"The Bet" opens with a banker's recollection of a party he had hosted fifteen years earlier. It is clear that he is proud of the collection of various professions and personalities which attended this fateful gathering. The guests were "clever" and engaged in interesting and scholarly conversations. The guest list included many "scholars and journalists," academically-minded individuals whom the banker surely included for their ability to engage in meaningful dialogue. Thus, the banker had structured the party to be an event of discourse, hoping to engage his guests through rich and profound thinking.
One of these guests is a lawyer who is around twenty-five years old. The conversation among the guests turns to a debate about capital punishment. Most of the scholars and journalists disapprove its use, believing that it is "immoral" and that life imprisonment is the more fitting punishment of a "Christian state." The lawyer comments that both are "equally immoral" but that he would choose life imprisonment if given the choice because any life is better than no life at all.
This angers the banker, who loses his temper in front of his guests and calls the lawyer a liar. They wager two million rubles in front of this assembled group of guests, betting on whether the lawyer will ultimately be able to live in solitary confinement for fifteen years. Although the banker prides himself on the intellect of his guests, his reaction seems to indicate that he expects that these guests will agree with his own point of view on debatable issues.