Sarah's Chess Journal

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         The History and The Culture of Chess

 The Invention of Petroff and Other Stories


August 2006

 Thanks to WilhelmThe2nd  from  - I gleaned the following from our discussions and his untiring contributions concerning Prince Dadian of Mingrelia and particularly the Kiev connection.

The Marabou Stork  [Leptoptilos crumeniferus, or Marabu in German]
stands about 5 feet tall, weighs around 20 pounds and sports a 9.5 feet wingspan. Considered one of the world's ugliest birds, this African carrion and scavenger, once a scarcity, owes its population boom to the rubbish and trash that has abounded with the increased, and wasteful, population growth of the 20th century.

It loves the arid climates but lives on the savannahs close to rivers and lakes. Hanging around with vultures, it will often frequent fishing villages and slaughterhouse and trash dumps.

When necessary or simply convenient, the Marabou Stork will treat itself to live rodents, snakes and smaller birds.


                                                                                                                                                      Alexander  Kuprin        

Alexander Ivanovich Kuprin, an almost-forgotten, but far-from-minor Russian writer, chose the Marabou Stork as the title of  his 1909 short story story,  Marabu, based on the legendary Warsaw Café of turn-of-the-century Kiev.

 And so here one day, loafing, I strayed across a large dark cafe, I frightened off the doorman’s drowsiness in the first room and passed further in, to a door, from which emanated the caustic smell of tobacco and bad coffee. Having entered into the small,
neglected, poorly illuminated room, I made one step and stopped, defeated. Among clouds of smoke, at a mass of yellowed, marble tables there sat strange taciturn figures and, long noses lowered down at the tables, they thought. The hunched shoulders, the strange collars in the shape of a shaggy pelerines and the heavy, gloomy expressions - all this strongly reminded me of a row of the same birds with long noses, with collars around their long naked necks, sitting with the very same foolish, sad look – the Marabou bird.

Now, it so happens that Kuprin was friends with Fyodor Ivanovich Duz-Chotimirsky, a one-time friend and later detractor of Prince Dadian.  According to my staid correspondent:

In his autobiography, Duz-Chotimirsky tells of being rejected when he applied to study Astronomy. He met Alexander Kuprin, a friend of his, who tried to console him saying that chess was a noble game with infinite possibilities. Duz-Chotimirsky adds, sarcastically, that Kuprin had obviously forgotten about his story "Marabou" where he describes chessplayers as a flock of marabou birds.

          Alexandre Dimitrievitch Petroff


So, what has all this got to do with Alexandre Dimitrievitch Petroff (Petrov)?
Not a thing, other than Petroff was the first great Russian chess player and that  the following refers to him and to Prince Dadian.

According to an old Canadian periodical, Checkmate:A Monthly Chess Chronicle (Vol.2, #6, March, 1903, pg.127)

Notes by the Way

    It was one of Anderssen's favorite jokes (so his pupil Zukertort related) to express doubts whether the famous Russian chess player Petroff really existed. "Who ever saw him?" the Professor exclaimed. " All his published games are with persons unknown: he was invented by the Russians to give themselves a great master."
    Similarly, one has heard playful doubts about the mysterious prince Dadian of Mingrelia, who publishes brilliancies against otherwise unknown performers at regular intervals. Can there be a syndicate for the production of Mingrelian games? But perhaps he is real: and the courtiers around the Mingrelian throne (-where is Mingrelia?) are compelled to play weak moves until the proper sacrificial opportunity comes to their sovereign. Ave, Caesar, mataturi te salutant.*  A good composer of sui-mates should make his fortune in Mingrelia, and might become a court favorite.

*Ave, Caesar, morituri  te salutant
Hail, Caesar, we who are about to die salute you.
[- SBC]

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