silhouette of a man with one eye open hiding in the jungle

The Most Dangerous Game

by Richard Edward Connell

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In "The Most Dangerous Game," what are the rules of Zaroff's game?

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Apart from the "huntee" having a three-hours' head start and having a knife, there aren't any. It is an unfair advantage from the start and becomes even moreso when Zaroff gets help from his giant butler Ivan and then from his dogs.

Rainsford outwits Zaroff by jumping off a cliff and swimming back to the castle before the colonel can returns with his dogs. Zaroff presumes his prey is "lost" and will die at sea; he is shocked to find Rainsford waiting for him in his own bedroom!

Rainsford knows the "game" won't be over until he has killed Zaroff simply because there are no "rules"; the deadline of three days before his giving up won't be respected, either. 

The reader understands in the closing sentence that Rainsford has not only killed Zaroff out of self defense but that he doesn't suffer from any guilt pangs. He has saved his own life and delivered others from a depraved maniac. That's why he sleeps so well that night.

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The rules to Zaroff's game are deceptively simple. Zaroff first suggests to his victim that they go hunting. The unlucky candidate can choose not to, but if he will not take part in the game, he is turned over to Ivan, who "has his own ideas of sport". The result is that there really is no other viable option, and the victim "invariably...choose(s) the hunt".

The chosen subject is then given a supply of food and "an excellent hunting knife". He is given three hours' head start, after which Zaroff will begin his pursuit, armed "only with a pistol of the smallest caliber and range". If the victim manages to elude the hunter "for three whole days", he wins the game, and he is given his freedom, taken by sloop back to the mainland and released near a town. If he does not elude Zaroff, he "loses", and is killed.

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What are the rules General Zaroff has for his game with Rainsford in Richard Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game"?

"The Most Dangerous Game," by Richard Connell, is set on an almost-uninhabited Caribbean island. The only dwelling on the island is a castle-like mansion which belongs to General Zaroff. He is a big-game hunter who got bored with animals and has begun to hunt humans.

Rainsford is also a big-game hunter, and Zaroff has heard of him. This is good news for Zaroff but bad news for Rainsford, as the general decides he will hunt Rainsford.

The rules Zaroff outlines for Rainsford are the same as those he sets for all of the other men (sailors and others who have been lured to the island and been shipwrecked).

"It's a game, you see," pursued the general blandly. "I suggest to one of them that we go hunting. I give him a supply of food and an excellent hunting knife. I give him three hours' start. I am to follow, armed only with a pistol of the smallest caliber and range. If my quarry eludes me for three whole days, he wins the game. If I find him"--the general smiled--"he loses."

Rainsford asks the next logical question: what if a man refuses to hunt? The answer is not something Rainsford wants to hear:

"If he does not wish to hunt, I turn him over to Ivan. Ivan once had the honor of serving as official knouter to the Great White Czar, and he has his own ideas of sport. Invariably, Mr. Rainsford, invariably they choose the hunt."

Zaroff graciously gives Rainsford "hunting clothes, food, a knife." He advises Rainsford to wear moccasins (because they leave less track) and to avoid the swamp full of quicksand. Zaroff gives Rainsford his word that he will "cheerfully acknowledge myself defeated if I do not find you by midnight of the third day," said General Zaroff. "My sloop will place you on the mainland near a town." He adds that he can be trusted, since he gives his word "as a gentleman." All Rainsford has to do is agree not to mention anything about the island once he leaves.

Those are the rules and conditions of this "most dangerous game."

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What are the rules according to Zaroff in "The Most Dangerous Game"?

Zaroff's "rules" aren't exactly that -- more like general guidelines than anything else. For instance, he tells Rainsford that he will be released with only a sheath knife, and that he will not be pursued immediately. He also says that if Rainsford survives, he becomes the winner within a single day and night. We may never know if Zaroff intended to hold up his end of the bargain by releasing Rainsford or allowing him safe passage off the island, because in the end, we may infer that Zaroff is killed by Rainsford himself inside the general's own bedroom.

It is interesting to note, however, that Zaroff does display a sense of fair game or sportsmanship at least once during the game. It is near the beginning, where he tracks Rainsford to a tree that he has climbed. The general looks up, undoubtedly sees Rainsford hiding, but then decides to double back down the trail and allow Rainsford a second chance. Such behavior indicates that Zaroff has some sense of fair play, or at the very least, was seeking a greater challenge. 

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