Turkey – A Personal View on Opening Strategy

by Stephen Agar

Let me begin with a warning. This is not intended to be an in-depth analysis of all the possible options open to Turkey in Diplomacy. It is an insight into how I play the game and you may think a lot of what I say is simply misguided or wrong. If so, please write and tell me. All statistics have been gratefully taken from The Numbers Game available from Richard Sharp and Steve Doubleday at Norton House, Whielden Street, Amersham, Bucks, HP7 0HU which is thoroughly recommended for all those with an interest in such things.

In his book The Game of Diplomacy (1978) Richard Sharp described Turkey as a “country for tenacious, uncommunicative, unambitious tacticians…” Who am I to disagree?

Attack Russia!

Speaking from a purely personal point of view, when I play Turkey then one way or another I tend to attack Russia. I cannot see how Turkey can hope to win a game if Russia is strong; Turkey needs all the Austrian home centres and three of the four Russian home centres to have a chance of getting to eighteen. My strategy is simple – get Russia to attack Austria and then attack Russia. If Turkey can take the Black Sea, Rumania and Sevastopol the Turkish position really opens up, therefore I regard those three spaces as my priority. Thus I always put all my efforts into securing A(War)-Gal in S01 and the rest of what follows assumes that Russia has indeed made that move. Of course, to win Turkey must also build fleets and storm through the Mediterranean in the mid-game, but I have always judged that Russia should be broken first if practicable.

Like England, Turkey enjoys a solid defensive position in the corner of the board, however, unlike England the defensive position is also a straightjacket. Constantinople is a bottle neck for armies and fleets alike, while the sea spaces around Turkey do not offer the same scope for bold movement across the board that England enjoys. In many respects the Ionian Sea is to Turkey what the North Sea is to England, only England can take the North Sea in S01, while Turkey usually has to wrestle it from Italy in 1903!

The statistics regarding Turkish opening moves speak for themselves. Only four opening combinations have been used more than 2% of the time, which more than demonstrates the lack of choice open to the Turkish player. First things first – the A(Con) must move to Bul, 99.8% of players cannot be wrong.

The Black Sea

The Black Sea borders two Turkish home centres, Bulgaria (a natural Turkish neutral), a Russian home centre and Rumania (a natural Russian neutral). Thus, it is inevitably the focus of Turkish/Russian relations, possession of which for both players is a prerequisite of a secure defence and a successful stab on the other. In my view Turkey should attack it from SO1 – what else are F(Ank)s for? An overwhelming 71.2% of Turkeys agree. No matter how you dress it up, F(Ank)-BLA accompanies A(Con)-Bul as well as fish accompanies chips. I also tend to order A(Smy)-Con, which coincidentally is the combination of opening moves favoured by 45.01% of all Turkeys in UK postal Diplomacy since records began. I am nothing if not original. The other obvious possibility is A(Smy)-Arm (the “Russian Attack”) but I think that discloses your hand too early. I prefer to try to keep Russia guessing into the Autumn, hopefully so he has the opportunity to commit himself against Austria or in the north. A(Con)-Bul and A(Smy)-Con cannot fail therefore after the S01 adjudication there are only two possible results, you have the Black Sea or you do not.

A Stand-off over the Black Sea

If statistics are anything to go by, if Turkey orders F(Ank)-BLA then two times out of three he will be stood-off by Russia. Many of these stand-offs will be pre-arranged, a few will be mutual stabs. The most likely scenario is for an arranged stand-off coupled with A(War)-Gal and A(Mos)-Ukr. Russia will undoubtedly want to get a unit into Ukraine to provide a second unit against Rumania in A01.

If Russia has been stood-off over Galicia, then provided Austria and Italy are not playing a Lepanto, my instinct is to order F(Ank)-BLA again and come to an accommodation with Austria to deny Russia Rumania in A01. The odds are that Austria will have a unit in Serbia or Budapest with which you can combine with A(Bul) to either stand-off Russia over Rumania, or better still to take it. My inclinations are to ask for Austrian support for A(Bul)-Rum in return for support into Greece the following move (assuming you are not facing an Austrian/Italian alliance). If Russia has armies in Warsaw and Ukraine I would suggest to Russia that he mounts a supported attack on Galicia, while A(Bul) supports F(Sev)-Rum. If you are able to play Austria and Russia off to this extent your best result is a Russian army in Galicia, but Turkish armies in Bulgaria and Rumania and a Turkish fleet in BLA. Provided the Austrian support comes through you can deny Russia Rumania in any event while the move to the Black Sea should be unopposed.

If Russia has succeeded in taking Galicia in S01 then my instinct is still to order F(Ank)-BLA again and come to an accommodation with Austria to deny Russia Rumania in A01 subject to the Lepanto caveat. The only difference is that I would be prepared to support A(Ser)-Rum or support the Austrian A(Rum) if it is there already (in return for the promise of Greece and Sevastopol).

If things go wrong and Russia does not attack Galicia in S01, yet Austria does take it, then the odds are that you can still play Russia off against Austria. If nether Russia nor Austria have moved to Galicia and Austria has not been stabbed by Italy then you are in trouble.

Turkey takes the Black Sea in S01

An excellent start. Once you have the Black Sea it will obviously take two fleets to dislodge you and they simply are not two hostile fleets around. The fact that you are in the Black Sea means that Russia has ordered F(Sev)-Rum.

If Russia has taken Galicia then much of what is said above applies, save that Turkey now has two units on Rumania. If you have gone into the Black Sea in the face of your assurances to Russia that you would not you should try to resist the temptation to move to Sevastopol in the event that it appears empty. Russia will probably expect a stab and a stand-off over Sevastopol will only leave it clear for a build. If you think that Russia is going to have a self stand-off over Sevastopol with F(Rum) and A(Ukr) you could always order F(BLA) S RUSSIAN F(Rum)-Sev, which is an old trick and usually does not work – but when it does work it is a joy to behold.

Of course you should work hard on Russia to convince him that F(Ank)-BLA was purely defensive. Point out that if you really wanted to stab him you would have moved A(Smy)-Arm. Then, Lepanto excepted, work on Austria for support for the move F(BLA)-Rum.

Russia has attacked Austria after all etc.

If Russia has moved A(Mos)-Sev ask yourself why? He could just as easily supported Rumania from Ukraine and have leverage on Galicia. Is he planning the A01 stab A(Sev)-Arm? In any event I would not try anything fancy with A(Con), it must be better to support A(Bul) just in case.

There are far more strategic choices available to Turkey if you take the Black Sea in S01. Rumania is Russia’s door into the Balkans. Try and slam it in his face.

Facing the Lepanto

As you will all know, the Lepanto is an Austria/Italian alliance by which Italy convoys into Tunis in A01, builds F(Nap) and then orders F(ION)-EMS, F(Nap)-ION in S02 with the intent of something like F(ION) & F(EMS) C A(Tun)-Syr in A02. If Austria and Italy are playing this sort of game, then disregard all of this article to date. The only defence to a Lepanto is a build of F(Smy) in A01. However, it is impossible to further your designs on Rumania and Sevastopol in the short term if you are forced into building a fleet in Smyrna. If you are facing a Lepanto, you need Russia.

If there has been a stand-off over the Black Sea, then you can consider F(Ank)-Con, raising the possibility of F(Con)-AEG. Unless Austria has taken Rumania and Serbia your A(Bul) will be safe. However, in order to guarantee the success of this manoeuvre you may have to retreat A(Con) back to Smyrna.

If you are in the Black Sea when you promised you would not, you had better start apologising. Once in the Black Sea I would be very reluctant to give it up, but you could offer Russia support for F(Rum) or a stand-off over Sev if he preferred. Either way make your peace so you can build F(Smy) in safety and comfort.

Remember that in the end Russian/Turkish alliances end up in Russian wins. Do not let things go that far, for there are no prizes for coming second. Come to that, there are no prizes for coming first either, but it certainly gives you a nice warm feeling inside.

First published in Spring Offensive No.2 (June 1992)