Traditional Games in Russia

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson goes over some of the many traditional games played in Russia. Some have to do with cards and others with sharp objects. All are well-known to Russians and will be to you as well by the end of this lesson.


It's known for borscht, vodka and for often being a very cold place. It's Russia, the largest country in the world. It also has a large selection of traditional games which children, adults or both can play. This lesson goes over some of these games. It doesn't cover sports like hockey, for which Russia is well known. This lesson focuses on some of the games that have become part of Russian tradition, including some that have been around for centuries.

Cards & Chess

Perhaps the most famous traditional Russian card game still played extensively is durak. It's pronounced closer to ''doo-rock'' in English and means, basically, ''fool.'' This card game has many different small variations that can be agreed upon by the players before starting play. In sum, cards that are labeled 2-5 are not used. Only aces, the face cards, and cards numbered 6-10 are used, and the aces are the highest-ranking cards.

The point of the game is to avoid being the last person to have cards left in his or her hand. You do this by getting rid of cards with each turn and by avoiding any cards another player gives you by ''beating'' them with higher cards of the same suit or the trump suit. If you can't beat them, you have to take them into your hand. If you are the last person left with cards in your hand, you are the fool.

But the next game, a traditional part of Russian culture, is by no means for the foolish. It's chess. This lesson won't go into the rules of chess, as those are pretty well-known. But Russia is certainly well-known for it. Considered by many to be the greatest chess player who has ever lived, Garry Kasparov represented the Soviet Union and Russia for much of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. Russians are also very fond of playing checkers, although the style they play it in is a bit different than that which is played in the U.S.

Games With Sticks

Another game that's traditionally a part of Russian culture is gorodki, which is pronounced roughly as ''gah-rah-dki.'' It means ''little towns.'' If you think that the game involves building little towns, you're halfway there. It's also about destroying them. This game is part bowling and part horseshoes. People build little structures out of wooden blocks and then throw wooden sticks at them to try and knock down the structures.

Men playing gorodki.

If gorodki is like bowling, then lapta is closer to cricket or baseball, but far older. The word lapta means ''bat.'' It is pronounced sort of like ''lah-ptah,'' with an accent on the last ''a.'' The game uses a bat or wooden paddle similar to those found in baseball or cricket, and a ball the size of a tennis ball or baseball. One team stands in the field waiting to catch the ball. The other team hits the ball as it is thrown vertically in front of them to be hit into the outfield. The player who hits the ball needs to run to the other side of the field and back before being touched by the ball (now in the hands of the opposing team).

Hide And Seek Games

If you've ever played cops and robbers, then you will be familiar with the traditional Russian version of this game called Cossacks and Robbers. The games is played with two teams, one representing the Cossacks and the other the robbers. The robbers are given a period of time to run away from the Cossacks, who aren't allowed to look. The robbers must place obvious signs with chalk onto trees, benches, roads and other landmarks indicating where they went, although they should try to do so in a confusing manner. After the set time has elapsed, the Cossacks run off looking for clues to try and find and then catch the robbers.

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