A summer park in St.Petersburg full of children and their nursemaids playing. Surin and Chekalinsky are discussing the strange behaviour of their comrade Herman: he seems obsessed with the gaming table but never bets himself. Herman enters accompanied by his friend Tomsky and confesses the passion he feels for a beautiful stranger whose name he does not even know. When Prince Yeletsky strolls into the park, Chekalinsky congratulates him on his recent engagement. Yeletsky declares his happiness and points out his fiancée, Lisa, who has just appeared with her grandmother, the old Countess.
Catching sight of Herman, the two women note him staring at them with frightening intensity. Tomsky entertains his friends with a peculiar story about the Countess: once, in her youth when living in Paris, she lost all her property in cards. In return for her favours for one night, Count St. Germain gave her the secret of the three cards, which would win her a fortune. Later on, she revealed the secret to her husband and to a young lover, but her dreams warned her that she would die when a third man, very much in love, tried to force the winning formula out of her. Herman is fascinated by the story. Musing on the magical three cards, the others lightly suggest that such a combination would solve Herman's problems. Threatened by an approaching thunderstorm all leave except Herman who in a flash of passion vows to win Lisa's love or die.
In the evening twilight Lisa has gathered with her girlfriends in her room. Polina sings Lisa's favourite ballad trying to cheer up her pensive friend. It is late and the girls have to leave. Alone, Lisa expresses the anguish she feels - in spite of the former joy at being betrothed to her fiancé, she has been stirred by the romantic look of the young man in the park. All of a sudden Herman appears on the balcony and declares his Love for Lisa and Lisa does not pretend to be indifferent to him. The conversation is interrupted by the old Countess knocking at the door. Lisa hides Herman and opens the door to the old lady.
A masked ball at a nobleman's mansion in St. Petersburg. Yeletsky alarmed by her sadness reassures her of his love. Surin and Chekalinsky make fun of Herman who is consumed by his desire to learn the secret of the three cards. Herman is agitated - the talk of his comrades kindles his fantasies even more. Suddenly he sees the old Countess the sight of which gives rise to terrible thoughts. Then Lisa appears and slips Herman the key to her grandmother's room, from where he can get to her own one. Thinking fate is handing him the Countess' secret, wealth and a happy future with Lisa, he leaves.
Herman slips into the Countess' room and looks in fascination at her portrait as a young woman and feels attracted to it by a secret power. The Countess and her attendants unexpectedly enter. The old lady nostalgically reminiscences on her youth in France and falls asleep. As she dozes off, Herman stands before her. She awakens in horror as he pleads with her to tell him her secret. When she remains speechless, he grows desperate and threatens her with a pistol - at which she dies of fright. Lisa rushes in, only to learn that the lover to whom she gave her heart was more interested in the Old Countess' secret. She orders him out and falls sobbing.
In his room at the barracks Herman reads a letter from Lisa, who has forgiven him and invites him to meet her. He imagines he hears the chorus chanting at the Old Countess' funeral. Suddenly the old woman's ghost appears, announcing that Herman must marry Lisa and then he will win betting on three cards - three, seven and ace. Dazed, Herman repeats the three cards like incantation - three, seven, ace.
Lisa waits for Herman to rethink the events of the recent days. She is torn by doubts and uncertainty: it is already near midnight and Lisa is losing hope to see her beloved. At last he appears, excitedly speaking about his love and a pile of gold... He urges the girl to join him to the gambling house and failing to persuade her he rushes away alone. Realizing that all is lost, she kills herself.
At a gambling house, the players are entertaining themselves. Tomsky sings a jolly song. As the merriment increases, Herman arrives. Two times playing on high stakes he wins. When Herman plays the third time va banque Yeletsky accepts his challenge to bet on the next round and instead of the lucky ace, Herman finds in his hands the Queen of Spades. Herman seem to recognise the old Countess' features in the Queen's face. Driven completely mad, Herman fatally injures himself. Regaining consciousness for the last time he asks Yeletsky for his forgiveness and declares his love for Lisa. With words - " Beauty! Goddess! Angel!" Herman dies.