The action takes place in St. Petersburg in the late XVIII century.
Petersburg. On the sun-drenched alleys of the Summer Garden many people walking, children playing in the care nannies and governesses. Surin and Chekalinsky talk about his friend Herman all night long, grim and silent, he spends in the gambling house, but does not touch the cards. Strange behavior surprised Herman and Count Tomsky. He opens the German secret: he was passionately in love with a beautiful stranger, but it is rich, noble and can not belong to him. To friends joined Prince Yeletsky. He tells about his upcoming marriage. Accompanied by the old Countess Lisa approaches in which Herman learns his chosen, in desperation, he makes sure that Lisa - Bride Yeletsky. At the sight of a dark figure Herman, his gaze afire ominous foreboding cover of the Countess and Lisa. Painful numbness dissipates Tomsk. He tells an anecdote about a secular Countess. In the days of her youth she once lost in Paris all his fortune. The price of love appointment young beauty learned the secret of the three cards, and put on them, returned a loss. Surin and Chekalinsky decide to make fun of Germany - they offer him find the old woman the three cards. But the thought of Hermann absorbed Lisa. Storm begins. In the stormy passion Herman Lisa vows to achieve love or die. Lisa`s room. Evening. Saddened by his girlfriend girls entertained Russian dance. Left alone, the night Lisa confides that he loves Herman. Herman suddenly appears on the balcony. He admits to Lisa passionately in love. A knock at the door interrupts a date. Includes the Old Countess. Hiding behind the curtain Herman remembers the three cards. After the departure of the Countess of lust for life and love with a new force is awakened in him. Lisa covered reciprocal feeling.
Masquerade Ball in the house of the rich capital dignitary. Prince Yeletsky, alarmed by the coldness of the bride, assures her of his love and devotion. Among the guests of Herman. Disguised Chekalinsky and Surin continue to make fun of a friend, and their mysterious whispering about magic cards depressing effect on his troubled imagination. Presentation begins - Pastorale `Sincerity shepherdess.` At the end of presentation Herman faces the old Countess, again the thought of wealth, which offer three cards, possession Herman. Received from Lisa keys to a secret door, he decides to find out the secret of the old woman.
Night. Empty bedroom Countess. Includes German, he anxiously peering at the portrait of Countess in his youth, but when he heard footsteps approaching, hiding. Accompanied by the retainers back Countess. Unhappy with a ball, she reminisces about the past and falls asleep. Suddenly appears in front of her German. He pleads with the three cards. But the old Countess was silent. Enraged German threatens gun; frightened old woman falls down dead. Herman is in despair. Close to madness, he can not hear reproaches come running to the sound of Lisa. Only one thought holds it: The Countess is dead and the secrets he had learned.
Herman room in the barracks. Late evening. Herman thoughtfully read the letter from Lisa: she asks him to come at midnight on a date. Herman once again facing the incident, his imagination get up scenes of death and funeral of an old woman. In the howling wind he heard a doleful song. Herman terrified. He wants to run, but he imagining ghost Countess. She calls cherished us: `Three, seven, ace.` Herman repeats them as in delirium.
Winter Canal. Here Lisa is due to meet with Herman. She wants to believe that a loved one is not guilty of the death of the Countess. The tower clock strikes midnight. Lisa loses all hope. Finally there Herman. Seized manic idea of winning, he mechanically repeats the words of love for Lisa. From his disjointed story horrified Lisa becomes convinced that he is a murderer old woman. In a fit of madness pushes Lisa Herman and shouting: `In the gambling house` - escapes. In desperation, Lisa rushes into the water.
Gambling house. The game is. Herman, one by one puts two cards, called the Countess, and wins. All stunned. Flushed with victory, Herman puts at stake the whole gain. Calling Herman takes Prince Yeletsky. Herman announces ace, but instead of an ace in his hand is the queen of spades. In a frenzy he looks at the map, it fancies him devilish grin old Countess. In a fit of madness, he commits suicide. At the last minute in the mind of Herman, a bright image of Lisa. With her name on his lips, he dies.
Premiere - in St. Petersburg at the Mariinsky Theatre 7 (19) December 1890