Further Thoughts
On No-Press Opening Strategy

(The second installment of a rebuttal to
M J Yatchman's "...or Why is Italy Always Such a Jerk?")

By Brandon Clarke


This is the third article in what has become a series reviewing NoPress opening strategy. M J Yatchman penned the first article which appeared in the S1998M issue of The Pouch. Those who read my own article know that I found myself in disagreement with Yachtman on a few points, and from e-mail correspondences, I realised that I wasn't alone in my reaction. So I wrote the second article in the series rebutting some of his assertions. It was published in the S1998R issue of The Pouch.

Since then I've received a number of emails from people, all of whom have basically said, "I'm glad you took the time to write something like that. I felt the same way as you when I read the original article, and was going to write something myself, but never got around to it. Here are some other points you might like to consider for your second article...." Consequently, many of the points in the following article are the result of direct contributions from others, or from discussions I've had with others. A list of credits follows this article.

General Comments and Feedback from Last Time

One of the most insightful points raised by those who have commented to me about the articles was this:

I didn't actually say it in my previous article, but that is the thought that was behind the core of my objection to M J Yatchman's original article. This is probably the second tenet of NoPress play; it goes hand-in-hand with my assertion that: In the original article, M J Yatchman wrote: A friend of mine wrote to me, and he prefers to look at it this way: "If England moves to the channel in S1901M, not intending to attack France, then well, he will be fighting France soon regardless of whether he wanted to or not. France won't like it, and England can't explain that he only wants to be there to influence Belgium, or to prevent a French fleet from being there, so its going to be war. England moving to the Channel means war with France, and that means England's going to be tied up focusing on his southern flank, and not expanding terribly effectively in Scandinavia, or into Germany...."

M J Yatchman says of German openings:

In response to this, my friend wrote: "...My response concerning England moving to the Channel similarly applies to Germany moving to Burgundy in S1901M. For Germany, all that move is certain to do is gain you an enemy, and in that bit at the start when every one is deciding who to attack, the one thing you should not do is antagonise some one unnecessarily. In the Fall, what will France think when making builds? Germany tried to get to BUR, or England tried to get to the Channel. So he builds two armies or two fleets, and he has chosen his enemy. Why risk those two units being built against you, and all for not much gain? You've got plenty to be doing as Germany in the first two years without having to divert resources to holding off a peeved France. Try never to give anyone a reason to take a dislike to you as they might just use this as a reason to attack you."

My friend continued his line of thought looking at the relationship in the early years of a NoPress game between Austria and Italy: "...Likewise, as Austria, never build a second fleet unless you are going after Italy, because the chances of him attacking you if you do build it are almost certain. It does not matter the tactical importance of the unit, don't build it unless you're attacking Italy. In a press game you can say, "look we need it, you have no builds, and we must get extra fleets to attack Turkey as soon as possible, otherwise we will get nowhere." You can explain your plan in detail, and Italy may come around to your line of reasoning, and see that it's the best thing to do. In NoPress, though, you can't explain yourself, so Italy sees the build, assumes the worst, and then attacks. You don't need this enemy, so don't build that second fleet unless you're going to go to war with Italy...you'll be going to war whether you like it or not if you do build it."

The point is, if you do something in the early years of a NoPress game that another player might construe as a sign of aggression, then they will construe it that way, and you will have gained yourself an enemy. Because you can't talk and explain in NoPress you opponents are forced to assume the worst of your intentions, because as M J Yatchman correctly pointed out: "In no-press if you show any sign of weakness everyone will jump on you like vultures!".

My friend continues his lesson, this time illustrating a classic opening game trap for French players to avoid: "As France, never try a dummy move to the Mediterranean before attacking England. I have seen this in both Press and NoPress games. In Press games it's fine, as France can tell Italy it's a feint, designed to catch England off guard. France may have a fleet in WME, and one in GOL, and another in SPA/sc, but his intention is to lull England into a false sense of security, and thus get England to commit to a northern campaign, safe in the (erroneous) knowledge that he is safe from an attack by France. Once England is overcommitted in the north, France can then stab with a move to IRI, and a convoy to the open Liverpool. The attack on England after this sort of dummy to the Mediterranean is almost always successful (if timed right). But in NoPress, Italy can not be told that the move is a fake, and that the fleets will all be gone next season. Instead, Italy is forced to move to defend, and once his units have been redeployed away from the potential gains in the east, Italy then naturally attacks France, as France has given him a reason to attack... ("The fleets are moving that direction, why should they not continue that way?" reasons Italy). So the dummy fools England, and leads to a successful French attack on Liverpool, but it also fools Italy, who attacks France, and who continues to attack, even after he has realised that it was only a dummy, and not a real attack."

Among the discussions with the regular players of RealTime NoPress games, it became apparent that many of them regard F1902M and F 1902B as the crucial phases of a NoPress game. The sentiment is that events in 1901 can be written off as mistakes, or as failed guesses due to the nature of NoPress games, however events of 1902 are conducted with the knowledge of what happened the previous year. Consequently, if Russia opens with F SEV to RUM in S1901M, and then orders F RUM C A BUL-TRI in F 1902M, this is a clear request for an alliance with Turkey. Suppose Turkey ordered F ANK-BLA in S1901M? That can be written off by Russia (if he's feeling confident or brave) as a reasonable opening by Turkey that's not necessarily anti-Russian -- he could have been expecting the bounce after all, right? However, if Turkey then orders F BLA S F RUM in the Fall, that doesn't necessarily indicate he's not anti-Russian either. S1902M is not likely to be much of a guide either...moving out of BLA to CON would likely be a clear sign that Turkey wants to accept the Russian offer of alliance, however F BLA C (Russian) A UKR-BUD in S1902M would not be an unacceptable response to Russia's offer in F1901M. The crunch comes in F1902M, after the openings, offers, and counter-offers have been made. Then is the time to see where everyone really stands. If Turkey attacks Sevastapol, then F1901M and S1902M were just propaganda. If he now moves out of BLA and works with Russia against Austria, an alliance has almost certainly been formed that will likely last some time. The moves of F1902M and the builds in F1902B are the crunch point. Very rarely will issues like this still be left unsettled into 1903, and seldom, if ever, into 1904.

In the course of rebutting M J Yatchman's assertion that there is no substitute for Germany for:

I talked about the Baltic opening. Alexander K. Woo wrote to me ecstatic that someone else had finally given credence to something he'd been on about for several years. He said: There's an alternative for you!

On with the rebuttal of M J Yatchman's original article: I covered England and Germany in my article last issue. Following the format of Yatchman's original article, I'll now move on to France...


M J Yatchman wrote of the French opening game in NoPress play:

If you've been paying the slightest attention to the drivel I've spun so far, it'll come as no surprise to you that I disagree, at least partially here. France has two guaranteed builds in SPA and POR. Because of this France can afford to be patient at the beginning of a NoPress game, and that is a very good thing indeed.

As noted above, there is a bit at the beginning of a NoPress game where people are "deciding who they are going to attack." Because it's relatively difficult (but not impossible) to bury the hatchet and kiss and make up in NoPress play, these decisions have a large influence on how the game takes shape. Such decisions tend to be relatively long-lasting too. This is due to the inability to talk to your neighbours and agree to a truce, and also due to the fact that players tend to commit to a front, due to my premise "that, on a given front, the side that is able to bring the most concentrated, co-ordinated force to bear, will win out nine times out of ten." Once your forces are committed to a front, it often takes a lot of time to withdraw and redeploy to another campaign, so many times players push on as they feel they have too much invested in an attack to pull out now.

So, at the beginning, having the opportunity to sit back, not offend anyone, and see who bites who is a luxury. Not all powers have this opportunity, but France most definitely does. Having done so France can then either swing into the Mediterranean, or join Germany in an attack on England, or vice-versa, and on the rare occasion that Russia is wading into Germany you can leap in there too and claim your share of the spoils, or attack England while propping up Germany until you can get there in force with the builds England hopefully provides. The point is France has options a plenty. Don't spoil that by leaping into the Channel, and making an enemy out of England unless you're going to go all out at England.

The move to BUR is sound. Usually the support from Marseilles is unnecessary, if you've got a sensible Germany...but that's by no means guaranteed, and of course you've got no way to tell have you? It's a judgment call as to how you handle that...accept the bounce if Germany moves A MUN-BUR? Or, support yourself in there using A MAR S A PAR-BUR? As long as Italy doesn't decide to move to PIE you can then tootle off to SPA in the fall, while F MAO takes POR.

There's a bundle of articles out there about French opening theory, so I won't go on any further here, as I'm specifically addressing the NoPress aspect of the subject. Take two builds in 1901, and actively try to avoid getting three, as this will gain you enemies and galvanise England and Germany against you. If you want to signal your wishes for an alliance to either England or Germany, support them into Belgium in the fall from BUR. You may want to wait until S1902M to do this though, as showing your cards in F1901M may cause the 'victim' to build in F1901B with a view to fighting you. Better to keep your head down and jump onto the winning bandwagon after the crucial year 1902.


"The no-brainer move is F STP-BOT, unless you are an idiot or want to portray yourself as such." - That's the prophet Yatchman again, and yes, I was literally tearing my hair out at this stage. That's it. That's the full coverage of your options for F STP/SC.

I'll admit, this order is ordered almost all of the time. Indeed, Stephen Agar, in his article Back to Basics -- Russia first published in The Spring Offensive #10, quotes figures from Richard Sharp's issue 15 of The Numbers Game which show that in 1,887 UK postal games played to 1992 only 1.48% of Russian openings did not see F STP-GOB. These were made up of F STP-FIN (0.53%), and F STP misordered (0.95%). However, that, to me, is the very reason that you should consider your other options. For now, I will assume that those other options are F STP-FIN, and F STP-LVN. I will talk about your other options subsequent to a look at those two options, as they are the most likely options to appeal in my opinion. In NoPress play you can't talk to your opponents, and you can't explain your reasons or (more importantly when we're looking at the openings) your intentions. So, given that people almost always order F STP-GOB, surely F STP-FIN or F STP-LVN will stick out like a sore thumb, and convey something to your opponents? And in an environment where communication is very difficult, I think that immediately begs the question "Why not order F STP-FIN/LVN?".

To answer that we need to ask "What does F STP-FIN or F STP-LVN signify to your opponents?" Mark Berch wrote a couple of interesting articles on this subject, The Lapland Lurch, and The Livonian Lunacy, which I think cover this issue in depth. In summary though, moving to Finland surely is, if anything, pro-Greman? Ask yourself what can your fleet do in GOB that it can't do in FIN? That's right! It can move to BAL, so surely, by opening to FIN, you give Germany one less thing to worry about don't you? The idea is that Germany realises this, and perhaps is then more disposed to not bouncing you out of Sweden in F1901M. Also, if you do get bounced out of Sweden in F1901M, you're in FIN, not GOB. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as an English army that reaches NWY in F1901M often tries to move to FIN in S1902M, and if you get bounced again in SWE by the German, England can't sneak through to FIN to really put pressure on STP. On the other hand, consider the message that moving to LVN sends...? Why would you move to LVN? What can you do in LVN that you can't do in GOB? Move to Prussia? If Germany is awake, (s)he may realise this and order F DEN (?) to BAL... if you then order F LVN-GOB there's some interesting play coming up as Germany may well have lost a build over this by moving out of Denmark... Mark Berch's comments about The Livonian Lunacy don't transfer to NoPress play as well as The Lapland Lurch does, as the former relies on you saying to Germany "I'm definitely going to BAL, mate...".

My argument is that F STP-GOB is so typical it doesn't tell anyone anything about your intentions, and niether does it give anything away. That may or may not be what you want, depending on your approach to the rest of the opening of the game. Moving to Finland is definitely worth considering... think of the messages it conveys.

There are other options with F STP too. You could order it to convoy someone's army somewhere -- either to Switzerland to indicate you don't want to fight (I'm thinking England or Turkey here, but maybe even Austria or Germany), or to a third nations capital to suggest the two of you team up against that third party. This is, possibly, a rather extreme idea. You are giving up any hope of taking Sweden, and losing tactical position for 1902...or are you? Obviously, if you were to pursue this opening, you're assuming Germany is going to bounce you in Sweden (which is not an unreasonable assumption, as that is not uncommon). If so, at the end of F1901 your fleet would be in GOB (or even FIN if you're listening to me). Well, suppose you opt to stay in STP in S1901M and convoy someone somewhere? In the Fall you move to GOB, or to FIN, and you're in the same position you would have been, but with the added bonus of having gained a phase in the 'negotiation'/alliance offering dance that goes on at the start of a NoPress game. If you convoyed Germany somewhere in S1901M (s)he may well support you into Sweden in S1902M if (s)he's agreeable to your proposal. How often do you fluff around trying to coordinate the Scandinavian theatre in the early years, desperately trying to forge an alliance (often unsuccessfully). Trading off a low percentage shot at Sweden in F1902M for an early offer of friendship which could be crucial in the pivotal F1902M season could be well worth it could it not?

Yatchman goes on to say (with regard to Russian openings):

Right! So opening with A MOS-STP has been written off as an option? Scandinavia is not worthy of strategic consideration? Really!? Not surprisingly, I disagree. But let's come back to that later.

So, we "already know we're bouncing in BLA"!!!??? Crikey! I didn't even know I was going to BLA, let alone that Turkey was too! We'll look at Turkey's options in time, but for now, let's consider what we are going to do with F SEV... Well going to the Black Sea IS an option...not a bad one either. I even advocate it's probably the default move for this piece - however there are some very worthy options available to us.

First, if we order F SEV-RUM in S1901M, chances are we will make it into RUM as Austria opening to RUM is relatively rare. (If we do bounce we're not too badly off either.) The question is then what to do with F RUM in F1901M? Well I think this is a perfect opportunity to convoy an army of either Austria, Italy, or Turkey either to Switzerland or to the capital of a third party, or to signal a 1902 attack (e.g. F RUM C A BUL-SER, or F RUM C A SER-BUL). Of course if Turkey is in the Black Sea one has to decide whether to cover SEV or not, but often I would think given people are desperate to gain a friend in the early moves, many Turks who see you not contest the BLA will reply in F1901M with a signal of their own that friendship is on their minds too. Then again, sometimes in NoPress play you guess wrong and suck the Kumara, don't you?

Big risks, big rewards, in the Twilight Zone... (any pinball fans out there?)

Secondly, you could order F SEV S F ANK-BLA. [Remember to breathe now...in, out..., in, out. Focus your eyes...] Seriously, though, where's the risk? If Turkey opens to the Black sea you have an olive branch extended, and a good defensive position should Turkey be hellbent on fighting you. If Turkey doesn't open to the Black Sea, you've still extended the olive branch, and you're in good position to take Rumania in the fall (if you open with A MOS-UKR).

Earlier I said: "in that bit at the start when every one is deciding who to attack, the one thing you should not do is antagonise some one unnecessarily." Couple that with my argument that alliances are harder to forge in NoPress play, due to the difficulty of communication, and my argument "that, on a given front, the side that is able to bring the most concentrated, co-ordinated force to bear, will win out nine times out of ten." it should be clear that if you can forge an early alliance in NoPress play you have gained an advantage over those who are still trying to communicate and coordinate their intentions with their neighbours.

Your third option (other than F SEV-BLA) is F SEV-ARM. If you were to try this, which can't be dressed up as anything other than strongly anti-Turkish, then you'd have to be looking for an alliance with Austria, so the natural accompaniment would be A WAR-UKR, A MOS-SEV. Now as long as Turkey hasn't opened to ARM too you're poised aren't you? Poised for what is a good question. Let us Assume there's an Austrian army in Galicia (which is hardly the spookiest eventuality is it?). Unless there's also an Austrian army in RUM there's not much point covering WAR. If you opened this way, you're asking for Austrian help. If he goes for WAR, you're screwed. You're banking on him helping you into RUM, and then fighting the Turk with you. If Turkey opened with F ANK-CON you're in business, as you can safely leave SEV open for a second southern fleet build to try and help you wrest control of BLA and then push into Turkey proper and out into the Med. A SEV-RUM, A UKR S A SEV-RUM is the go, with F ARM-BLA. If Turkey opened with F ANK-BLA and A SMY-CON/H I might expect a slf bounce in ANK, in which case I'd follow up with F ARM S F BLA-ANK to (a) empty the Black Sea, and (b) fill ANK so it can't be built in. You can then choose to play it safe, and take RUM with A UKR, or risk F BLA-SEV and order A SEV-RUM, A UKR S A SEV-RUM. All this is rather risky business, and shouldn't be tried by players with a heart condition, but it is an option I wouldn't totally discount.

Back to M J Yatchman's comments:

While I agree that a Northern offense is not always Russia's best plan, I've seen solo victories come from it in NoPress play, and I've personally been stopped on seventeen twice using it, and each time I believe I should have soloed, but I made stupid errors in the endgame -- the opening, however, was very successful. The downside is that you can indeed get eaten up in the south, particularly if Turkey starts out with a Russian offensive in mind, and Austria joins in. But then, no opening in Diplomacy, particularly NoPress Diplomacy, is guaranteed to work, is it?

I do disagree that a Northern Opening makes no sense, though. If it is the way you plan to go you're obviously gunning for two SC's (SWE and NWY) by 1903 at the latest. If you can gain and hold RUM in the south, and make a friend there, then very good things can happen for you from 1903 to 1907 with the north secured. The three builds generated by a successful plan as outlined above give you more than enough units to get your share of the Balkans in the initial divvy up. You don't necessarily pass up anything in the south if you have your wits about you, and I would say that it's only slow going in the north if you're not good enough to cut it. I've watched a player carve Scandinavia up with just two fleets as Russia. (Check out game ALPINE on AUME).

To be fair to Yatchman, he did go on to write something I felt was very astute and on target:

Fair enough. A VIE-GAL is the overwhelmingly popular Austrian order, and he's right, an Austrian army in Galicia is not the most comforting thing for a Russian after S1901M. You've got to have a pretty good reason not to order A WAR-GAL.

Two reasons, though, do spring to mind, and both are when you want Austria as an ally. The risky option of F SEV-ARM, A MOS-SEV, A WAR-UKR has already been discussed. However, you might try A WAR S A VIE-GAL. This indicates to Austria that you'd rather cooperate than niggle, and WAR is safely covered for F1901M. This could be used either in conjunction with A MOS-UKR, or indeed with a northern opening (A MOS-STP) with your sights set on Germany, allowing A WAR-SIL/PRU in F1901M, perhaps with F GOB-BAL if you're feeling really bold. One English fleet in NWY or NWG (perhaps England is following Yatchman with LON-ENG, doing the Splits) would give you the option of bouncing England out of NWY in F1901M, or, if you're sure of a southern build, A STP-FIN (for position for 1902, in which case you'd probably have to try for SWE). Alternatively, you could then use A WAR to move to UKR for a solid push in the Balkans in 1902.

Yatchman must have really been on a high dosage of caffiene when he concluded his Russian section, because I found myself agreeing with him twice in one screen's worth of text! I got a bit worried at that stage...

Can't disagree with that. Sound stuff.

Here are Yatchman's concluding recommendations with my own comments:


M J's opening salvo reads:

My feeling is that this it lunacy. By now you've probably become aware of my approach to NoPress play: Yatchman tells us there is no real alternative but to bounce in the Black Sea. That, my loyal readers (there are some of you still reading aren't there?), is the best reason you have not to move to the Black Sea. What does F ANK-CON say to Russia? Clearly it indicates a desire to move to the Mediterranean. If Russia wants to be friends (which is not too far beyond the bounds of possibility, is it?), (s)he just needs to keep out of the BLA and let you move into the AEG, and a beautiful friendship may just have begun. I've played several successful juggernaut alliances in NoPress play, and if Russia just keeps it's southern fleet in SEV after the initial moves, it can be invaluable to the alliance, as Russia can use it to convoy Russian and Turkish armies each turn as a way to signal what (s)he thinks is the best way to go in the following turn. This can give the alliance a good advantage in coordination over its opponents.

The drawback is that if Russia does move F SEV-BLA then in F1901M F CON-AEG could be risky if Russian has grand designs for snatching an early slice of Turkey. One solution to this quandary is:


This does, however, risk a cunning Russian ordering F BLA S A BUL-CON!!! (gulp)

Another friend wrote to me following my first rebuttal of Yatchman's article and said, "When you get to the part on Turkey, here's a move I just saw for the first time in the last year: Turkey orders Con-Bul, Smy-Con, Ank S Sev-Bla. I was playing Russia and I immediately caught on that Turkey wanted to be friends. In Fall 1901, I ordered F Bla-Rum (the Black Sea was empty the rest of the game), and Austria was toast. Turkey is safe from a Russian stab by merely ordering Ank HOLD, Con S Bul in F01. Once Russia sails F Bla-Rum, F ANK is freed up for Mediterranean duty."

Viola!!! (No, that's not a typo - I meant viola...) How's that for a "real alternative" to the bounce in BLA?

Penfold: "Good grief, DM! What will we do now!?" - I just found another instance of me agreeing with the Yatchman fellow! He says:

Even I'm struggling to come up with viable alternatives here. That has to be a must move. I challenge anyone to write an article contradicting that...go on, Manus -- keep the spirit of the Yorkshire Pudding alive!

Phew!!! Just when I was getting worried, Yatchman comes out with:

Ummm, wouldn't A SMY-ARM be a little more "all out" against Russia? I'll give the benefit of the doubt, and assume that was a typo that slipped through.

Then, right when has he got back to making me question me, he comes up with some more sound advice:

Good solid stuff, which is then, unfortunately, immediately undone with: There is always a substitute. Well, except in the case of A CON-BUL in S1901M.

Just To Keep You Hanging....

Yatchman's article was subtitled "Why is Italy Always such a Jerk?" Unfortunately, he never really satisfactorily answered that question in his article. He wrote:

I was hoping the "another time" was going to be in the S1998R issue of The Pouch, but alas, it seems the secret vision has remained locked away in the mysterious confines of Yatchman's crystalized mind. Hopefully my rebuttal article last issue will have stirred him to retort, and with any luck you'll find his sage conclusion soon. No matter, though, I faithfully promise you, my disciples, that I will conclude this series in the next issue of The Pouch, with my comments on Austria and Italy, some further discussion of general NoPress theory, and a conclusion including my own opinion on "Why Italy is always such a jerk" -- which is another thing I do tend to agree with my friend Yatchman on. Italy is often a jerk.... but all that next time.


The following people helped me write this article, either by supplying me with writing of their own on the subject, or by critiquing what I had written, or just by sharing ideas. The above article, and it's predecessor wouldn't have been what they are without these people's help.

Brandon Clarke

If you wish to e-mail feedback on this article to the author, and clicking on the envelope above does not work for you, feel free to use the "Dear DP..." mail interface.