Naming the Openings

by Richard Sharp

[When Richard published the Game of Diplomacy in 1978 he introduced to the world a system for describing Diplomacy Openings, most of which were subsequently taken up by the postal Diplomacy hobby at large. This article from early 1978 explains his thinking…] 

One trouble I had when compiling my learned work was that so few openings have well known descriptive names. Rather than refer laboriously to a set of three or four moves each time, I decided to invent names myself where none existed, and I hope that at least some of them may stick. In general I used simple descriptive terms, unless some more imaginative name came naturally to mind. Where a set of moves has one unambiguous purpose, I used the words “Attack”, “Defence” or “Gambit”, as the case might be; everything else was simply “Opening”. Here are some examples with the frequencies taken from New Statsman. 


F(Edi)-NWG, F(Lon)-NTH is the Northern Opening, with an Edinburgh Variation (31%), an obviously superior Yorkshire Variation (36.3% – the first time it’s been more popular) and, presumably, a Welsh Variation (0.0%). F(Edi)-NWG, F(Lon)-ENG is the Splits, with logical Edinburgh and Welsh Variations (1.3% and 0.6%) and a lunatic Yorkshire Variation which lends itself to some very vulgar names (0.6%!). The French Attack is F(Lon)-ENG, F(Edi)-NTH, A(Lpl)-Wal (7.5%), but if the army goes elsewhere the fleet moves constitute the Belgian Opening, with the usual Edinburgh and Yorkshire Variations (0.9% and 20.3%). 


A(Ber)-Kie, A(Mun)-Ruh constitutes the Blitzkrieg Opening, with Danish and Dutch Variations (41.6% and 20.8% – the former being the most popular of all openings by any country). The Burgundy Opening is F(Kie)-Hol, A(Ber)-Kie, A(Mun)-Bur (12.3%); this has a pseudo-Danish Variation which is hard to classify as so much depends on whether A(Mun)-Bur is meant to succeed or not: if not then it is part of the Anschluss (F(Kie)-Den, A(Ber)-Kie, A(Mun)Std.) (1.9% plus a substantial but unknown number of agreed stand-offs over Burgundy). The wild attack on Russia with A(Ber)-Pru, A(Mun)-Sil is the Barbarossa Attack (1.3%, including 0.2% for the crazy Baltic Aberration). Most other German openings can be classified according to the intended action of A(Mun) – e.g. the Tyrolian Opening, the Bohemian Lapse – which are usually more popular in their Danish forms, though rarely seen in any case. 


Difficult. I ignored F(StP)sc, as any other move other than GoB is just silly. the main variations are: the Turkish Attack with F(Sev)-BLA, A(Mos)-Sev (9% nearly all with the normal A(War)-Ukr Variation); the Southern Defence with F(Sev)-BLA, A(War)-Gal, A(Mos)-Ukr (22.0%); the Austrian Attack, same as the Southern Defence but with the pro-Turkish F(Sev)-Rum (18.0%); the Rumanian Opening, same as the Southern Defence but with A(Mos)-Sev and A(War)-Ukr (7.4%); the Northern Opening in which A(Mos) goes to StP and which F(Sev) doesn’t go to BLA (13.8%); the Octopus which combines the StP and BLA moves (9.1%); and the Livonian System, in which any army goes to Livonia (6.3%). There are countless Variations on most of these – e.g. the Octopus proper is A(Mos)-StP, A(War)-Gal, F(Sev)-BLA, F(Sev)-BLA, much less popular than what I have called “The Squid” (a limp-legged Octopus) with A(War)-Ukr. 


Boring. The Russian Attack is obviously F(Ank)-BLA, A(Con)-Bul, A(Smy)-Arm (32.1%), while the Russian Defence sends the Smyrna Army to Con instead (29.3%). The Western Opening is F(Ank)-Con (31.8%), with Ankara and Smyrna Variations, plus a rare Armenian one and a unique Syrian. (Aren’t people peculiar?) It also has a Ship of the Desert Variation in which F(Ank) goes to Arm! Finally there is the version in which the armies go west but the fleet mucks about (stands or is misordered) – this I have dubbed the Boston Strangler, as in effect it says to Russia, “I’m raving mad and I’m going to attack you the minute your back’s turned.” (4.2%, amazingly enough). 


No less than 75% of Austrian players open with a version of the Balkan Gambit, F(Tri)-Alb, A(Bud)-Ser, called a gambit because it sacrifices the defence of the home centres in search of a quick build. The variations are decided by A(Vie), and are in order of popularity the Trieste (31.9%), Galician (18.5%), Budapest (14.7%), Tyrolian (5.5%) and Stay-at-Home (4.3%) Variations, plus the Bohemian Aberration (1.1%, I can hardly believe it). the most popular of the remaining starts are the various types of Hedgehog: the True Hedgehog with F(Tri)-Ven, A(Bud)-Rum, A(Vie)-gal (1.7%); the Southern Hedgehog with A(Bud)-Ser instead (2.8%); and the Houseboat Variations of both those in which F(Tri) stands (respectively 0.4% and 2.5%). F(Tri)-ADS is the Blue Water Gambit, in which Austria risks a great deal for the rare and simple pleasure of getting water under his feet – at its wildest this becomes the maniacal Italian Attack with A(Bud)-Tri and A(Vie)-Tyr. 


Very tricky, because of the Lepanto, that enormously popular idea devised by Edi Birsan which doesn’t require any specific opening moves. I had to fall back on the term “Lepanto System” to cover all the openings in which one army goes to Apulia (rarely Naples) , the fleet goes to the Ionian, and the other army moves to or stands in Venice. This has a total frequency of 19.7%, excluding the characteristic Key Lepanto moves F(Nap)-ION, A(Rom)-Apu/Nap, A(Ven)-Tri (5.7%) which can be a routine Lepanto if a stand-off is arranged in Trieste. A further 4% of the time the A(Ven) goes to Tyr, and 1.9% to Pie, again with stand-off possibilities which would convert it into a Lepanto. It looks as though the total frequency of all Lepanto System moves is therefore between 25% and 30%. The Tyrolian Attack is specifically the combination of A(Ven)-Tyr with A(Rom)-Ven (25.7% including the minority Tyrrhenian Variation). The Stab Lepanto is of course A(Ven)-Tri, A(Rom)-Ven (17.9%) and the French Attack is the combination of A(Ven)-Pie with F(Nap)-TYS (7.1%). 


The Maginot Opening is the most popular, God knows why – F(Bre)-MAO, A(Mar) S A(Par)-Bur (23.1%). When France makes the popular moves F(Bre)-MAO, A(Mar)-Spa then the Paris army decides the opening, the most common being the Picardy Opening and the Burgundy Opening (both 13.4%). The popular fleet move to the Channel (21.7%) subdivides into the English Attack with A(Par)-Pic (8.5%, including 1.3% for the Northern Dash with A(Mar)-Bur) and the English Defence with other moves for A(Par), usually to Gas or Bur. One opening enjoying something of a minor boom is the Belgian Gambit F(Bre)-MAO, A(Par)-Pic, A(Mar)-Bur, which risks getting only one build in a doubtful cause (5.9%). There are innumerable unclassifiable minor openings for France, which still seems to have a greater freedom of choice in Spring 1901 than any other country. 

Reprinted from Dolchstoß No.61 (February 1978)