World DipCon VI:
It was during the first round that I realized my friend Pitt Crandlemire had a chance to win it all. I myself had battled to a three-way, although if it hadn't been so late at night (3 AM) I would have insisted even more than I did on the further continuation of the game. It was a two-way for sure, and I maintained hope that I could achieve a solo. However, the other players in my game were insistent on sleep, and so I reluctantly accepted a three-way. And I am happy I did, because it freed me up to sit at Pitt's table and watch the emergence of the next world champion. Luckily, Pitt had no "I need sleep" players in his game; all of them were more than willing to play the game to its conclusion, and I witnessed another two-plus hours of masterful play by Pitt, culminating in a hard-fought victory, stretching from 14 centers to 16 and finally to 19 despite all predictions that he could not do so against a united board. I must say that I learned a lot just by watching him, and mentioned some of these things to him the next day. Pitt, in fact, promised to write up (remember, Pitt?) his comments on his meticulous style and play.
Pitt's solo the first round was a 19 center true win. There were a couple other solos in the first round, but Dan Mathias told us that a 19-center win was better than an 18-center win, and that a concession wasn't as good as either. So we knew that Pitt had the lead going into Round 2.
In round two, I myself can lay some claim to helping decide the World Championship. Pitt's stiffest competition came from Leif Bergman, of Sweden, whom I faced in the second round. Leif proved to be the best player I have ever faced, and when he stabbed me, I made sure he did not profit from it. Looking back, I see a number of mistakes I made in my play, but most of them can be attributed to my failure to recognize Leif's expertise. Even as the game proceeded, I became more and more conscious of the caliber of competition I was up against. My first mistake, in fact, was in not realizing this immediately. As Italy, I entered into an agreement with Austria to do a Key Lepanto, and when Leif, as Turkey, called me on it after the first turn, I was frankly stunned that he recognized my move for what it was. This should have been my first clue that I was playing an expert, but in my surprise I found myself playing-dumb ("What's a Key Lepanto?") and I played right into Leif's hands. Before I knew it, I had performed a one-center stab on Austria and was sending all my fleets into western waters. As I say, looking back, I can't believe I didn't see his stab coming, and that I didn't see my play as being more beneficial for Turkey than it was for me. When he stabbed, I realized right away what had happened and my respect for Leif jumped another tenfold immediately.
I conducted the rest of the game well, making sure that Leif did not profit too much from his stab, but my awe of his play was deeply set. I rallied the rest of the board (except Russia) to work toward the death of the Turk, brokering peace in three theatres to bring all the units in the game to Turkey. Looking back, I see that the two distinct mistakes I made were the one with Leif which allowed him to stab me and a diplomatic breach of trust with the Russian which prevented him from joining me until after he was stabbed on the final turn by Leif. But I did one big thing rather well -- prevented a solo.
Although I was a willing casualty of this anti-Turk jihad (although who ever is willing? -- even when down to a single unit, I was hoping my life would be spared by my anti-Turkish allies), I feel that were it not for my play, Leif would have grabbed his second solo. On the final turn, Leif stabbed his one remaining ally in Russia, but the resolve and defensive position of the rest of the board was obvious, and he was forced to settle for a three-way draw.
Pitt, meanwhile, in his second round game, faced the current World Champion Bruno-André Giraudon, a very jolly and jovial Frenchman who was very friendly to me throughout the tournament, as he has been in e-mail before. That game also included Edi Birsan and Steve Cox. When the composition of the table was announced, a collective gasp was raised and the table was dubbed the "power table."
Once again, Pitt's table was filled with players willing to battle until the end, and again his game lasted longer than any other. His game went twelve hours with a single lunch break, forcing Pitt and the others to miss the chance to compete in the World Variant Championship (a single-round gunboat tournament). So once again, I got the chance to watch off-and-on, during and after serving as game master in the World Variant Championship, as Pitt dispatched Monsieur Giraudon to prove his inheritance. The final result was a three-way draw, leaving Pitt in a near dead heat with Leif.
I had occasion to speak with Leif later that evening and also much on the day of Round 3. I like to flatter myself by saying that he and I struck up a good friendship in those conversations. I found Leif to be a ready fountain of knowledge about the game, about the different playing styles, and so on. In a discussion on Sunday regarding my aborted Key Lepanto of the day before, he ran a Key Lepanto variant past me which I just love. I hope to try it out sometime, and in my mind I am calling it the Bergman-Key Lepanto.
At this point, Pitt's tournament placing was unknown to all but Pitt and the Dip Pouch team. This was due to the length of his games more than anything else. However, on the day of the final round, Pitt sat down at the table where Leif and I were deep in conversation over the finer points of the game. Leif was speaking eloquently on the differences between the European and American playing styles, and it was during this conversation that Leif first learned that the lead he thought he had in the tournament was actually a runner's-up position to Pitt. When the pairings for the third round were announced, and Pitt was sent up against both Leif and Edi Birsan, I thought sure this was done by arrangement to provide a "finale" game. However, I was assured that the pairings were entirely random.
I knew, however, that this game would decide the championship. If Pitt shared in any result, he would be the world champion. If Leif outplayed him, the World Dip Cup would be his. Leif was England, and Pitt was Russia.
In Leif's round 3 game he once again proved his skill to me. That game was surely the best I'd ever witnessed, and Leif's mastery of the board in the early years was plainly evident to me as a spectator. As I watched England expand while ground was given by all his neighbors, I couldn't help but sit in astonishment at Leif's skill. I must admit that I had given up hope for my compatriot Pitt, but (and I'm ashamed to say that this was a surprise to me) Pitt later showed the same kind of singular control of the board which Leif showed earlier.
I won't describe the game in detail, but it was surely the finest game I've ever seen. Leif attacked Russia relentlessly, and used the skills I fell prey to in the second round to talk France out of Picardy in Fall 1901 -- going to Burgundy! The Spring 1901 move looked anti-English from both France and Germany, but the Fall 1901 turn saw everyone on the board move east to Russia. Pitt was in trouble.
You wouldn't know it by his play, however. Attacked by the whole board for years in a row, he lost Sevastopol, St. Petersburg, and Moscow quickly. His units, though, pressed west into Germany and Austria to stay alive, and eventually, Edi Birsan as Italy started showing some friendly leanings. Pitt turned the whole board slowly and dramatically against England, in precisely the same way that Leif had engineered the initial move away from the island nation. It was truly a beautiful sight to see such play. Soon enough, Sevastopol was in Russian hands again, Turkey was on the brink of elimination, France was in Liverpool to stay, England had run away from Scandinavia to protect his home, and Pitt and his championship were safe.
Leif, realizing his chance for the world championship was gone, agreed to end the game in a DIAS draw, and all consented to this conclusion -- a conclusion which all but guaranteed that Pitt Crandlemire, the Big Dipper, would be the 1996 World Champion.
I am sorry that my travel plans kept me from staying around to watch the awarding of the Cup to my friend, and I think he gives me far too much credit for his amazing victory. I must say that the Diplomatic Pouch contingent, while there mainly to "man a booth," fared very well in tournament play. Though I was amazed at the caliber of the competition, I thought we held our own quite well.
Both Pitt and I won best country awards in the World Colonial Championship, Simon came second in the World Variant Championship, and of course Pitt is the new World Champion! I think the Pouch Team might have contested the team championship as well if they'd have scored the first round instead of the second, as this was when Pitt got his solo, I got a three-way, and Jamie got a two-way. But the second round was used for team scoring and the Swedes took the team championship (and I must say that they deserved it).
After the event, Larry Peery asked me to reflect on the foreign attendees. Sadly, I can only really say that I interacted with two of the "foreigners," Leif Bergman and Bruno-André Giraudon. Roland Isaksson and Bjorn von Knorring were present once when I was speaking with Leif, but I didn't get much of a feel for them other than the feeling that I wish I had more time in which I could have gotten to know them.
Regarding Bruno, he struck me as a great guy. He seemed always to be in a jolly mood and was consistently friendly to me. While we didn't play together, more than once he sought me out to share a quick laugh while in the heat of battle. Bruno first communicated with me regarding an article I wrote in The Pouch concerning the order "North Sea to Picardy." He appreciated the humor of that piece, and was eager to tell me when in one of his tournament games the order "Holland support Picardy to North Sea" was actually given! I wish I'd have had more time to spend with Bruno. He seems to be a very friendly person and I took an immediate liking to him.
The whole experience was truly incredible, and I hope to be able to attend many future DipCons! As for WDC VI, I can only close by offering one more round of congratulations to my great and good friend, Pitt Crandlemire, the 1996 World Diplomacy Champion.
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