by Joel Klein

In this brief article from Diplomacy World #62, Joel draws on his experience in poker for lessons to apply in Diplomacy. Usually we only reprint a single article from Diplomacy World per issue: but this one is brief, and reminded me a bit of Paul Windsor's excellent Caissa at the Diplomacy Table (from The Spring 1998 Retreat Issue), which discusses how the strategies of Chess can be used in Diplomacy. It seemed like an interesting parallel!

I've come to enjoy pokerplaying over the past few years. I played Dippy long before I ever started with poker, and my experience in one has helped me in the other. I'll describe how some lessons from poker can be applied to Diplomacy.

The first lesson: You cannot evaluate anyone's skill from their play in any one session of poker or Diplomacy. The best indicator is "the long run," which means looking at each session as part of a single, long session. This allows you to put your play in perspective, roll with poor games and unworkable players, and deflate any delusions of grandeur that follow a winning session.

While this now seems obvious to me, it wasn't when I started playing Dippy as a teenager. I thought each game was to be won, period. Happens in poker games where everybody plays like "rocks" (i.e. only bet when they have the best hand, only play the games they know best). Happens in face-to-face Dippy games. I know. The FTF group I played in in New York City in the 1970s was frustrating — no one could win a game! I don't remember any 2-way draws — we would invariably have 3-5 way draws because no one could bear to let the reader win. The game started dying when the younger players moved into Dungeons and Dragons.

Another poker concept that applies is: "don't fall in love with your hand." This refers to a poker player who has drawn a hand that he thinks is just great, and bets and plays without regard to what is happening around him. One of the most common errors is in not considering how your position at the table affects your play. For example, the first player to bet in a draw poker game really needs to play more carefully than the dealer, since the dealer will have seen how other players have acted before he commits any money. If you don't make some allowance for your position, you will win less than if you adjust for it. And if you tend to do the same thing all the time, your opponents will certainly get the better of you.

How about you? Do you "fall in love" with the country you've drawn and the position you've built? For example, you're Germany, you've been attacking France for years, and now Austria is up to nine centers and looks like he's going to go after you. How willing are you to reconsider the French attack? If you play Turkey; do you come out as aggressively as you do when you play Germany? Do you need to? Suppose you're Italy. Would you play a safe opening and plan normally, but perhaps consider using a Lepanto opening against a Turkish opponent you know to be tough?

These ideas are not new; the best players use them and will continue to use them. I was delighted to find how the same skills that we learn at Diplomacy, and at poker, can be modified for use in all endeavors of human game-playing (for fun and for real.) I hope you can use some of these ideas the next time you play (although preferably not against me.)

Joel Klein,
c/o The Editor

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