The face to face tournaments and email tournaments have featured many top boards to determine the champion of the event. At the World Diplomacy Convention (WDC) in Berlin there was a collection of players many of whom were not attending their first top board. Here are some comments from Top Board Players:

General Comments

Toby Harris:

Top boards are generally more fluid, and game-long alliances extremely rare. More typically the games are balanced with shifting alliances to slow down the leader. It is interesting that Calhammer should talk at the first DC about this being the typical style of play during the game's early developments. My approach to the top board this year was very much focused on winning, but unfortunately it was not to be this time. The board allocation destined an alliance against me from the start, which is how games go sometimes. That's not sour grapes; it's just that Demis & Vincent considered each other a better alliance prospect to myself. Tournaments can work well without a Top Board, but what these final tables do achieve is the guarantee that nobody can declare the winner 'unworthy'. And this can happen if 18's are thrown (as sometimes they are) for whatever reason. Reservation of positional trophies is an interesting one and for this it is always best to assume that somebody will get an 18 on one of the non top-table boards. So where should they finish (assuming, say, it was someone positioned 8-10th just before the final round). You can't go saying this guy's the champion (even if their points beat the eventual winner); the player had their chance to get into the final and failed. Had there been no reserved places from the top table then the list of past Champions would look very different today. I'm best placed to say this as I got the best overall score (with an 18 in the last round) at WDC '97. Chetan Radia did the same thing in 2001. We're agreed - top board means the tournament is split into two parts (a) qualification for top board - of you fail your tournament is over in terms of having a chance of winning and (b) winning the top board. And then we have "what about 2nd place?" etc, and reserving multiple places for the final board. Hey, c'mon, your man in 8th - 10th gets an 18 in the last round ... they deserve to be somewhere on the podium. But where? Personally I think the Germans got it 100% right. 1st & 2nd place were reserved for the top table players, and the third place (which was the last of the "big bear" prizes) went to the guy who did the best from the non top-table players. I think that system was right. And again I suffered from this because (as I scored badly on the top table) I ended up in 8th place in the tournament instead of getting a top 7 prize. But this is the system and I think it is the best one. The concept I think players should work to is this:

When you reach the top table you will play a tougher game, and your chances of 18 are even slimmer than normal. Therefore other players in the tournament (not on the top table) will score more points than you if you do not "win" the final. And as a consequence your position in the tournament will fall behind others who did not make the final. BUT THIS IS THE PRICE for having the privaledge and CHANCE of winning the final.

Nicholas Sahuguet (WDC winner 2006):

At a top table, winning is the only thing that matters. The other rounds at the WDC (with the Manorcon system) were much more about getting a good game and lots of dots even if you are not on top. What was important was either to find an ally and get the alliance rolling or make sure that the rolling alliance was a good thing for you. (An alliance between Germany and England is not a bad news if you are Austria or Turkey, that's was the story of my first two games) At the top table, it was important to keep things in balance, not to move too early and to make sure that when you make a move, you are not attracting too much attention. Overall, the interesting thing was that change of pace and strategy. Some playing styles were more suited for the qualifying rounds, others for a top table. Alliance players are really comfortable in the qualifying rounds, C-Diplo players that look for first place are more comfortable at a top table. Myself, having learned to play in the C-Diplo tradition, I really had to force myself to sometimes play against my instinct in the qualifying rounds. I felt much more at ease at the final table. My approach to the final table was patience, patience and patience. I did not want to be the first to stand out. The second thing is that at a final table, reputation and experience are very important. Reputation is rather a bad thing. Everybody was afraid of Cyrille, nobody wanted to give too much leeway to Vincent and Toby was the general pick of the bookmakers. Experience is also very important. I remember my first top table (and only other top table before Berlin) at the French NDC in 2003. The pressure at the end of the game was really tough on me, and good players really know how to take advantage of that. Cyrille had managed to completely mess up with my mind in 1907 that time. I thought that Fabien, who was already very nervous in the fourth round (we were at the same table) and also Demis might suffer from the pressure. And, myself even if I was rather confident that I had made progress, I suffered a near complete melt-down towards the end of the game. Another thing to keep in mind at a top table is that the concept of balance of power is understood and will be used by everybody. This means that even if you are in a bad position, you can count on others to move to help you while in a qualifying round they would just try to get as many dots as possible... (Vincent, I think, forgot that to some extent when he started sending everything against me. When Fabien came to help (unexpectedly), he was caught out of position).

Question: Would you agree that simply being on the top board in a WDC type system is a bragging right regardless of getting pounded on that table or maybe surpassed by someone else?"

Toby Harris:

I was pleased about getting to the top table, but don't recall bragging about it. And I certainly wouldn't expect any award for getting there.

Nicolas Sahuguet:

I really like the concept of top board, especially for big tournaments. First, it reduces to some extent the randomness of the draw and avoids that somebody who makes a solo due to unusual circumstances ends up being the champion. At the same time, the top table concept tends to level the playing field among the 7 players who qualified and unexpected winners can emerge when the favorites are too busy making sure the other favorites are kept under control. ( ;0) )

Another good thing about the top table is that it gives something to play for. Before the last round, there are still many players that can qualify for this prestigious event. This adds 7 prizes to the tournament. Many players do not remember their rank, but they remember whether they played a final table. And it is good to see the good players really fight against one another while in the qualifying rounds, their interest is often to cooperate and get 16 dots each at the expense of less experienced players.

Question: Would / should the Top Board approach be spread out so that say after the first two rounds, the players are then split into a top half and bottom half with the top half making up say 6 of the positions on the final top board and the bottom half leader making up the 7th on the top board?

Toby Harris

Doesn't this make it all a bit complicated? The "semi-final" approach has worked well in the email tournaments, but I don't see it as effective in face-to-face.

Question: In short as the player participation reaches 100 or more, is the idea of the top board expandable... recommendable... to the larger tournaments?

Toby Harris

The more players there are in a tournament (say 100 or more) then the more challenging it becomes. We're here to find a World Champion, not a guy who comes in 21st as the "lowest place finisher from the three-board semi-final". But that's just me - I play to win the tournament and that means any other position is not the ideal goal. Also, the larger the tournament the more the spread of players, and therefore possible to meet an easier board - this is one of the places 18's happen. And so the guy who gets the 18 should then be truly tested, which is what the top table sorts out. If there's no top table then I'm just as happy to play. It's just a slightly different way to play.

Nicolas Sahuget

I do not think a top table is very different from another game in which you play for first place. Players are all experienced and are really motivated. The only potential difference is that usually players tend to know each other well and have a history together (not really true at this WDC). This can lead to strange things happening...

Overall, I wanted to add that I really liked the way this WDC was organized. The concept of playing, eating and living in the same place (for a very affordable price) is great. The organization was really first-class and I really enjoyed myself both during the game and between games. The idea that you had to pass one of the first 4 rounds looked like a bad idea to me before the tournament, but in fact it was a pretty good to have some time to visit Berlin and to have a break from the tension of the tournament.

Maybe to have only three rounds that fully count towards the qualification for the top table is not enough with the Manorcon scoring system. With the Manorcon system, 2 or 3 players can get a good result (>30 pts) in each game. This leads to many players with three good results after three rounds (with more than 100 players). It leaves very little chance to an unlucky player who for example as Austria gets a very aggressive and stubborn Italy as a neighbour.

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