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Sep 24, 2010, 6:15 PM 5

When I lost my chess site, most of my postings were recreated at :
while my Paul Morphy site was recreated at :

Some pages, however, didn't make the transition. I noticed in the Georgia (USA) chess bulletin for March/April 2010 that my article on Alexander Kuprin's short, short story on chess called Marabou was more or less used by Inga Gurevich for a similar article.  This is great and she provided a citation, which is even nicer, but the link she provided is to a page that no longer exists and didn't make the transition either. However she also links to a related article I published in my blog here at chess.com called The Famous Warsaw Café of Kiev .  Since Marabou didn't make the transition, I thought I might re-publish it here.


Alexander Kuprin - 1901

by Alexander Kuprin

(translated from the original Russian by by WilhelmThe2nd)

I had traveled all over Sweden, Norway, toured Germany, roamed England, sauntered the dirty streets of Rome for a long time and, at last, after two years of wanderings, arrived again in Russia. I was free as a savage then, unconnected with anyone, very often hungry, loitering about the streets of a big southern city, breathing a full breast and smiling affably at the sky and the sun. So here one day, idling, I came across a big dark cafe, I frightened off the doorman’s sleepiness in the first room and passed further in, to a door, from which the caustic smell of tobacco smoke and bad coffee emanated.

After entering into the small, neglected, badly illuminated room, I made one step and stopped, amazed. Among clouds of smoke, at a mass of yellowed, marble tables sat strange taciturn figures and, lowering their long noses to the tables, they thought. The bent shoulders, the strange collars in the form of shaggy pelerines and the pompous gloomy looks - all this surprisingly reminded me of a number of the same birds with long beaks, with collars around long naked necks, sitting with the same foolish-sad looks- the Marabou bird.
- Marabou! - I gaily and affably exclaimed.
The figures did not stir, but from out of the cloakroom came the somber doorman, resembling also, for some reason, a second-hand Marabou and with a hoarse voice he answered:
- There are none here!
- Who are not here? The Marabou?
- Exactly. We all know of them. But they are not here.
I was unusually cheerful. I approached a long-nosed, dusty old man who hid his stooped shoulders in the swollen collar of a coat, and slapped him on the shoulder, kicking up a column of dust, and loudly yelled into his ear:
The old man moved away fearfully, looking at me with faded eyes and, having shifted them over to his neighbor, squealed:
- Go away!
All of the Marabou, except the doorman, sat at the chessboards. Some people did not play, but sat at the sides of the players, also stooped, nodding their long noses and unblinkingly watched the yellow and ebony pieces which were arranged in strange combinations which were unintelligible to me.
- Marabou, - I burst out laughing. – Ha-Ha! Marabou!
After England, Italy- all wide, boundless light and open space, this dark room filled by silent, hunched birds with long lowered beaks, in clouds of gray, fetid smoke seemed incredibly strange and wild to me, as though made-up. I took a free chair, squeezed myself between two smoky spectators and buried my nose in the board with finely-molded pieces and tried to imagine myself also a Marabou bird for a few minutes. I knew from hearsay that there are queens, knights, rooks and pawns, and by a strange habit, born of idleness, of reading through any nonsense on the last pages of newspapers, I had often looked through the chess columns which mystified me, I kept in my memory that almost all games began with the mysterious move: Pawn e2 - e4.
One of the players, amid the silence, quietly raised a hand and moved a small piece forward one square...
All spectators and the opponent stirred raptly, and I, blinking an eye critically, loudly said:
-What a move!
And they all slowly turned up their noses at me, the neck of one of the players even seemed to creak as it turned.
- Marabou! – I declared. - You made a bad move.
-Would you be so kind as not to make loud remarks and not give advice, - one of the players squeaked plaintively.
- It is insulting to me, that this gentleman has made a move which in six moves will bring great harm to him!
-Keep quiet!
- To me that is quite... I shall keep quiet...
And again a deathly silence hung above the small yellow marble tables.
At the next little table one of the players lifted a yellow hand, crooked as the paw of a Marabou, and pushed some piece. It was necessary for me to interfere there also.
- My God!.. - I exclaimed in horror. – What is he doing! What is this man doing?!
- Do not interfere! Do you really not know that strangers have no right to interfere in a game?
- In a game? I know it - in a game. But this? Can this really be called a game? It’s a disgrace!
- Be quiet.
- I am silent.
The room seemed to me a big cemetery. The dead had come out of their graves and started a terrible, silent game that they had hidden in their collars.
- Marabou! – I declared.- You think too much for such an awful game. You should be more cheerful!.. Well, old fellow, why did you, for example, make that move? You needed to put the knight right here. One of the players nervously rocked his head, and another, making a move, objected irritably:
- How can it be put there? Indeed, it will be killed by a pawn!
- Let it. Who cares!
-Perhaps it is not important to you, but I will lose a knight for nothing.
- No, not for nothing. After ten moves you will have a huge advantage in position. This gambit was in Professor Lobachevsky's own variation.
- Well, I don’t look that far...
- What’s the point.
One of those who followed the game with curiosity glanced at me and said:
- Here, there is a table that is free... Would you like to play a game with me?
Incited by the unruly demon of prank, I lifted my head pompously and said:
- If you play the same as these gentlemen, I refuse.
- Why?
- Because with people who sew boots, I have very specific relations: I only order footwear from them and I do not engage in any other games! However, to entertain myself, I shall show you this game: let the ten best players play against me simultaneously on ten boards. It won’t be much work for me to come out the winner...
My interlocutor looked at me dumbfounded and, having shuddered, asked:
- Tell me ... What is your surname?
- You see...For the time being I would not like to reveal my surname for reasons of a delicate nature.
- And you suggest playing with ten of our players simultaneously?..
- Certainly.
- But are you aware that some of them have taken prizes in competitions in St. Petersburg?
I shrugged my shoulders and answered in a tone of incredible contempt and arrogance:
- Oh! This is entirely unimportant to me.
In these last words I was perfectly sincere: I was really indifferent about it. The gentleman who spoke to me rose and began to clap his hands loudly. The Marabou began to stir, lifting their noses.
- Gentlemen! This young man here proposes to play with ten players simultaneously!
- Even with twelve, - I said indifferently.
All of them started to move. Many of the players stood up and approached closer to me, staring at my face with wild amazement.
- Who is this? – asked one old man, having fixed me with a look dimmed by the years and chess.
- Are not all equal? A player!..
- And you will play simultaneously against twelve?
- Add players such as your champions to those, - I said contemptuously, crossing my arms across my chest.
Several men among those playing wrote down their games, conversed in whispers and, having approached me, declared:
- We agree!
The room took on a lively air. All the Marabou abandoned their little tables, extended from their collars their long naked necks, slammed them in again and started running about... from somewhere appeared a sheet of paper, and on it some of the Marabou started to write their surnames with hooked hands. I sat at one of the little tables, surrounded closely by the agitated, chattering crowd, and indifferently smoked a cigarette, casting glances at the ceiling. To the side some person fussed, occupied with devising one common table and installing twelve boards. Some young man in a red tie, obviously an unskilled, poor player, inspected all the boards with superstitious horror and having approached me, sympathetically, with moist eyes, shook my hand.
- Good-bye, - I said simply.
- No, not good-bye... But I very much sympathize with you... One against twelve! This is brilliant! Will you really win?
I slapped him on the shoulder in a friendly manner.
- It is nothing, old boy, cheer up. This business is not as terrible as you think. What, gentlemen, is it ready?
- It is ready. Players, I ask you to take your places. Welcome, Sir!
The role of arbiter was taken up by the old man with the dim eyes. He seated the players on one side of table, and me on the other side, where there were no chairs.
- If you please! It will be necessary for you to walk, following the moves, from this end to this one.
- I do not want to, - I answered proudly. - I will play without looking at the boards. - And I departed to the most distant corner of the room.
The twelve selected Marabou sat down, like trained birds, strictly in a row and now fixed their professional, severe noses at the boards.
- The first move is yours, Sir. - The dim old man addressed me.
It seemed to me, that my joke was finished. The Marabou, as I had desired, had been brought out of their dreamy state. But how I was to take my leave of them, - I could not devise. In reserve I had the first move which had remained in my memory from the mysterious newspaper chess columns, and I imperiously exclaimed:
- Gentlemen! The first move: e two - e four. I ask you to make it for me.
Twelve hands rose to the pieces, and twelve pieces on twelve boards were advanced two squares forward. And the rough and thin voice of the first opponent on the right began to creak: “e7 - e5”. I looked closely from afar at the boards and, having understood nothing, I became thoughtful. It seemed that it was already time for me to take flight. But, ironically shrugging my shoulders, I decisively declared:
- b one - b three...
All eyes rose to me, astonished.
- Possibly you wished to say: b one - c three?
- I want to say that I consider it mandatory, - I said coldly through clenched teeth.
- But such a move cannot occur!.. The Knight cannot be advanced along a straight line!
I smiled poisonously.
- Yes? Do you believe so? And do you not know of the Marabou Gambit?
The room began to hoot:
- There is no such gambit!
- Re-a-ll-y-?.. You here sit in this nasty, sooty smoke-hole and, having forgotten everything of daylight, you have in dull stagnation given up as a bad job all the gains made lately in this great, clever, noble, truly royal game, called chess...
- He is a madman, - said someone from the corner.
- A madman! - I cried angrily, jumping up madly. - Yes! At all times, in all cases, all innovators, inventors, prophets, martyrs of science, philosophers were called madmen. But what has this changed? Has progress been stopped? The Eiffel tower still shines an unattainable height, and subways ever more and more enmesh the earth's crust with an iron net. I assert that the Marabou gambit exists! It permits moving the knight along a straight line, and if you refuse to recognize it, I shall throw in your face a public, loud accusation: gloomy moles, concealed cowards, owls, frightened of a fresh stream of air and a sheaf of sunlight which has rushed in my person into this dead, thickening atmosphere of decay and ashes! No! Enough!... To the outside!
Among indignant shouts and cries of dozens of voices I easily and coolly approached the cloakroom and put on my coat. Several Marabou jumped around me, swinging their hands like wings, and squealing with rusty voices, but I paid no attention to them, put on my hat, severely and quietly straightened it and slowly passed through the gloomy, dark room usually populated by strange, dozing humanoid birds which had now been sent into a stormy, indescribable frenzy.
The fresh air of the street lovingly accepted me and, blinking delightedly, I began to laugh to the high sun.

'Published in Ogonyok  (No.49) on December 5th, 1909.

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 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 dow
n 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 (both of whom played at the Warsaw Café).  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.

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