Petrovich the oracle

Minsk's wonder-crab has the top tips

21.05.2014
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The oracle crab Petrovich. Photo: Anna Zmanovskaya

Following in the wake of a famous octopus, Petrovich the crab and his predictions are becoming a cult success at the 2014 World Championship here in Minsk.

It’s unusual to find hockey sticks and pucks in water which has yet to be frozen – but at Minsk’s Oceanarium a celebrity crab is getting his claws into the probabilities of success for the teams at this year’s World Championship. We decided to pay him a visit.

Phoning the Centre for Oceanography makes it clear that Petrovich is a big deal – and a crustacean beloved of the top management. “Have you got a crab called Petrovich who makes predictions?” we asked.

“Yes we have,” said a voice full of pride. “Let me get the director for you!”

Only Alexei Azarov – head of the institute – can tell Petrovich’s story. He was the first to notice that Petrovich seemed to know a thing or two about hockey. Petrovich was fished out of the icy waters of the Barents Sea by sailors from the Arctic port of Murmansk late in 2013. His travels brought him to Minsk via Moscow, where he was welcomed with an aquarium decorated with Russian and Belarusian flags. But for some reason, the red-and-green banner of his new home country didn’t appeal to Petrovich – three times he dropped it from his claws. Azarov noticed that on the same day the Belarusian hockey team lost 3-0 in a Euro Challenge game against Slovenia and saw that Petrovich had visionary qualities.

And so, at 11 am each day, Petrovich gets down to work. There are no visitors, no flashbulbs to distract him as he studies the days World Championship schedule. Only a video recording is made, to ensure fair play.

Petrovich is given a puck for each of that day’s games. The flags of the rival nations are glued on to opposite sides of each game’s puck and then handed to the submarine soothsayer. Then we wait for Petrovich to make his choice, to drop the puck and show us the likely winner – the team whose flag is visible when the puck lands on the aquarium floor. He makes his choice alone, so as not to be swayed by any passing fans and the video footage is shown online.

Like any celebrity, Petrovich enjoys VIP treatment. He has his own room in the oceanarium, decoration with children’s portraits of the most famous sea creature in this landlocked country. Almost all the pictures show him wielding a hockey stick, and it’s true that his claws do look a bit like a hockey stick. But it’s not always easy to find out what the crab is thinking – often he lies motionless in the water. Oracles cannot be hurried.

“He reacts to the puck when we drop it in, and he starts to move, but sometimes this is a slow process,” said Marina, who takes care of Petrovich. “If he doesn’t want to do it, it might take two hours.”

The Norwegian delegation at the tournament came to visit before one of their team’s matches, possibly hoping to gain some support from the crab.

“In the upper aquarium there is a boy, and in the lower one there’s a girl,” their tour guideexplained.

“Who makes the predictions?” asked a visitor.

“The boy, of course!” the Norwegian guide explained.

Once the championship is finished Petrovich will get to meet his girlfriend properly. Petrovna, as children visiting the centre named her, is still settling into her new home and with Petrovich himself focused on the big games coming up he cannot be distracted by thoughts of romance. Meanwhile, Petrovich is maintaining a tactful silence on the outcome of Belarus’ games: like any Minsk resident he is a passionate fan of Glen Hanlon’s team, and nobody wants a biased prediction.

Petrovich isn’t flawless, of course, but he is currently beating the 50/50 odds of getting the right call. From the opening game on May 9 through to May 18’s group games he made 39 picks – and 26 of them came to pass. Hopefully, like any good competitor, he’ll peak at the key moment and boost that percentage in the knock-out rounds.

Petrovich has an illustrious underwater forebear: the famous octopus, Paul, correctly picked the results of the German national team during the FIFA World Cup in 2010, achieving worldwide fame and sparking a trend for animal oracles. The miraculous crab of Minsk is the latest of this trend.

ANNA ZMANOVSKAYA

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