I recently drew Turkey for the third time in a row, and that did not appeal to me at all. I like a bit of variety in my Powers, but more importantly my Turkish games are very stressful. In the first game I was brought down to 2 centers and managed to crawl back to 9 centers until I was part of a three-way draw. That sounds cool, until you have to do exactly the same in your very next game (except that I got 11 centers, not 9). I had no particular wish to go through the process a third time.
Still, it was clear that the Universe ordered me to improve my Turkish play. So here we go again. But letís use our brains this time.
As usual, initial press was vague, and despite their courteous replies I trusted neither Russia nor Austria. So I went into the Spring 1901 moves without a clear alliance — or even a clear tactical goal beyond picking up BUL. What I did have was distrust of Austria and Russia. Especially of Russia, since heís closer. And bigger.
Thatís when I decided to play:
A CON - BUL
Itís that last order Iíd like to discuss in this article. As far as I know it has never been treated systematically, even though I think that, in certain situations, it is preferable to the more common A SMY - CON.
I analyzed 252 games from the DP Judge ďowls_Ē series that ran from 2005 to 2012, noting Turkeyís opening with A SMY, and especially the A SMY - CON - BUL sequence. I found that in only 19 of those games (8%) the Sultan orders A SMY H in Spring 1901. Moreover, in 16 of those games it was combined with F ANK - CON, obviously as part of some Russo-Turkish deal. Only three out of 252 games used A SMY H in combination with F ANK - BLA, as I did.
So either Iím a Dip genius whoís invented a new Turkish opening, or Iím a silly newbie with no knowledge of opening literature and not enough wits to see the obvious deficiencies of his idea. This article tends toward the former point of view, but the truth will, boringly, lie somewhere in the middle.
A SMY openings
What is A SMYís best opening move? Thatís clear: A SMY - ARM. It deploys the army satisfactorily and brings it in direct contact with a pickup possibility, SEV. Combined with a succesful F ANK - BLA it is the most powerful Spring 1901 move Turkey can make. Thereís but one tiny problem: it plunges you into an irrevocable death struggle with the Tsar. If thatís what you want, go to ARM. If thatís not what you want, do something else.
So. Which orders do Sultans give A SMY?
Nothing too surprising here.
Weíre left with three eaxct copies of my move, and seven cases where A SMY - ANK is combined with F ANK - BLA, which sets up nearly the same tactical and diplomatic situation, though I will argue later that the hold order is slightly preferable.
Ten out of 252. 4%. Not a lot.
A SMY - CON — and on
Why do half of the Sultans play A SMY - CON? The commonly stated reason is that in Fall it could move on to BUL in case A BUL picks up one of the other Balkan centers.
Does the data bear this out? Letís define ďsuccessĒ as the picking up of an extra Balkan center, and see where that leads us.
A 75% failure rate is not very good. But maybe weíre being unfair here. Maybe some of the options that donít bring in a second Balkan center have other merits.
All orders that do not attempt to move the army to a supply center are either pointless, or show that the army should not have been sent to CON in the first place. Thus it is proven that the sole reason for A SMY - CON in Spring is to conquer a second Balkan center in Fall.
The risk of A SMY - CON
How risky is moving to CON in Spring? Worst case scenario: bounce in BUL while the Tsar invades ARM. The Spring move to CON did not yield any results and invited an incursion. How often does this happen?
In about 1 out of 8 cases, a Sultan moving A SMY - CON is subjected to a Russian invasion in ARM in Spring 1901, Fall 1901, or Spring 1902. Thatís not too huge a risk to run.
While I had expected to find that many Sultans moving to CON would be invaded in ARM, the data does not bear that out. Moving A SMY - CON is relatively safe — probably because itís combined with F ANK - BLA, which almost forces the Tsar to play F SEV - BLA (bounce) and thus keeps ARM safe from incursions.
Moving A SMY - CON may be fairly safe, but that doesnít make it useful. Or succesful.
A CON - BUL
How can a Sultan know if A SMY - CON in Spring is a good idea? Which factors make a grab for a second Balkan center succesful?
Summary so far
So weíve seen the following:
So the A SMY - CON move is a fairly safe one, but itís only useful in certain specific diplomatic circumstances: Austria or Russia fighting elsewhere, or an Austrian alliance against Russia.
We can go even further: A SMY - CON only makes sense if the Sultan knows about these diplomatic circumstances in Spring. If he doesnít heís just guessing when he sends off A SMY - CON.
The useless army
Why do so many Sultans resort to guesswork? I think they donít know what to do with A SMY. Letís face it: if you donít want to go to ARM straight away, A SMY is a rather useless army. Who hasnít wished for F SMY instead?
Still, Sultans think they are required to make it do something because all units should do something in Spring 1901. Thatís mostly true, but not entirely. A VEN H is fully accepted as part of Italian openings.
I believe that the same should go for A SMY H. I believe that, if it cannot play a well-defined role in ARM or the Balkan, A SMY should be a garrison unit, aimed at defense rather than offense.
A SMY has one use that A CON does not have. It can guard your frontiers against treacherous Tsars. By threatening A SMY - ARM in Fall you have a lot more leverage in your negotiations. Even better, you havenít actually declared war on him — you just hover there menacingly.
Turkey is strong in defense. If youíre unsure of your alliances, unclear on what the rest of the board is going to do, and generally groping around, you should consider keeping A SMY right were it is in order to strengthen your defense even more.
Using a unit defensively is not ideal in the early game, but these are the sub-optimal cards Calhamer has dealt the Sultan, so we should play them as well as we can. If 75% of the attempts to deploy into the Balkan fail, itís time to look for other options.
The useful center
Thereís a second fact thatís overlooked too often: CON is Turkeyís prime building center.
Winter 1901. The Sultan has one build, and that means a fleet. But where to build it? SMY and ANK are so dreadfully final: you proclaim to the world at large that youíre either going after Italy or Austria, or after Russia. Sometimes you want that, but at other times you want to hedge your bets.
Solution: build F CON. This offers you maximum flexibility and leverage in negotiating with both sides — unless a by now 100% useless army sits in CON for the Sultanís concubines to admire.
The other use for CON is as a destination for F BLA in case you strike a deal with the Tsar between the Spring and Fall moves. If it were occupied by a 75% useless army youíd have to either play it safe and send your fleet back to ANK (a tactically ridiculous move if there ever was one), or move A CON back to SMY (proving A SMY - CON should never have been ordered in the first place).
I believe that, because they play A SMY - CON too often, Sultans are generally not making enough effort to keep CON open in Fall and Winter.
A SMYís role
Concluding, we can see that A SMY has three distinct roles it can play:
Right now the second option is overrated at the expense of the third. I would argue that, in the absence of A SMY - ARM, A SMY H should be the default order, to be used unless the diplomatic circumstances I described apply in Spring.
A SMY - ANK?
There remains one more point to argue: A SMY - ANK. It offers the same benefits as A SMY H: it covers ARM and keeps CON empty.
I believe A SMY H is superior to A SMY - ANK in case Russia plays F SEV - ARM — a stupid move, but that doesnít stop some Tsars. With an army in ANK you must hold, but with an army in SMY you can try to set up a bounce that leaves ANK free for a build.
Still, that scenario is an edge case, and my real reason for preferring A SMY H is psychological. If A SMY is a defensive unit, let it behave as one. A SMY - ANK is a non-move, so be consistent and donít move A SMY at all.
By underscoring them with a Spring 1901 HOLD order thatís bound to raise eyebrows, you can make A SMYís strong defensive capabilities clear for all to see — especially the Tsar.
Thus I argue that, in the absence of a move to ARM, the default order for A SMY should become a hold instead of a move to CON. This offers extra security against the Tsar without declaring war on him, and it keeps CON free for a build. Conversely, three out of four times the A SMY - CON move is useless.
If necessary you should not hesitate to send A SMY to CON, but you should first evaluate your diplomatic position for any signs of a second Balkan pickup, and not order A SMY - CON just to give the unit something to do.
A SMY H allows you to negotiate with Russia from a position of strength. Thatís a lot better than ordering a 75% useless army to occupy your prime building center in order to ogle concubines.
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