How to Win Tournament Diplomacy

Chris Martin

Last year, after World Dip Con 8, I wrote Be the Little Guy, a short piece on how I felt I had achieved my success, and how others might be able to do the same. Well, it's a year later, and I thought Iíd re-examine some of the principles, and see if I feel the same way! The European, and particularly the French game, which ends in 1907, is a very different game than the one we play here in the States. More on that, as well! Lets look at the premise of the last article.

Here's what I had to say on the subject of being the little guy:

Surely anyone who had a "name" in the hobby -- and there were a bunch of 'em there, believe you me -- would be at a disadvantage, as well as anyone who did really well in the first or second round.
Well, now. Do the words "Christian Dreyer" mean anything to you? Who? Oh, only one of the best known Swedish players in the world, and that was before he won WDC9.

Do You Know Me? Oops. But hang on a moment! Have you seen this man before? Thatís right, Ivan Woodward, finishing a strong third, had -- and correct me if I am wrong here -- never won or placed in the top seven at a major convention. He was rated 26th in a 1998 European/British ratings listing I received prior to the con. He was clearly a "Little Guy." Clearly, Little Guys can have success. Clearly, given Christian Dreyer's performance, so can the Big Guys. And clearly, having won a WDC, I am no longer a Little Guy, so I will have to come up with a new theory that allows Big Guys to win as well, but in the meantime....

What else did I have to say about being the Little Guy? And how have my experiences since last year changed or enhanced that advice? Let's see.

Patience Pays Off

I gotta stand by this one. I have seen more people lose, and have in fact lost more often myself, by not following this advice than by following it. In the Third round of WDC9 in Belgium, playing Russia, I made a galling mistake: I pushed for an extra center too soon. I could have had that center the next season, and probably more after that, but under the pressure of a 1907 game-termination deadline, I choked and wrote a set of orders that denied me any chance at the top table. I should have been patient. My two successes in that tourney came from waiting until the moment was right before striking.

This is not to say that there is no place for the Blitzkrieg. I have seen that work to good effect as well, but more often than not it draws the attention of the rest of the board, and before you know it, you're ordering "Berlin to Kiel" and nothing else. In tournament play, better safe than sorry.

Bold, Honorable Play Pays Off

I can hear Andy Shiner, with whom I regularly play face-to-face, laughing as I write this. I imagine the other NYC players in our group are having a good chuckle as well. (Suffice it to say that while I am far from the least "trustworthy" of the players in the group, I have a bit of a reputation for shading my diplomacy in a light more favorable to me -- okay, I lie through my teeth with no compunctions -- occasionally!) Nonetheless, I have to stand by this one as well. In a tournament, you have to work towards the best result you can, while staying alive long enough to be in the endgame. As Greg Brown mentioned in his article in the last Pouch, German Army to Silesia, sometimes there is nothing you can do about the onslaught that is coming your way. But when you have the luxury of choosing your target, doing so in a fairly straightforward fashion will pay off in the endgame.

In the end, most tournament games eliminate one, two, or rarely three players in the first five or six game years. Mid-games consist of working the smaller powers and trying to get across stalemate lines, either as an alliance or as individuals. The way you have dealt with those smaller -- one, two, and three-center -- powers can make the game go your way or not. At PrezCon, I think, a solo victory was conceded to Tom Pasco who had sixteen centers. Time had been called, there were still five players in the game, and it was by no means certain that he could have forced the win given more time, but his play had been Bold, and as far as the remaining players were concerned Honorable. He didn't end up winning the Tournament, but I think he was second or possibly third. If he had had to settle for a five-way draw -- the "pure" result of the board -- he certainly wouldn't have done that well.

Alliances Pay Off

Hoo, daddy, this is the big one! Do they ever! The one thing any Turkish player hates to see is E/F sweep into Germany and proceed to split into two well-planned attacks on Scandinavia and Italy. He knows, if he is a savvy player, that he is now playing for third place on the board. As France, how often have excellent players been unable to do anything about the R/T -- or worse, the R/A -- alliance sweeping the Balkans? Two powers working together are stronger than five powers who aren't. End of discussion.

Except of course, that you need to be the stronger of the two powers. That goes without saying.

Seriously though. Winning tournaments is about scoring points. Lots of points. Typically, you get points by being one of the three biggest players on the board at the end of the game. If you and another player can keep the knives pointed towards someone else long enough, I guarantee you that you will score some points on the board, and may well come out on top. I feel this is especially true in games where the time of play is limited, either by a pre-determined finishing date, or time being called at some random point (these being the two most popular methods I have seen for ensuring that games are kept under twelve hours running time). When you play at a Con where the game ends when the game ends or when time is called in 1912 or so, then a strong alliance will certainly get you to the endgame, at which point, let your conscience be your guide. What's that? No conscience? Well, join the club.

Have I Any New Thoughts?

A Few. Refining something I said last year: Win the Tournament, not the Event

This is perhaps most evident in the games where you aren't doing well, and aren't going to top the table. In these cases, it is terribly, terribly, vitally important -- and I cannot stress this enough -- do not let David Hood get a solo.

No, no, no, sorry. Sorry! I am better now. The medication is kicking in. I'll try that again.

In these cases, it is important to look at the Larger Picture. Is there someone on your table who has already won a solo victory in another round? Deny him victory in this one. Can you keep the draw fairly large -- large enough that no one gets any points from the round? Do so.

Hmm, who was it that said, "It is not enough that I win. My enemies must lose"? Michael Eisner? Well, regardless of who it was, it is never truer than in Tournament Dip.

Sometimes, if there is a "Top Table" or a final round sort of situation, it is better to have one person as the victor on your table, rather than two people who might get better scores than you -- thank you, Vincent Mous, for pointing this out to me in Belgium! Every board you are on is one where you affect the outcome of the tournament, whether you win, lose, or draw that particular board.

At WDC9, in Namur, to win the tournament, you had to be on the "Top Table" -- and to do that, you had to have one of the seven best scores going into the final round. You flat out can't win a tournament with a "Top Table" without being on that table. So my goal going in was to get on that table. Other tournaments are scored differently, the point being that you have to know the system so that you can be playing to win. I will be going to (have gone to, by the time you read this) DixieCon, where the games end when the games end, the way God intended Diplomacy to be played. This calls for a very different style of play than WDC9 called for, and to win, I'll have to play differently.

And hey, if you are reading this but have never come out to a Tournament, try to get out to one! They are loads of fun, and you never know -- being a Little Guy, you just might win!

Chris Martin

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