Three players compete. Each of the game's two rounds begin with host Tomarken reading the contestants a series of questions. For each question, a player has the opportunity to buzz in and answer the question independently. When that happens, that answer and two other choices are given to the two other players to choose from. Buzzing in with the correct answer earns that player three "Spins" in the second half of the round; answering off the choices earns the contestant one spin. If nobody buzzes in, three choices are given to the players for one spin.
In the second - and easily more memorable - part of the round, each player uses the spins they earned in the first half on a large board. The board had 18 spaces, each shuffling their contents with money, prizes, board directions, or "Whammies". As the board operated, a frame of light "randomly" moved around the board, to be stopped when the player hit his/her buzzer. Landing on money or a prize added that amount of money or the value of the prize to the player's score. Stopping on a board direction meant the frame moved to the appropriate space on the board ("Advance two spaces", "Pick a Corner", etc.) Hitting a Whammy forfeited the player's entire score.
During the game, a player had the opportunity to pass his/her remaining spins to the opponent with the highest score: Passed spins had to be played no matter what (unless a Whammy was hit on one of those spins, at which point the Passed spins were transferred to the "Earned" tally). If a contestant landed on a fourth Whammy, he/she was eliminated from the game. The player with the most money after two rounds won the game, kept his/her booty, and returned the next day (up to 3 days or until over $25,000 was won).
Press Your Luck is probably best known for its excitable contestants, many of whom pleaded to the board, saying "Big Bucks! No Whammies! I want money and a spin! Come on money and a spin!" until the buzzer was slammed, accompanied by the player screaming "STOP!!"
Perhaps the most legendary contestant in early game show history was Michael Larsen. Larsen discovered that the patterns the light frame bounced in were hardly random - in fact, there were only 6 different combinations used over and over. Using this to his advantage, he ran amuck in his game, almost always stopping on spaces that earned money and an additional spin. His game was the only one to require two episodes to play out in its entirety, and Larsen wound up winning $110,237. Sadly, he lost much of the money due to bad real estate ventures. Larsen passed away in 1999.