Opening's Custodian's Report for 1995

Part Two: Austrian Openings in 1995

by Mark Nelson


In this article I analyse Austrian openings used in regular Diplomacy and gunboat games which started in 1995. As explained in the first part of this series, only games starting in the period from the start of May to the end of the year are included.

This survey excludes partial-press gunboat games, these are classified as anonymous games. Furthermore I do not analyse the gunboat games according to the press regulations. The database for the period under consideration includes 78 regular and 52 gunboat games.

Analysis of Individual Units

Given a sufficiently large set of games played in North American postal Diplomacy zines and a sufficiently large set of games played in British postal Diplomacy zines is it possible to say which set corresponds to which nationality? The answer is yes, examine the orders given to F(Tri) in Spring 1901. In North American postal games the standard order is F(Tri)-Alb, the order F(Tri)-Ven is a rarity. Due to the influence that Richard Sharp exercised on the development of the British Diplomacy hobby during the 1970s the latter is much more frequent in British games than in American games.

The order F(Tri)-Alb is most often seen in conjunction with the order A(Bud)-Ser and this combination is known as the Balkan Gambit. Austria makes an attempt to dominate the Balkans, looking forward to the prospect of two builds in Winter 1901 and a strong position with which to dictate future developments in the south. The weakness of this opening is that only a single unit is left to defend the homelands against hostile invaders. Should either Russia or Italy make an attack on Austria at the start of the game, and Austria misjudge the situation, then a home supply centre may be lost. Should both powers attack, Austria may lose two centers. So whilst Austria strains for two builds, it risks fatally weakening its homeland, hence the gambit nature of the opening; if you see an Austrian heading for ritual humiliation via an early bath the odds are that the opening was a Balkan Gambit, and that it went horrible wrong.

The order F(Tri)-Ven is defensive in nature and is usually seen in conjunction with the order of a unit to Galacia, usually A(Vie). This combination forms part of the Hedgehog complex of openings (there are three obscure Hedgehog variations with involve F(Tri)-Ven and no order to Gal). The Hedgehog is a defensive opening, designed to maximise Austria's chances of building at least one unit in Winter 1901. Even if both Italy and Russia attack in Spring 1901, Austria will still build.

The chances of long-term Austrian survival against a determined Italian-Russian alliance are low, but the Hedgehog maximises Austria's defensive resources; consequently giving Austria greater time to work diplomatic magic.

These two orders, F(Tri)-Alb and F(Tri)-Ven, are the most sensible options for F(Tri). Holding is timid, indicating that whilst Austria is unsure of Italian intent Austria does not want to risk annoying Italy by showing an anti-Italian stance with F(Tri)-Ven. Such a perception of the F(Tri)-Ven order is favourable for Italy, but does nothing for Austria. It is usually bad strategy to have units holding in Diplomacy, this is particularly true in the early stages of the game. If Italy is hostile then F(Tri)-Ven is superior to F(Tri)H, if Italy is not hostile will the order F(Tri)-Ven tip the scales?

If holding is timid, the order to ADR is bizarre. It only makes `sense' (I use the word loosely) if it is backed up with A(Vie)-Tyr and A(Bud)-Tri (the von Metkze opening). Even if Italy didn't order to either Tyrolia or Trieste, so that Austria can capture Venice, the opening is very bad strategically; Russia and Turkey being given a free hand in the Balkans. If Russia has ordered to Galacia you are not even guaranteed a build! In the 1970s it was noticed that Austria has a very poor record in North American postal games. It was suggested that this was due to Conrad von Metzke's penchant for playing Austria in the 1960s, and the inevitable use his favourite opening!

Misorder and F(Tri)SIA(Ven)H are `specialist' gunboat openings. Spring 1901 misorders for fleets are invariable convoy orders and the support order indicates that Austria is looking for an alliance with Italy (or at least wants to convince Italy of that!).

It is not surprising that the order F(Tri)-Ven is more popular, nearly three times so, in gunboat games than in regular games. With the greater difficulty of co-ordinating alliances there is more incentive for players to grab what they can in gunboat. An early Italian attack on Austria, often unadvisable in regular Diplomacy, is much more attractive in gunboat.

Table One. Spring 1901 openings for F(Tri) in regular and gunboat games in 1995. The first column is the code number for the order given in the second column. In columns three and four the first figure is the number of times the order was used and the second (bracketed) figure is the percentage use.

F(Tri)       Regular     Gunboat
1 -Alb       62 (79.5)   39 (75.0)
2 holds       9 (11.5)    2  (3.9)
3 -Ven        4  (5.1)    8 (15.4)
4 -ADR        3  (3.9)    1  (1.9)
5. misorder               1  (1.9)
6. SIA(Ven)H              1  (1.9)

The army in Budapest and two sensible orders, the usual order is to Serbia; securing Austria's natural neutral. The more aggressive alternative is the anti-Russian order to Rumania (Richard Sharp's original conception of the Hedgehog was F(Tri)-Ven, A(Bud)-Rum and A(Vie)-Gal --- the Hedgehog proper or true variation). The order to Galacia makes little sense (what has happened to A(Vie)?). At first sight supporting the army to Gal looks strange, Austria may not get a build! However this option is powerful when it is used in conjunction with F(Tri)-Alb and an Italian alliance, particularly if Italy has used the Key Lepanto. The resulting units in Tri/Gal/Bud/ION/Alb have a multitude of combinations to unleash upon the hopefully unsuspecting opponents in Russia and Turkey.

As noted above, defense is more appropriate to gunboat games than regular games. Accordingly it is not surprising that the solid move to Serbia is more popular in gunboat games, and that this is at the expense of the aggressive order to Rumania.

Table Two. Spring 1901 openings for A(Bud) in regular and gunboat games in 1995. The first column is the code number for the order given in the second column. In columns three and four the first figure is the number of times the order was used and the second (bracketed) figure is the percentage use.

A(Bud)       Regular    Gunboat
1 -Ser       65 (83.3)  50  (96.2)
2 -Rum       10 (12.8)   1   (1.9)
6 -Gal        2  (2.6)
7 SA(Vie)-Gal 1  (1.3)   1   (1.9)

The Army in Vienna has the greatest number of reasonable moves of any Austrian unit (some are more reasonable than others). Of these, the order to Galacia is the most solid. The order to Trieste is most often seen in conjunction with F(Tri)-Alb and A(Bud)-Ser, the Trieste Variation of the Balkan Gambit. This was popular in British postal games in the 1970s, when Italy often tried to sneak into Trieste with a follow up into Venice, but is not so good if Italy opens A(Ven)-Try and A(Rom)-Ven, particularly if Russia has opened to Galacia. Even if Italy has opened with a pro-Austrian opening a Russian order of A(War)-Gal poses difficulties for an Austria with units positioned in Alb, Ser and Tri.

A(Vie) holds, when this is seen with F(Tri)-Alb and A(Bud)-Ser this is the Vienna Variation of the Balkan Gambit, attracted support in the British Hobby in the early 1970s from Don Turnbull. As indicated earlier it is not recommended to issue hold orders in Spring 1901. The hold order presumable shows that Austria doesn't want to antagonise either Russia, bu ordering to either Budapest or Galacia, or Italy, ordering to Tyrolia; but in such circumstances A(Vie)-Tri appears to be superior as a defensive order, unless Austria and Italy have agreed to demilitarise Venice and Trieste. However Italy agreeing to such a demilitarised zone in Spring 1901 is often a euphemism for Italy entering the Austrian side of this one... One advantage of holding in Vienna, as opposed to ordering to Budapest, is that if Russias has entered Galacia then it is possible to order a self-standoff in Budapest in the Autumn; however this presents Russia with the option of outguessing Austria, by attempting the Reinhardt Gambit.

A(Vie)-Bud is usually seen with F(Tri)-Alb and A(Bud)-Ser, the Budapest Variation of the Balkan Gambit which was popular in the 1960s. Austria takes no defensive precautions and places two units adjacent to Rumania. An Austrian supported attack on Rumania is rare, usually Austria goes for the more likely gain in Greece, but there is scope for Austria and Turkey to liaise in an attempt to deny Russia Rumania.

A(Vie)-Tyr will usually be seen in conjunction with F(Tri)-Alb (although it is also seen in the Alpine and Tyrolese variations of the Hedgehog), Austria is trying to outguess Italy over the intent of A(Ven). Nice, if it works; if Italy has outguessed Austria and ordered to Trieste, not so nice.

Variations involving A(Vie)-Boh are often called the Bohemian Abberation (or Fisher's Folly) by Richard Sharp. Richard, with considerable justification, considered that an alliance between the two central powers is essential to the longer term security of both (the anshcluss). An Austrian attack on Germany in Spring 1901 is thus seen as strategic madness, liable to lead to a sharp exit, and can only be justified if Richard is playing Germany and the other orders include FA(Mar)SA(Par)-Bur, IA(Ven)-Tyr and RA(War)-Sil (this actually happened in one postal game where Richard played Germany!).

Table Three. Spring 1901 openings for A(Vie) in regular and gunboat games in 1995. The first column is the code number for the order given in the second column. In columns three and four the first figure is the number of times the order was used and the second (bracketed) figure is the percentage use.

A(Vie)       Regular    Gunboat
1 -Tri       16 (20.5)  16 (30.8)
2 holds       6  (7.7)   1  (1.9)
3 -Bud       30 (38.5)  10 (19.2)
4 -Tyr        3  (3.9)   3  (5.8)
5 -Gal       21 (26.9)  22 (42.3)
6 -Boh        2  (2.6)

When Austria opens with the Balkan Gambit the Austrian player should keep in mind an observation of the British player John Piggott --- it's surprising how many times the IA(Ven)H in Spring 1901 lulls Austria into a false sense of security in Autumn 1901!

Combination Openings

I have listed the most popular combination openings in regular and gunboat games, the requirements to be listed was that an opening had to be used in at least 5% of the games. Note that the orders listed in the combination, eg 1-1-3, refer to the individual orders for the respective units. The units in the combinations occur in the order that they are discussed above. For example 1-1-3 means the first order for F(Tri), F(Tri)-Alb, the first order for A(Bud), A(Bud)-Ser, and the third order for A(Vie), A(Vie)-Bud.

The 78 regular Diplomacy games saw 22 opening combinations, 4 of which were played with a frequency of at least 5%. These were all variations of the Balkan Gambit. The most aggressive version of the gambit ranked first, the Budapest variation; if all goes well Austria has the option of combining with Turkey to fight Russia over Rumania. How many times is the opening used in this way? How many times does Austria use this variation only to find that one of the Italians or Russians have entered the open door?

More defensive variations occupy second and third place, the most defensive (euphemism for useful?), the Galician Variation, ranking third. In fourth place is the Vienna Variation; as noted above it is a good idea to minimise the number of hold orders used in any season, in Spring 1901 this means avoiding any hold orders.

Table Four. Combination openings used by Austria in regular Diplomacy games in 1995: Column one, opening combination; column two, number of times opening played; column three, percentage use; column four, opening name.

1-1-3 24 (30.8) Balkan Gambit (Budapest Variation).
1-1-1 14 (18.0) Balkan Gambit (Trieste Variation).
1-1-5 13 (16.7) Balkan Gambit (Galician Variation).
1-1-2  4  (5.1) Balkan Gambit (Vienna Variation).

The 52 gunboat games saw 14 opening combinations, four of which were played with a frequency of at least 5%. The popularity of the more defensive forms of the Balkan Gambit (the Trieste and Galacian variations) increased as the popularity of the most offensive, the Budapest variation, decreased. Note that the defensive Hedgehog, southern variation, enters the table. This is expected, a solid defensive opening is more appealing in Gunboat.

Table Five. Combination openings used by Austria in gunboat Diplomacy games in 1995: Column one, opening combination; column two, number of times opening played; column three, percentage use; column four, opening name.

1-1-1 15 (28.9) Balkan Gambit (Trieste Variation).
1-1-5 13 (25.0) Balkan Gambit (Galician Variation).
1-1-3  7 (13.5) Balkan Gambit (Budapest Variation).
3-1-5  7 (13.5) Hedgehog (Southern Variation).

Mark Nelson

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