by Mario Huys

The Judge:

Most of us, I'd say, have lived longer (and more actively?) in the 20th century than in this new one, and so are familiar with imagining the 21st century as the future, the unknown, when either all problems that plagued us will be solved, or the world is reduced to rubble after the nuclear holocaust. The Jetsons or the Flintstones. Science Fiction. Predicting the future, we all do it. It's part of our human DNA.

And that, applied to Diplomacy, brings us to the topic I had in mind. Predicting the next season, the next year, the ultimate result. How much does your strategy depend on predicting exactly what your opponents will play? How do you evaluate if a player is predictable? Have you ever met completely unpredictable players and how do you deal with them? Do you vary your play deliberately to remain unpredictable? Do you have an exquisite example of a situation where you completely predicted your opponent's moves and turned that to your advantage in an unprecedented way? I have no doubt you have, as you're all in some ways scions of the Game.

So here's your chance to share some of your greatest moments (and worst reverses) with the rest of the world. Let me see those hands of God, those master plays that give you such a thrill you just come back to see if you can repeat it. Any takers?

The Bench:

Two cliches come to mind when I read your idea: Those who don't learn from the past are doomed to repeat it is one. Learn from the past but don't live in it is the second. Both may be cliches but there's an element of truth in them. I'm particularly thinking of what's going on now between China/Japan/Korea and, to a lesser extent Russia. As outsiders we westerners think about recent events (like the last century or back to 1894 tops) whereas they think back hundreds or even a thousand years when they discuss their feuds and wars. It's amazing. You can't discuss current events in Asia with anybody who's interested in them without getting a history lesson. I've come around to the conclusion that Xi is, or trying to be, nothing more than an" emperor in new clothes." Oh well…

Predicting the future is not easy. I remember reading Herman Kahn, one of the first futurologists, fifty years ago; and I was always fascinated by his ideas — actually like ABC he only had one idea but he reworked it for twenty-five years and built a career around it. His idea was simple. Inspite of its current (then) difficulties Japan would become a great economic power in a fairly short time. He sold the Japanese on that idea (to the tune of $1 million when that was a lot of money) and the rest is, as they say, history. In Diplomacy, as in much else, predictability is just another word for style, I think. Most players that play with the same other players a lot get to know them; and they tend to become very predictable. You hear it all the time: so and so is a good ally, X is a backstabber, Y is a strong opening game player but bombs in the end, etc. etc. Sometimes those reputations are valid. Sometimes not. Edi Birsan, who I've known and played against for fifty years, is predictable in one thing — he's completely unpredictable himself but he has an uncanny ability to read other players and predict what they are going to do. The late Hal Naus was another one. He could look at a game board situation in 1906 or 1907 and tell you exactly how it would play out (and in those days we played until there was an 18 center winner no matter how long it took) right down to who would own what centers; and he was usually right. He knew the other players that well, that's how he could do it.

So, when you develop a style you become predictable, That's how you recognize an artist or a composer. Even those who deliberately and radically change their style (I'm thinking of Picasso.) become predictable for that.

The Judge:

Thanks for the reaction. Herman Kahn is better known for his post-nuclear war scenarios according to Wikipedia, so maybe my mentioning the nuclear holocaust triggered your memory. I also read the Japanese wikipedia article on him, and although they mention his books on Japan, the focus is the same as the English language article. They do mention that his scoring so high on IQ-tests is rumored to be because he made a study of the typical questions in the IQ-tests of the time. But perhaps you remember him better for his prediction that Japan would become an economic super-power? Interesting.

Predicting is not only a matter of knowing the other person. On the DPjudge and other sites, usually the players are all anonymous, so it takes a few seasons to gauge their "style". When and how you become confident in someone's style and use that in your moves is an important part of improving your own style. And the exuberance or complete despair when applying prediction is of a different scale than when simply applying the most fail-safe option. That kind of situation happens in many games, so anyone should have a story like that they may want to share. That's what I'm looking for.

The Bench:

Interesting. I would never have thought to do a wiki search on Herman Kahn. My memory of him and his work is based on what I remember from 50 years ago. I don't think I will read what wiki says either or other wiki articles about people from that time period. It just creates too many "revisionist" theories for my feeble mind to deal with. Instead I'll try to deal with your original topic.

Again, I have no experience with DPjudge, so that's not a factor. Like a painter, I deal with what I see, experience and create; not with a future world — which is what predicting the future is all about, I suppose. However, that's for you to deal with. I will focus on Julie Andrews singing as she marched across the alps.

The Judge:

Off he wanders to a picnic that will — predictably — include lamb and wolf skin. But what about the other members of the bench? Comments? Yes, you? No? First call. Second call. Third… snap. You, Sir, be seated. Now, stand and declare.

The Bench:

I had a flashback to Herman Kahn (obviously I have a thing about Herman Kahn!) + prediction (or predictability) + genius + Diplomacy. Those were the ingredients. You can substitute anybody you like for Kahn's name. I would pick the following Diplomacy players to stay with the theme: Hal Naus, Edi Birsan, Kathy Byrne Caruso, and Laurent Joly.

Why these four? Hal Naus had an uncanny ability to look at a Diplomacy board game situation, analyze it, and predict the eventual results of the game; and he was usually correct. Edi Birsan doesn't go by the board, he goes by the players. He has an uncanny ability to read the players and predict what they will do, and he's often correct. Kathy Byrne Caruso not only had an uncanny ability to read the male players in her games, but the ability to manipulate them into doing what she wanted. You can call it a woman's intuition or "the femme fatale factor," but it very real and she had it down to an art. And finally Laurent Joly. He has demonstrated an uncanny ability and willingness to "crunch the numbers" and organize them into some kind of useful order. In doing so he's created a resource in his data bank which allows others, such as myself, to make all kinds of predictions about the results of all kinds of Diplomacy games — usually wrong :-)

What all this shows, I think, is that the ability to predict in Diplomacy is not a science but an art; and all four of these individuals are artists of great skill. Does that make them a genius? I leave that for you to decide.

The Judge:

That's exactly my job. Thank you, Sir. Session adjourned.

The Judge: Mario Huys
The Bench: Larry Peery and a dozen silent bench warmers

It doesn't need to end here. Perhaps you, the public, found inspiration from this conversation or the topic at hand. If you do, contact the Pouch, and we'll make sure to get it published!

Mario Huys

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