by Mark Berch
“We can leave out of consideration any move for the northern fleet except that to GoB: the move to Fin achieves nothing the normal move does not.” – Richard Sharp, The Game of Diplomacy
“F(StP)sc-GoB is the only reasonable opening for that unit.” – Rod Walker, The Gamers Guide to Diplomacy
Wrong! Similar language appears in nearly all articles on Russian openings. But opening moves exhibit tremendous variety and the “correct” opening depends on a myriad of circumstances. The word “always”, with one exception (A(Con)-Bul), simply does not belong in these discussions. Those who think otherwise have blinkers on.
There are three types of reasons/circumstances for which F(StP)sc-Fin is actually the better move; psychological, tactical and strategic. Each will be discussed in turn.
The psychological reason is the only one I have ever seen in print or heard mentioned. It is also the weakest. Here, you are confident of taking Swe in A01, so the path does not matter. By going via Fin you show that you trust Germany and haven’t any designs on BAL at all, because you’re so confident of taking Swe. This approach has some obvious drawbacks. How sure can you be of such things in Winter 1900? Also, while you are trying to say, “See how I trust you!” the German player may hear “I’ll do anything to please! If you say it, I’ll believe it, and that’ll settle it, I’m a sucker!” This ploy, has a decent chance of success with a novice German, poor chances with an intermediate, and none whatsoever with an experienced player. I do not recommend your telling the German player that you will open this way for this reason: it may only tempt F(Kie)-Den.
The second reason is tactical. That is, F(Fin) can do something that F(GoB) can’t. If you think the circumstances will occur, or just want to be prepared, in case it might, then Fin is your place.
Suppose you anticipate F(Den)-Swe, A(Yor/Edi)-Nwy in A01. E/G are at least loosely allied and will be hitting France in S02. You anticipate, then, Swe going to Germany, and, StP going to England. You may then expect S02 to see A(Nwy)-Fin and F(Den)-Swe. F(GoB) can only block one of these, but F(Fin) can block them both, since a stand-off in Swe will foil A(Nwy)-Fin.
Actually, the situation isn’t that simple. Germany could foil you by doing, F(Den) stands, letting you slip into Swe, in which case it didn’t matter whether you were in Fin or GoB. But Germany might not want to show such restraint. And England might not relish the thought of F(Swe) retreating to SKA in A02. Anyway, with F(Fin) you have the option, with F(GoB) you don’t.
Fin could be covered with a unit built in StP. However, you might not be able to build there (preferring to cover StP with A(Mos)) or you might want to build F(StP)nc which can’t guard Fin. But even if you do build A(StP) or F(StP)sc, unless; you’re willing to give up Swe altogether and do F(GoB)-Fin, doing A(StP)-Fin and F(GoB)-Swe risks A(Nwy)-StP. By contrast A(StP)-Fin, F(Fin)-Swe will leave StP open only if Germany lets you move into Swe, which means that you will at least have some compensation (Swe) should you lose StP.
In summary, if you think Eng/Ger will want to do A(Nwy)-Fin, F(Den)-Swe in S02, – a reasonable and ordinary expression of an E/G alliance, then Fin is best.
The third and potentially most important reason is strategic. You’ve been denied Swe in A01. You are likely to view this as a very belligerent act, done by a Germany intent on War. While this is sometimes the case, it frequently is not. Germany may be doing this as a favour to England, who may be concerned about losing Nwy in S02 and thus is hesitant about allying with Germany against France. Or perhaps it’s a favour to Austria or Turkey. Or possibly Germany just doesn’t want Russia to grow so fast. This is particularly true if Russia enters BLA, Gal or StP in S01. Germany finds the idea of three Russian builds in 1901 intolerable. Or Germany may wish to signal to Russia that he is not to be taken for granted. At this stage it may be that neither party really wants war.
The problem is that with F(GoB) hovering over the very sensitive BAL, Germany may unwilling to take any chances. Perhaps F(Kie) will be built. You naturally urge him to war with England. While Germany may be interested, F(Kie)-HEL/Hol may be viewed as too risky with F(GoB). F(Fin) makes it much easier. Thus by reducing the aggressive potential of your fleet, you make it easier for Germany to turn west, and make him less dependent on England as an ally. If you feel you will want this low profile after an A01 clash, plan for it with F(StP)sc-Fin.
Please do not misunderstand. I am not saying that F(Fin) is always the best way to go – for two reasons. The first is that in most cases F(StP)sc-GoB is correct. If you feel that as of Winter 1900, Germany has not made up his mind on Swe, then F(GoB)-BAL is a powerful threat, and may well tip the balance. And second there are cases when F(StP)sc-Fin is not correct, but neither is F(StP)sc-GoB!… Reprinted from Fall of Eagles No.60 (Sept 1982)
Reprinted from Fall of Eagles No.60 (Sept. 1982)
[Stephen Agar: In The Numbers Game No.26, Richard Sharp reveals that F(StP)-GoB has been used 95.02% of the time out of 2,148 games for which openings are known. F(StP)-Fin has appeared 2.42% of the time, F(StP)Std 2.42% and F(StP)-Lvn 0.93%. Nearly all of the occurrences of the moves to Fin and Lvn happened in the late 70’s, early 80’s.]