by Chris Warren
The history of French openings reads with two sets used overwhelmingly, both set for A Par-Bur and F Bre-Mid. One is the “Maginot” opening A Mar S A Par-Bur, and the other is known simply as the Burgundy opening with A Mar-Spa. Both these openings offer defense against a German strike into Munich and the easy opportunity to pick up both Iberian supply centers in 1901.
The third opening provides A Mar-Spa, F Bre-Mid, and A Par-Pic, known as the “Picardy Opening.” This is subtly pro-German, as it hints to an accomodation over Burgundy while still giving the French player a voice in Belgium. This can be a very good thing, as F/G alliances, while hard to set up early, can offer wonderful late-game stability, and explosive growth once England is dispatched. However, the French player is often caught declaring his intentions in the fight for Belgium in Fall 1901.
By this time, England knows how to position its build for defense, and the lone French fleet is away in Iberia, a full 2 years from an English supply center. I propose an opening known as the “Gascony Opening”, but that I like to call the “Iberian Gambit.” The Iberian Gambit opens A Par-Gas, F Bre-Mid, A Mar-Spa. While leaving Burgundy open, this is no weaker defensively than the Picardy Opening, as Gascony borders all three home centers. Of course, this is best used with good German relations. In Fall 1901, A Spa continues on to Portugal and A Gas goes to Spain, capturing both Iberian centers, and leaving the French fleet free to move. Anti-English options are to move the fleet to the English Channel, Irish Sea, or North Atlantic, while the threat of going to the Western Mediterranean as an Italian blitz also exists. While not as devestating against Italy as England, the opportunity to do so is very important. It means that the Iberian Gambit can be promoted as a strong Western Triple to England, or as just an Italian blitz, pushing England toward Russia (and ideally, a fleet in the Barrents Sea at the end of 1901). With a fleet already in English waters, and a second fleet built in Brest (and possibly a third in Marseilles) the French can get a quick early leg up in the fight for the British Isles.
Of course, a “gambit” entails risk, and this is of course true. While this opening is as safe defensively for 1901 as the Picardy opening, it is not as strong as the Burgundy or Maginot. Of course, if you have a strong German ally, this is hopefully not a problem. What can be a problem, however, is the fact that both your armies are in Spain and Portugal come 1902. Even a good German ally can only take so much temptation. This is why I reccomend 1901 builds of F Bre and A Par. A fleet in Marseilles, while more immediately useful, will have to work its way around Spain to get to a useful position in the Atlantic, trapping the Portugese army for yet another year. Of course, in the case of friction with the Italians, or an Italian who will acquiesce to you moving F Mar-Lyo, this becomes more palatable.
In short, the Iberian Gambit is France’s best method for immediately projecting naval power north, and probably the most potent weapon a Franco-German alliance has against England. Its defensive shortcomings are minor, especially when compared to pro-German variations, and it’s a surprising move. Furthermore, it doesn’t get bogged down in the fields of Belgium. If only Napoleon had known.
Reprinted from Diplomacy World 81