Alexei, 25-year-old home teacher, with the family of an elderly General Zagoryansky - stepdaughter Pauline and two small children - live in a luxury hotel on the German resort Roulette burg. Yet in Russia, General laid his estate to a certain Marquis de Grieux, and for six months looks forward to news from Moscow about the death of his sick aunt Antonida Tarasevicheva. Then Marquis de Grieux will take over the general’s property, and the latter will receive a large inheritance, and marries a beautiful young Frenchwoman mademoiselle Blanche, who he is passionately in love with. The French, in anticipation of big money, are always near the general, who is a simple-minded man, also subjected to strong passions. Alexei they all treat almost as a servant, which greatly hurts his pride. Russian teacher is in friendship only with the Englishman Astley, aristocrat and rich, extremely honest, noble and chaste man. Both of them are in love with Pauline.
About two months ago, this beautiful and proud girl wished to make Alexei her friend. Between them established a unique relationship of a "slave" and a "torturer." An educated gentleman, but without funds, Alexey is hurt by his dependent position - so love for an arrogant and brusque Pauline often mixes with hatred. Young teacher is convinced that only money can bring him the respect of others, including his girlfriend, "Money - is everything!" The only way of finding it is winning at roulette. Pauline also needs the money, but for unclear for Alexei purposes. She does not believe in the seriousness of his love, perhaps because his too developed ego, sometimes amounting to cruel desire to kill the scoffer. Yet, at the whim of his lady, the teacher makes antics: insults while walking Prussian baronial couple Vurmergelmov.
In the evening the scandal bursts. Baron asked the general to deprive of the place the daring "servant." He rudely scolds Alexei. On his part, the latter is resented by the fact that the General took responsibility for his actions: he is "a person legally competent." Fighting for his dignity, even in the "disadvantaged position" of a teacher, he is behaving provocatively, and it really ends with his dismissal. However, the general somehow is scared by the intention of the former teacher to talk with Baron himself. He sends to Alexei de Grieux with a request to leave his venture. Seeing Alexei persistence, the Frenchman goes to the threats, and then passes a note from Pauline, which says him to stop. The "slave" obeys, but is puzzled by the influence of de Grieux on Pauline.
Astley, who the hero reveals about what has happened, explains the matter. It turns out that two years ago Mlle Blanche has spent the season in Roulette burg. Abandoned by her lovers, without money, she tried her fate unsuccessfully on the roulette wheel. Then she decided to charm Baron, for which, on the complaint of the baroness to the police, was expelled from the city. Now, trying to become the general's wife, Blanche has to avoid attention of Vurmergelmov. Continuation of the scandal is undesirable.
Returning to the hotel, Alexei in amazement sees on the porch grandmother just arrived from Russia, whose death in waited in vain by the general and French. This is a 75-year-old formidable and rich landowner and a Moscow lady, in a chair with paralyzed legs, with coarse manners. Her arrival is a disaster for everyone, a direct and sincere, the old woman immediately denies the general with money for his attitude. The story of Alexei and Prussian baron she judges from the standpoint of Russian national dignity: "do not know how to support their homeland." She is disturbed by unenviable fate of Pauline and general’s children; servant for the patriarchal lady also is a "living person". Disliked the French, she praised Astley.
Wanting to explore the local attractions, the grandmother tells Alexei to carry her to the roulette, where in frenzy is starting to make bets and wins a substantial amount.
General and the French are afraid that the grandmother will lose their future inheritance: they beg Alexei to distract the old woman from the game. However, the same evening she is again in the casino. At this time the eccentric Muscovite loses all available money and part of the securities. Repenting her levity she intends to build a church in Moscow and commands to go immediately to Russia. But twenty minutes before the train she changes plans, she wants to win back. Alexei refuses to accompany her to the roulette table. During the evening and the next day the grandmother loses almost all her fortune.
De Grieux leaves the town; Blanche knocks the general away, no longer even recognizing him when they meet. Out of desperation he almost loses his mind.
Finally the old woman goes to Russia on the borrowed at Astley money. She still has immovable properties, and she calls to Moscow Pauline.
In the evening Alexei finds in his room Pauline. She shows him a farewell letter to De Grieux. Between her and the Frenchman there was a connection, but without grandmother's inheritance prudent "Marquis" refuses to marry. However, he returned General embedded fifty thousand francs - own money of Pauline. Proud, she wants to throw it in a face of de Grieux these fifty thousand. Alexei should get this money.
The hero rushes to the gambling hall. Happiness smiles at him, and he soon brings in a huge amount - two hundred thousand francs. Back in the casino the former teacher felt horrible delight of luck, victory, power. Game of the means of self-affirmation and service for the beloved turns him into an independent, all-consuming passion. Even in the presence of Pauline player cannot take his eyes off the brought in a pile of tickets and gold. Girl is hurt by the fact that for Alexei, as well as for de Grieux, other interests are more important than the love for her. Arrogant woman refuses to accept the gift of fifty thousand and spends the night with him. On the morning throws banknotes into the lover's face and runs away.
Unselfish Astley shelters sick Pauline, and blames Alexei for failing to understand her internal drama and the inability to true love.
The same day, Blanche easily seduces grown rich Russian and goes with him to Paris. Having seized his money, and to acquire a name and a title marries just arrived here general. He agrees on the most miserable role in prudent and profligate Frenchwoman’s life. Three weeks later, Alexei, without regret about wasted money, leaves the lover and goes to Hamburg.
More than one and a half year he wanders gambling through German cities, sometimes sinking to the service in the varnish and in prison for outstanding debt.
And now an unexpected meeting in Hamburg with Astley happens, who sought out Alexei on behalf of Pauline, who lives in Switzerland with relatives. The hero learns about the death of grandmother in Moscow and of general in Paris, and most importantly - about Pauline’s love. It turns out that he was wrong thinking that she loved de Grieux. Astley considers his friend, a "dead man", not able, because of his Russian nature, resist destructive passions.