What was the bet in Anton Chekhov's "The Bet"?

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sciftw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The bet is between the lawyer and the banker. The subject matter of their bet is over the morality of the death penalty. The banker believes the death penalty is more humane than life in prison, but the lawyer disagrees. The lawyer believes life in prison is a more humane option because he believes that some life is better than no life. He then says, 

The death sentence and the life sentence are equally immoral, but if I had to choose between the death penalty and imprisonment for life, I would certainly choose the second. To live anyhow is better than not at all.

The banker then bets the lawyer 2 million rubles that the lawyer couldn't stay in solitary confinement for 5 years. The lawyer agrees to the bet, but oddly increases his confinement time to 15 years for no increase in possible winnings. The bet begins at noon the following day.