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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

What's Your Sign? Pisces, Domino?

The fervent players chose Feb. 20, the first day of Pisces, to launch their Domino Lovers Association. The day also happened to be a Thursday, which is "fish day" in Russia, a traditional day for consuming seafood. The day would be auspicious for the game lovers, organizers reasoned, because Pisces is a patron of gamblers. Furthermore, in dominos, fish, or ryba, refers to the crucial checkmate move that ends the game.


The small Reporter Club restaurant was swarming with the beau monde last Thursday, at the event launched by the Independent Association of Russia's Newsmakers, which "organizes events to make life more fun."


There was plenty of merriment to go around at the inaugural games of the association. Atop a buffet table bursting with sea and river fish was a real-live mermaid, reclining in a seductive pose on a huge dish among shells, lobsters and seaweed. A "mermaid pie" was promised as a prize to the winner. The gathered celebrities included actor Immanuil Vitorgan, music critics Svyatoslav Belza and Artyom Troitsky, musician Vladimir Presnyakov, Moscow nobleman German Sterligov and feminist author Maria Arbatova.


Astrologer Pavel Globa kicked off the evening with an explanation of the sacred and cosmic significance of the game. Domino means "divine" in Latin, and the game traces its roots back to practices of casting lots and fortune-telling from the second century B.C. The 28 domino pieces symbolize the 28 days of the moon.


"The main goal of a domino player is to make a goat out of his opponent," said Globa, referring to the Russian expression zabit kozla, which roughly translates as "to slaughter a goat." The expression, for reasons no one present could remember, has also come to refer to the playing of dominos. Globa further pointed out that "the astrological goat, Capricorn, sits at the top of the Zodiac circle."


Inspired by such favorable star disposition, the tournament's 16 players made themselves comfortable at four tables and began playing two against two. Dominos is played by two or four participants, holding a total of 28 pieces, or bones, as they are called. Each piece has a number of dots on it and players lay their pieces down next to those with the same number of dots. The object is to get rid of your pieces.


Hypnotist Yury Gorny first blindfolded himself and then wore a black hood over his face in order to prove his "skin vision." His skin "read" the dots as he held each piece above the back of his hand.


The players banged down the bones, often accompanied by a rollicking "aaugh!" in keeping with the tradition of the democratic game, played by everyone from French kings to Communist Party general secretaries to pensioners in Moscow parks.


The first ryba, made by actors Nikolai Yeryomenko and Igor Kvasha, won the pair a can of sprat conserve. In his acceptance speech, Kvasha admitted he had not played dominos since childhood and had been afraid that he wouldn't remember the rules. His victory confirmed the mathematical game theory that luck plays as important a role as strategy.


Supporting the tactical side of the game theory, Igor Bukharov, who last played the game three years ago -- which was the most recent among the participants -- won the tournament. Bukharov's tactics were aided by the extra sensory powers of his teammate Gorny. The pair won a big chocolate cake with "Ryba 97" iced on the top.


Bukharov, who is also the Reporter Club's director, rebutted the sarcastic remarks of the evening's host Oleg Nazarov that "capitalists have always been renowned for excellence in these sorts of games." Said Bukharov: "I'm a child of the Moscow courtyards of the '60s when everyone played dominos."


The domino tournament is one in a series of events organized by the Russian Newsmakers association, including a contest for the best news report canards and the creation of a club of famous bearded people.