prize in question is use of the original, unedited version of Star Wars on laserdisc.
  • Hardcore Leveling Warrior:
    • If Hardcore Leveling Warrior can't pay back his debt in time by collecting money in-game, he'll have his organs removed.
    • If Hardcore Leveling Warrior dies in-game for any reason, including in what is effectively a mini-game with multiple lives, his stats and level are reset to 1. Considering that Death Is a Slap on the Wrist for all other players we've seen...
  • 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. Notably, 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.
    • A more minor appearance is when Terezi takes a gamble with everyone's life on the line in [S] Flip through a coin toss.
  • 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.

    Western Animation 
  • The Adventures of Puss in Boots: In the episode "Coin Toss", Dulcinea arguably puts the 'fate of the world on the line in a final coin toss. Subverted in that said coin is a Two-Headed Coin, but Dulci was the only one who knew that.
  • Amphibia: In "Swamp and Sensibility", if Wally wins the beast-ball game, then he'll be free to leave Ribbitvale and free to be himself. If he loses, then he'll have no choice but to stay and inherit the family business.
  • 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.)
  • BoJack Horseman: In "See Mr. Peanutbutter Run", the title of Governor of California gets put up to whoever can win a downhill skiing race.
  • Dofus: Kerub's Bazaar has Kerub's adventure in Ecaflip City, a massive casino town where literally anything and everything can be wagered. Thanks to his incredible luck, he becomes wealthy enough to challenge the Baron, a legendary gambler who has never lost a game. They bet untold millions of kamas and the private belongings of kings and gods alike on a single hand of poker, but the real stakes came when the Baron raises a dofus, and Kerub calls with his engagement ring, the symbol of his and Lou's love for each other. Heartbreakingly, he loses, and Lou loses her memories of loving him.
  • Futurama:
    • The episode "Hell Is Other Robots" parodies 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. The Robot Devil's skill far outpaces Leela's, so she just beats him senseless with the golden fiddle so she, Fry, and Bender can escape.
    • Defied in "Time Keeps on Slippin'", in which the Globetrotters' challenge of a basketball game against Earth is explicitly strings-free. Everyone treats it as Serious Business anyway.
      Fry: What happens if we lose?
      Ethan "Bubblegum" Tate: Nothing! There is nothing at stake and no threat, beyond the shame of defeat.
  • In the Garfield and Friends episode "The Lasagna Zone", Garfield is playing cards against a cowboy. The stakes reach over two million dollars, plus a gold watch, the Klopman diamond, a horse, a grand piano, and the mayor of Davenport, Iowa.
  • Subverted in the King of the Hill episode "The Miseducation of Bobby Hill," when Buck Strickland loses Hank to his rival M.F. Thatherton in a poker game. Once sales at Strickland Propane falter, Buck sends Bobby to bring Hank back and pay off the bet - a measly $20.
    • Played straight in the episode "The Good Buck"; this time, Buck loses not only a pile of cash and a pair of expensive shoes but also an entire branch of Strickland Propane.
  • Love, Death & Robots: The Mon-based Beastly Bloodsports featured in "Sonnie's Edge" aren't this, despite their violent nature; they don't even use real animals, just mindless, bioengineered Meat Puppets the players control through implant chips. For the protagonist, however, it's literally a matter of life and death. Her monster is her real body and if it dies, she goes with it. This has made her into the best player ever; unlike the other contestants, she's genuinely fighting for her life every night and behaves accordingly in the ring.
  • The Penguins of Madagascar: The episode "Mr. Tux" has Private playing a mini-golf game against his old rival, the Amarillo Kid, to save the zoo (and everyone in it) from being vaporized by the thermonuclear self-destruct generator in the penguin's hideout.
  • Regular Show:
    • In 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.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In "Bart Carny", after a group of carnies start squatting the Simpsons' house and refuse to let them back in, Homer makes a wager: If he can successfully throw a hula hoop onto the house's chimney, the carnies will leave. If he fails, the carnies get the deed to the house. Subverted when it turns out to be a trap — just as it seems Homer is about to throw the hoop, he and the rest of the family immediately run back into the house and lock the carnies out.
    • "Children of a Lesser Clod" shows an out-of-context clip in which Homer bets his own baby Maggie in a card game. Moe wins the hand, saying "Come to new pappa!".
    • In "Lisa the Greek", Lisa starts watching football with Homer and turns out to have a knack for predicting winners. Homer makes a lot of money betting based on her recommendations, and the two have a lot of fun together. But when Homer inadvertently hurts her feelings just before the Super Bowl, she tells him she can't be sure if her prediction for the game is genuine, or if she's subconsciously trying to hurt him back by picking a loser. As he stressfully watches the game at Moe's, a fellow patron asks him what he has riding on the game. Homer responds "My daughter!", causing the man to whistle and admiringly say, "What a gambler!"
    • "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bangalore" makes an allusion to The Lady or the Tiger?. In the episode, Mr. Burns has transferred his plant's operations to India. Because he is required by federal law to keep at least one union worker on his payroll, Homer is sent there to oversee the plant. When Lenny and Carl go there to visit him, they meet a man who shows them two doors, telling them that Homer Simpson is behind one of the doors and that there is a tiger behind the other door. They find a tiger behind the first door they open and quickly close it. As they open the other door, they find... another tiger. Lenny and Carl are then told that one of the tigers is named "Homer Simpson".
  • 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 episode of Tutenstein involves Tut being punished by Isis for cheating in a game of senet against her. Said punishment ends up being that Tut can no longer interact with the present. The climax of this episode is Tut rematching the goddess in a high-stakes senet game so Tut could win back his future, or be permanently condemned to the underworld. This turns out to be a subversion, as the game itself turned out to be a Secret Test of Character to see if Tut would cheat once more.

    Real Life 
  • 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 (#6 killed #7 since suicide is a sin) until only Josephus remained. Although not technically a "game", the situation and his ingenious solution have been studied by mathematical game theorists for centuries. Josephus himself claimed that it was God who made him survive, but since it was Josephus who came up with this plan in the first place after Plan A (surrendering to the Romans) failed, more cynical historians and mathematicians have assumed that he figured out which person to start counting at.
  • 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 1950s.
  • 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 Australian broadcaster Kerry Packer was renowned for making outrageous wagers in general, mostly based on the outcome of a coin toss. One particular anecdote had a rich Texan bragging to him that he was worth $150 million; Packer, completely straight-faced, pulled out a coin and said "Toss you for it." (Or "Heads or tails?" according to some versions of the story.)
  • Walter Lantz is said to have won the rights to make Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoons in a poker game with Universal executives.
  • 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 blackjack 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, Schindler had the balls to chide him for not playing fair!
  • After a series of defeats, legendary judoka Masahiko Kimura swore to commit Seppuku if he lost ever again. He retired unbeaten.
  • The MS-DOS computer virus Q-CASINO.COM (demonstrated safely here) challenged the user to a slot-machine game where the stakes are the user's data — win and the virus removes itself, lose five times and your files are gone.
  • The first Space Shuttle launch abort option (Return To Launch Site, or RTLS for short) available is very risky because there are time-critical maneuvers that will result in loss of crew and vehicle if failed. Thank goodness they never used it. One of the pilots even Lampshaded this.
    "let's not practice Russian Roulette. [It's not a good idea.]"
  • In 1918 in Odessa, Ukraine, at the age of 36, Russian/Jewish chess master Ossip Bernstein was arrested by the Bolshevik secret police on a charge of "counterrevolutionary crimes" (specifically, acting as a legal advisor to the banking industry). He and several others were to be executed by firing squad, but at the last minute, a commanding officer (who was a chess player himself) recognized his name on the list of prisoners, and decided to offer him a deal: They would play a game of chess, and if Bernstein won, he would win his life and freedom, otherwise he would be shot with the rest of the prisoners. Bernstein won and was let go, and went on to live another 44 years.


Video Example(s):


Down to the Wire

Roberta challenges Bitsy to a redo of the 440 yard dash they were in as high school freshman. If she wins, Bitsy will have to return the eighth-place ribbon she should've rightfully won. If she loses, she'll seriously consider selling her newspaper to Bitsy.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / AbsurdlyHighStakesGame

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