The Stanley Random Chess Files - No. 6

That Infamous Game with the Scattered Grapefruit Peels

GM Topov's last two articles have been about the little known but brilliant Russian GM Victor Seignovich. In this article, he responds to another contribution from Matt, who submitted some comments about the scandal that occurred in the game when the Seignovich Crossfire Opening was refuted, a game famously known as the one with "the scattered grapefruit peels."

In response to the articles about GM Seignovich, Matt Damien from Finland writes:

Thank you, GM Topov, for setting the record straight on Seignovich's remarkable career. Much of what you write is complete news to me, though of course I'm familiar with the Crossfire Opening, and I had a friend who called it the "In-Seignovich" opening, though it was a few years before I read anything about Seignovich and could appreciate the homonymic implications of the epithet. If I remember correctly, my friend often responded with the "Dancing Dame Defense" (the Dandi-Ovani Defense), following the lead of Dandi-Ovani in that famous game with the scattered grapefruit peels. Back then (this was around 1997), no one seemed terribly worried about the implications of 7. a5!? in that line.

Thanks to Matt for this interesting contribution. Your friend's reference to the "In-Seignovich" Opening is certainly somewhat humorous, given Seignovich's unfortunate mental state. I always thought that the combination of his first name and middle initial was rather humorous. His parents evidentally had high expectations when they named him! Interestingly, Victor was actually the fifth of sixteen children (four of his siblings died in infancy). Victor was the name of his paternal grandfather, a much respected family figure, and so the first five children in the Seignovich family were named Victor Alyusha, Victor Borislav, Victor Constantin, Victor Dimitri, and of course the champion himself Victor Evgeny. The next child was a girl, Katya, and from that point on the parents evidently abandoned the alphabet game. Victory E's siblings did not enjoy the same success as he did. Victor A. became an engineer, but committed suicide in 1927 after a horrific train crash south of Leningrad, caused by a defective rail device that he had mis-engineered. Victor B. went on to become a general in the Red Army, but was killed in action in Poland in the Second World War. Victor C. died in infancy as a result of cholera. Victor D., a brilliant violinist, disgraced the family by seeking asylum in the United Kingdom after performing a Vivaldi concert in London while on tour with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, and developing a career in British politics. But the family made an indelible mark with GM Victor E, and to this day the Seignovich name is a household name in SR Chess clubs throughout Russia.

The infamous game with the scattered grapefruit peels certainly was scandalous, and is referred to by some SR Chess insiders as the "Peel-Gate" scandal. Unfortunately the game is better remembered for the grapefruit peels than for the "Dancing Dame Defense" (the Dandi-Ovani Defense) that was first played in that game. If I recall correctly, Dandi-Ovani was playing Scottish GM James McKinrock, who opened with Seignovich's now familiar Crossfire Opening. McKinrock was expecting the usual response, and was highly surprised when Dandi-Ovani retracted his queen in the shadow of his rook's pawn, and proceeded to launch the Serbian Catapault, by aligning three pawns together on a file in an unusual Tri-Plod formation, and then assaulting McKinrock's helpless bishops with an advanced queen by taking advantage of the complex colour weakness. It was this unusual queen maneouvering that led to the name "Dancing Dame Defense", and its success is the reason that Seignovich's Crossfire Opening is rarely played today.

The tournament was sponsored by Fruit-utopia, a company specializing in importing fruit. The sponsors had generously provided fresh fruit imported from Brazil for all the players. It is relatively well known that when Dandi-Ovani was four moves into successfully executing the "Dancing Dame Defense", McKinrock suddenly realized that because his rooks were fatally tied to the d-link of union on the d file, his king would be the victim of a forced checkmate in 3 after his opponent's queen had secured the anchor point on the dark square. At this point McKinrock was so disgusted with himself that he took his bowl of refreshments and scattered their remaining contents (mostly grapefruit peels) across the board, with chess pieces flying across the room as a result.

The full story of the Peel-Gate scandal is recounted by GM Volga Sharpinksi in the "Exhaustive Pictorial Encyclopedia of Russian SR Chess: An Random Adventure of Memorable Stanley Moments". Volume 3 of this excellent encyclopedia (unfortunately only available in Russian and a rather poor German translation) covers the pre-war period, and has twenty pages devoted to the tournament where this unfortunate incident happened. What is not that well known, it seems, are the remarks that Dandi-Ovani made to McKinrock to inspire this outburst. McKinrock, who was wearing a traditional Scottish kilt at the time, was apparently offended when Dandi-Ovani began making underhanded comments about real men not wearing kilts and his well-reputed fondness for quiche. It has to be admitted that McKinrock looked rather ridiculous playing SR Chess in his native costume and that kilts have more often been the subject of questionable humor. But such remarks were certainly inappropriate at tournament game between professional players. The food fight that followed was one of the lowest moments of SR Chess, particularly when some spectators over-reacted and took the opportunity to join McKinrock's assault against Dandi-Ovani, using some less-than-fresh strawberries. A full-scale riot nearly eventuated when one of these fruity projectiles crashed into the balding dome of the tournament organizer, Maxime La-Pierre, who was just entering the room at that moment. SR Chess took severals years to regain the respectability lost as a result of this debacle. McKinrock himself never recovered from the emotional distress of his loss, and aside from a life long aversion to grape-fruit and strawberries, soon abandoned SR Chess altogether and began a rather unsuccessful career as a chimney sweep. It's unfortunate that the unpleasant incident with the grapefruit peels overshadowed the brilliance of Dandi-Ovani's refutation of the Crossfire Opening with the novel "Dancing Dame Defense."

As an aside, not only is Sharpinski's book a highly entertaining work, it also gives tremendous insight into the goings-on in the upper echelons of SR Chess society (no true SR Chess fan can afford to miss the priceless account of the post-match celebrations that followed the 1956 Berlin Invitational, an incident involving a legendary GM in a clown costume, a garden rake, three pails of red paint, and a swimming pool.)

SR Chess GM Gregory Topov

GM Topov is a world renowned grandmaster in Stanley Random Chess, who has received international acclaim for his articles about the latest developments in the world of SR Chess.

Posted Wednesday - 2004-03-17 - 11:23:12 EST
by Staff Reporter Verdra H. Ciretop in Toronto
All Rights Unreserved - Loof Lirpa Publishing
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