Sunday, 07 May 2017 13:22

Keep on Trotting

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It's official: Jake Trotta is dominating our 12th season of Windy City Weasels Diplomacy. Trotta posted another hard-fought board-top in Game No. 340, played yesterday at Bryan Pravel's soon-to-be-former home in River North. Trotta now has 4.5 tops on the year, which means, with three months of play remaining, he's in line to challenge Peter Lokken's all-time record of 7.5 tops, set in Season 6.

Trotta ran his personal league streak to three straight tops, including the last two league games played. No one has ever topped three straight league games. It looks like that drought will continue, as Trotta is not scheduled to play on Red Wednesday this week.

Game No. 340 went nine years. The final center counts were:

Austria (Bryan Pravel): 1; 0.417 points.
England (Brandon Fogel): 0; 0.000 points.
France (Chad Carson): 3; 3.750 points.
Germany (Brian Shelden): 7; 20.417 points.
Italy (Chris Kelly): 8; 26.667 points.
Russia (Jake Trotta): 9; 33.750 points.
Turkey (Matt Sundstrom): 6; 15.000 points.

More evidence of Trotta's outstanding year: Neither this top nor the one in Game No. 339 count toward his composite score. Show-off.

The supply center chart is here. Players, what happened? The opening gambit against Turkey looks particularly interesting, at least on paper. It appears that A/I/R conspired to deal the vaunted Sundstrom Opening a goose egg. I'd like to hear more about that.

Read 7467 times Last modified on Saturday, 17 June 2017 14:06
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# Jim O'Kelley 2017-05-07 13:54
Again, with those three months of play remaining, we've already fielded more boards (31 to 30) with more players participating (64 to 58) than we did in all of Season 11. Our record for games played is 44 in Season 7. We had 82 players participate that season, also a record.
+2 # Brandon Fogel 2017-05-09 10:14
General Lesson: If it’s F04 and no one has worked with you in any way for even a single turn, you aren’t doing very well.

So it went for me in #340, perhaps the worst game I’ve ever played. At Worlds last year I had a game where I was eliminated as Austria in 1902, and I think this was worse. At least in that game there really was nothing I could have done differently (if Turkey is willing to support an Italian army convoy into Greece in F01, Austria should just head to the bar). Here I deserve some of the blame for an equally poor result. Some decent defense enabled me to hang on into 1904, and I could have lingered into 1905 if I’d wanted to, but that isn’t much consolation. This game sucked, plain and simple.

My fate was likely sealed by poor diplomacy in S01. The culprit: preconceived notions.

I drew England, with Chad Carson in France, Brian Shelden in Germany, and Jake the Invincible in Russia. I liked the draw for a number of reasons. Jake is leading the league in all categories and had just topped the previous club game. Surely this board full of veteran players would keep him in check, right? Brian and I have had good alliances before, and Chad and I have both looked forward to being able to work together. Furthermore, Chad had wanted to skip the game but stuck with it so that we could make the board. This gave me more reason to be nice to him right off the bat and cultivate him as an ally.

The problem? Chad had other ideas and I wasn’t paying attention. Although we agreed on a DMZ in the Channel in S01, he spent much more time talking to Brian than to me. I should have been worried. But since I’d already decided Chad would be my ally, why do that?

Chad took the Channel. Savvy move. He and Brian followed through on the Sea Lion in F01, with F ENG S Den-NTH. I let them take the North Sea in order to get the build from Norway (and keep Brian from getting two). That allowed me to regain the North Sea by the end of 1902 and keep France from getting into position to take Lvp. Unfortunately, in S03 I took a significant tactical risk and Chad outguessed me, swiping London, while Brian passed up the chance to take Sweden in order to help Chad keep London. Without that, I stay at 3 going into S04 and I think I recover, as Italy was already invading France from the south and I would have stood a better chance at fomenting dissension between Jake and Brian, who were firmly allied at that point.

Side note: Brian and Jake have quite a thing going, apparently to Jake’s perpetual advantage. In #339, Brian sacrificed a dot in the last turn in order to secure a board top for Jake, and here Brian allowed Jake to have Norway and Sweden for much of the game, even as Jake was the board leader most of that time.

Jake has now topped his last three boards, which is as impressive as it gets. Well done, sir. At some point, perhaps we'll all figure out that you are, in fact, the biggest threat on the board.

Ultimately, this game showed me how deadly it can be to try to ease into things. If you aren’t on your toes from the very beginning, you may find yourself looking up from the bottom of a well too steep to climb out of. There are plenty of games where you can read and react and do just fine. But you have to be able to know the difference.
# Jake Trotta 2017-05-09 11:30
Quoting Brandon Fogel:


Side note: Brian and Jake have quite a thing going, apparently to Jake’s perpetual advantage. In #339, Brian sacrificed a dot in the last turn in order to secure a board top for Jake, and here Brian allowed Jake to have Norway and Sweden for much of the game, even as Jake was the board leader most of that time.


This isn't really accurate. Brian had my number for a long while while, it's only during the recent hot streak that I've topped when in the same theatre as him.

In 339, Brian was in the same situation Bryan Shelden was in this game- needing my help to maintain position. I made a deal with him so that he'd support me to hold in Tunis, which was the deciding dot, in exchange for helping him. He didn't sacrifice a dot, I just rearranged our deal in the order writing period.

In 340, Brian made a tactical mistake that prevented him from having the numbers to actually kick me out of Sweden or Scandinavia. There were 1 or 2 moments he could (and should) have stabbed me, but most of the time there wasn't anything he could do.

Long story short- it isn't that Brian handed me dots, it's that I was a shit ally.

He ended 340 by writing "DON'T LET TROTTA BE A VIABLE POWER" one very pad he can find, so I think my luck on that front may have run out.
# Brandon Fogel 2017-05-13 10:52
Brian did sacrifice a dot in #339 for you. He needed F ION to hit Nap in order to trade dots with the Italian, who was sure to move to the vacant Rom, which was Brian's at the time. So by using F ION to support Tun rather than hit Nap, he lost a dot while you kept one.

As for you being a shit ally: yes. The question is why Brian keeps trusting you.
+1 # Chris Kelly 2017-05-13 19:04
Quoting Brandon Fogel:
The question is why Brian keeps trusting you.


You misspelled "anyone."
+1 # Jake Trotta 2017-05-16 11:28
Quoting Chris Kelly:
Quoting Brandon Fogel:
The question is why Brian keeps trusting you.


You misspelled "anyone."


You were admittedly ahead of the game on that one.
+1 # Jake Trotta 2017-05-09 11:18
Prelude: Whitney Houston and a big reason I got better

I’ll start by sharing what I think is the key thinking change that has elevated my game this year. After CODCON last year, I turned into a total dot grabbing shark. And an arrogant one, at that. My eyes would get bigger than my head, and I’d Icarus the heck out of most of my games. (As my CODCON fish denotes, I still have that problem on occasion).

Right before we left Tempest (and just before my hot streak started), I overheard a conversation between Chris Martin, former World Champ and one of the world’s best players, and Brandon Fogel, who is still the biggest threat on any board. Brandon asked Chris how he was so dominant, and Chris’s response was very insightful about his attitudinal approach to diplomacy. “If I get out of the gate, I expect to get first or second on every board.”

Perhaps Chris can hop in and clarify, but here’s what I gleaned from that comment about how to evaluate your diplomacy game. The first benchmark is to evaluate whether you got out of the gate, or, as I say in my negotiation, “get to the dance.” (No relation to Chris’s ‘Dancing Queen’ nickname.)

That shifted my thinking from “I need to be ahead going into the midgame” to “I need to be in the midgame, hopefully with decent position.” (Well, that, and me rushing the front in Royale, then getting slammed in the midgame. That was a teachable moment.) There’s also an element of self-trust: I don’t need to shark my way to a win by 03, I just need to believe that if I’m viable in 06, I’ve got a great chance.

Dancing with myself: board read strategy

So here’s the thing about 340, and I’ve been experiencing this a lot lately- nobody really wanted to dance with me. Turkey was in Armenia for all but two seasons, one of which he bounced himself in Armenia. Other than 01, I never really attacked him. Austria, despite me being an immaculate ally, stabbed me thrice at inconvenient moments. I was always one unit short in the south from making a mutually beneficial wintergreen happen with Italy. Germany got too big too fast, built F-Berlin twice, and wouldn’t freaking die (kudos, btw). France and I just couldn’t get on the same page. England… England was fine. But yeah, had difficult relationships with 5 of the 6 other players on the board. Hard-fought is absolutely right.

My initial read: the west, featuring Brandon “biggest threat on any board” Fogel in England, Brian Shelden in Germany, and Chad Carson in France, would be a bidding war for France’s affection. Primary objective was to establish a strong cross-board alliance, secondary objective was to pick find an early game buddy between EG. My read was correct, I accomplished my secondary objective, but despite my best efforts, the RF collaboration just didn’t come to fruition.

The east, Matt “the Sundstrom” Sundstrom in Turkey, Bryan “Weasel Fangs Sharpening” Pravel in Austria, and Chris “I’ll probably end up regretting this, I guess we’ll see” Kelly in Italy. My initial read was that I needed Austria to be anything other than hostile, then make someone else the target.

What made this board work for me was that the two witches were the two scariest players on the board. This created a wonderful game theory’s “community garden problem”: everyone would benefit if I died, but no one wanted to pay a disproportionate amount of the cost of killing me. I was successful because I was able to convince both theatres that 1) the other theatre wouldn’t let me win, 2) that your biggest threat other than me is Brandon/ Matt, and 3) that if I’m dead later anyways, you might as well use me to help kill Brandon/ Matt.

01: A fun way to stop the Sundstrom
In 01, Germany agreed to give me Sweden in exchange for helping against England and a future Nor/Swe swap. In 339, Matt told me “you can’t Sundstrom the Sundstrom” when roles were reversed, so I didn’t, because that’s a hilarious pitch. In 340, I said “you can’t Sundstrom the Sundstrom protégé,” to which I got Sundstromed.

I moved the fleet into Rum, forgoing the bounce, and moved my armies into Sev and Ukraine, following an agreed DMZ with Austria. Then, in the fall, Ukraine supported Sev to hold, Serbia supported the fleet from Rum into Bulgaria, and Budapest followed into Rumania. It worked, it was awesome, and Chris Kelly stabbed for Greece and Trieste at the same time. This threw the east into chaos, with no real immediate threat to me.

Midgame: sorry Brian, also damn you Bryan
Okay, I haven’t been fair. Brian Shelden was a great ally. To the point that he accidentally moved away so where he couldn’t kick me out of Sweden, even when I picked up Norway. Even his F-ber builds were justified as he needed fleets and kiel was occupied. He went up to 8 in 04 (and had a wonderful opportunity to stab me in that moment), but didn’t, then I jumped him hard. That began a cycle of us exchanging German home centers for Scandinavian centers. France was flipping sides quite frequently after being stabbed by Germany and handing Iberia to Italy.

In the south, Bryan Pravel dotted me at some pretty inconvenient moments. Although he was getting jumped, I decided to let him live. Partially because I was a unit short of getting enough out of him, partially because he was slowing down Italy and Turkey. Thrice he returned my mercy by dotting me, and thrice I forgave him. Granted, his role in this game was slowing literally everyone down (nicely played), but I was the only person that did not attack him until the penultimate year of the game.

In the first instance, he stranded me in Bohemia while simultaneously costing both Sev (to Turkey) and Rumania. This was a good one dot stab, as had I maintained position in the south there, I have a good chance of blowing up. The next two instances were both for Rumania alone. After the third time, I said screw it, and dotted him for Rum and Bud a year after patching up (at the expense of Sev, which I had hoped to recapture.) This was both deserved and satisfying.

These two inconsistent theatres led to a very choppy midgame for me- 7,6,7,8,7,7,8.

The Final Year
Austria was the kingmaker, and it was really his choices that determined the outcome of the game. In the spring, I worked with Austria, the kingmaker, to determine his intended endgame. My dotting him the season before was easily explained – fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me, fool me three times and I’ll start one dotting you back. He understood this argument and accepted it.

The beauty of that stab was that he was still in the game and needed my help to maintain his current position. In the fall, that remained true, and he revealed that he wanted Brian Shelden to top with no home centers.

So I broke the math down for him-Bryan had 2 50-50s in the west, but his ceiling was 8. I was the victim of those 50-50s, guaranteed to lose Sev (just recaptured-didn’t actually own it) and with no prospect for growth in the west. Chris was in position to take Trieste, which would put him to 8, unless I again collaborated with Bryan.

Bryan’s choices:
1) Retake Budapest from me, ensuring Chris gets to 8 and likely giving him the board top.
2) Trust that I will follow throw and hold Chris to 7, resulting in a 3 way board top at 7, or Brian winning if a 50-50 breaks for him.

In scenario one, Bryan’s intended goal (a Shelden board top) has next to no chance of happening. In scenario two, Shelden tops if I follow through. Because I managed to convince Austria that I had a ceiling of 7, he decided on
option 2.

I stabbed for Serbia, using the soon to be killed unit in Sev to backfill Rum. Chris got Trieste and to 8. I guessed right in the north. As moves were read, I didn’t even want to count my dots. Final dots: Mos, War, STP, Sweden, Berlin, Munich, Rum, Serb, Bud.

Adding anger to the arsenal
I don’t get angry on the board very often, or yell at people. I can really only think of 1 other occasion, maybe two, but I got very angry with France during this game and yelled at him. We discussed it postgame, I apologized, and we patched things up.

But in true diplomacy fashion… upon reflection, I actually think my temper tantrum helped me win the game. And while I wouldn’t bring it back (intentionally) in a league game, a little acting may be useful for a tournament down the road.

Before I yelled at France, Germany and I had a contentious relationship and were obvious enemies, while France was flipping between us. Continued FG coordination likely resulted in me going down. But by chewing out France publicly, openly asking Germany if he wanted to win, and pulling him aside to air out my frustrations about France, the dynamic of the relationships on the board changed. Spending less time in negotiation and more time stewing outside alone also reinforced the “pissed off nuclear option” image.

This opened the door for brief coordination with Germany and lowered my threat level in his mind (and the minds of others on the board). It also sent a message to France- if you’re throwing dots to Germany, both our games are over.

Within a year, Germany was out of position to take anything from me, Austria made a coordinated effort for France and I to work together, and I was topping the board.

Player Feedback

Austria (Bryan Pravel): As I mentioned in the game, you’re making huge strides with your play. I hope you write an AAR, because you were in a fascinating game here- a few points short of the Royale, sharing a theatre with the two guys ahead of you, as well as the overall leader. You did an excellent job of ensuring no one would gain any ground on you. I’d love to make the meta-argument that since I’m already ahead, I’m not a threat to you making the top board and thus risking me getting a big score is acceptable… but board dynamics prevented us from having great coordination opportunities post 01. If I were a betting man, I’d say you’re topping Wednesday.
England (Brandon Fogel): Still the biggest threat on any board, you got a raw deal here. Under other circumstances I wouldn’t have poached Norway, but Shelden was too good of an ally to pass up.
France (Chad): My biggest struggle in this game was trying to establish a cross-board partnership with you. That’s where I’m reevaluating my play the most and the biggest regret from this game- if there is a strong or resurgent France in the midgame, both of us get solid scores coming out of it.
Germany (Brian): First, I thought you played a really strong game, and it’s freaking incredible that you almost topped without your home centers. I actually think what broke your game was asking me to leave Finland, for two reasons. First, when I did, you didn’t stab. Second, when I moved out, I moved to Livonia, setting myself up for the Prussia-Silesia-Bohemia blitz as soon as you started getting tempo. In that army stays in Finland, then you can still take Scandinavia once you hit 8. If you stab me once it leaves, you can take Scandinavia and I don’t have the units to slow you down.
Italy (Chris Kelly): I believe this was the most amicable alliance we’ve had together. #babysteps
Russia (Jake Trotta): Very hard fought W. There were some opportunities to go boom- really want to grab that best Russia score- but failure to establish a strong ally with either A or F prevented that from happening. Still, good result and great learning opportunity.
Turkey (Matt): First, the stat survives. Second, you can’t Sundstrom the Sundstrom protégé. Third, yes I did make that joke because you spent all but two seasons in Armenia.
+1 # Chris Kelly 2017-05-16 01:37
As Italy, I usually open conservatively, and in particular never attack Austria in 1901. I broke my pattern this time due to the extremely close cooperation between Austria & Russia to open the game, as Jake describes above. Bryan (Austria) was clear to me about the tactics he & Jake were using vs. Turkey, and in combination with the "blue water Lepanto" he wanted to pursue (where his fleet would take the lead into Turkish waters), it seemed obvious to me that they would divide the spoils between themselves, shutting me out. Since the tactics Bryan laid out also meant both Trieste and Greece would be left wide open, I saw little reason to resist the temptation to take both.

As Jake notes, both AUS and TUR being hamstrung in '01 wasn't a terrible outcome for him. And despite Bryan's frequent shifting of sides the rest of the game, even as a part-time ally he gave Jake the space he needed to make advances in Germany & Scandinavia. Seeing England falling to France & Germany (and fearing French fleets sailing south), I tried to patch together a detente where AUS/TUR would work together vs. RUS while I moved west, but they never really bought in -- and as I gradually succeeded in taking Marseille & Iberia, they placed a higher priority on relieving me of my Balkan centers than on pressuring Jake. Which was somewhat justified in that (1) I would have grown to 9-10 centers otherwise and (2) my centers were easier to take than any of Jake's, but it still served to ensure that he had the opportunity to top the board.
+1 # Jake Trotta 2017-05-16 11:35
Quoting Chris Kelly:
Which was somewhat justified in that (1) I would have grown to 9-10 centers otherwise and (2) my centers were easier to take than any of Jake's, but it still served to ensure that he had the opportunity to top the board.


Yep, 100%. Chasing down the guy in the yellow jersey is important, but if it comes at the cost of that game... and broader league standings implications... you really can't do it.

This just reinforces why getting to the dance is so important- once I got into the midgame, stakes were higher, and no one could afford to kill me because it would allow you to blossom.

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