Whozvowhat? Where to even start on this one.. I've long been a collector of skill toys and objects designed for skillful manipulation. During my years of international work, I always kept an eye out at local markets and in the streets for interesting props and carries. But although my travels took very close from multiple borders, and although my ancestry extends into the realm, I've never actually been to Russia.
Roughly five years ago or so, at which time I was already well deep into begleri, I caught wind of a kind of Russian cousin to our beloved bead game. This mysterious item was difficult to get information on, because unlike the first time I caught wind of begleri, this particular item did not yet have any discernable presence in the West. In fact, this is still true today, but it may not be true tomorrow. Go ahead, try typing the term "четки" into your search engine. Screenshot the results for posterity.
See, the thing is, back in 2016, we didn't even know what to call this thing, since the Cyrillic alphabet was unfamiliar, and there was almost nothing around in English, except for a short video entitled "Russian jail beads" (more on the title later). By copying and pasting "четки" into search engines and exploring related hashtags and recommendations, the term "chetki" emerged as a likely translation.
The item was intriguing, and word got around through some of the active begleri players at the time, but it never really caught on, and I've kept it fairly quiet myself. But I have always seen this style of flipping beads as something with immense potential for further growth and development, and of course, cross over with related communities. There are extremely beautiful and highly refined chetki available online, but the situation is much like that of begleri back in the early days. There aren't many options available for purchase outside of Russia, and when you scan the designs, you'll see they are widely varied, which creates uncertainty for folks interested in giving a new thing a try. At this point I want to give a shout out to our friend Tim from Weavers of Eternity, who put out (all the way back in 2018) a great tutorial for making a set of very playable chetki from paracord and hex nuts. If you're interested in checking out chetki without investing a lot of cash, be sure to have a watch, and while you're there give the channel some love, because Tim seriously puts in the work to create top notch content and help build community.
Over the years, I managed to purchase a couple of different styles of authentic Russian chetki through Etsy and eBay, and even went as far as buying a batch of the most player-oriented style I could find to distribute to the AO2 Crew--a deal brokered with a Russian seller through our dear friend, the late Ilya Indrulinas. The new sets saw some action, but they didn't really ignite a fire for the crew at the time. But I maintained an interest in the space, knowing that it was somewhat inevitable that eventually I would fall into it. Fast forward to 2020, and with some urging from our friend Jay Jack and others in the community, I found a renewed interest in chetki and starting exploring designs for what might become an AO2 take on the toy. I want to give a shout out to Jay's Etsy shop, where, if you're lucky, you may be able to find some of the handmade plate style chetki he developed amidst our conversations about prototypes.
During this time, I was serendipitously contacted by two Russian players, one enthusiastically likening my begleri videos to an item that his uncle had made for him in prison (which, of course, turned out to be chetki), and the other, a Russian journalist and activist, who was able to fill in some of the history and context for this intriguing little item, and provided some much needed encouragement to pursue the idea of an AO2 model. The latter is quite important to me, just as early encouragement from Greek players was fundamental to my interest in pursuing begleri. I'm cautious around culture, and it's important to me that I am able to respect the roots of the thing, so a bit of historical information is warranted here.
It turns out that chetki (or chotki, or maybe more correctly, chyotki) is basically just the general term for a rosary, and it's a very broad category. The little item that I was focused on is a sub-class, and a relatively recent branch to the tree, known as perekidnye (flipping) chetki (перекидные четки). In Russia, both Christian and Islamic style rosaries/ tasbih are common, but as the story goes, prisoners in Russian jails have historically been prohibited from carrying them due to their potential use as weapons. However, the linear, short style of chetki have been permitted in prisons. With idle time to pass, the flipping of chetki became common, and secular models designed with flipping in mind have proliferated, often sporting engraved "tattoos" matching those of their owners, or other images of significance.
Perekidnye chetki have long since extended their reach beyond the prison system and into the general population, and elegant models made from high-end materials and semi-precious stones have started to become available, though it remains somewhat difficult to find much for purchase outside of Russia. And this is the point at which AO2 enters the story.
After delving deeper into the back story of this fascinating item, I knew it was something that I had to share more broadly, and I committed to developing an AO2 take on the classic. The Russian players I've spoken with have been very encouraging of the effort, and I can't wait to see how it's going to develop from here.
Our first entry into this new product category is the "Pozvonok", meaning "spine" in Russian, which is a nod to the roots, as well as descriptor of the form factor. The structure of these beads gives an articulated length which can be flipped in a linear manner, but still has enough flexibility that it doesn't feel rigid along other planes. The simple structure is one that is common in Russian chetki, but our materials give a fresh look and feel to the classic. The slightly weighted ends provide a familiar feel for begleri players, while the overall play experience is dramatically different. Flipping chetki has elements in common with short game begleri, komboloi manipulation, and and balisong or butterfly knife flipping, and moves from all three can be incorporated into your flow. Although weighted ends are reasonably common in Russian chetki, they are not the standard. If you're searching videos online, you'll encounter many with extended light ends, manipulated with a very quick flipping style. For players wanting to get a taste of both styles, each set of Pozvonoks will include a few additional beads that will allow you to slightly extend the length of your chetki, and also, to swap in lighter ends to give a different feel to the game. Note that stringing these up takes a minute, and they are intended to be played at a fixed length.
At launch, the Pozvonoks will be available in three options, each featuring titanium accents for optimal weight. There will be Burmese Rosewood and Black Rosewood options, each with ten sections, and a Hainan Eaglewood option, with slightly longer beads in a nine section setup. The weight and length of each is similar. They ship setup with 8mm titanium micro bosses, and 15mm lil bosses at either end, and include as extras, one additional 8mm bead and two additional wooden beads, allowing you to extend by one section, along with two 11.8mm micro bosses if you decide to swap out the ends. If you're wondering about that knot at the end, it's called a snake knot, and once again, our pal Tim has you covered. Here's a dynamite tutorial, the same one I used to learn the knot.
Because of the number of beads involved, and the labour involved in the setup, these are fairly pricy as an initial offering, but if you're one of the lucky ones to get them on launch weekend, they'll be substantially cheaper than the regular price, since I know you're taking a chance on something new. We are exploring options for more budget friendly models as well as we begin to expand this new product category.
Now that we have your interest, pop over to Instagram to see these things in action, using hashtag #ao2chetki And remember, IG let's you follow hashtags, so stay tuned for more. Some of our pals have put together content for the launch, posting at 3:30pm Pacific, and our own in house intro edit will go live on our YouTube around the same time.