The Italian Job

Chris Martin (right) captures David Maletsky (left) negotiating with Chris Brand during the world championship game.

What a difference a couple of years make. Back in 2014, between rounds at the World Diplomacy Championship at DixieCon in Chapel Hill, Chris Brand and I were lamenting our lackluster performances over a beer at a Franklin Street pub.

“It’s gotten to the point,” he said, “where I just scan the tournament standings to see whether I finished better than you.”

“We ought to start our own Grand Prix,” I retorted. “We could call it the Murphy Bed,” a reference to our annual duel for sleeping space in the Presidential Suite at the late WACCon in Seattle. (Our duels were chronicled in the Spring 2009 issue of Diplomacy World.)

And now, here we are two years later, both on top of the world—Chris, because he just won the World Diplomacy Championship at Weasel Moot X, and me, because I’ve floated there on the good feelings generated by an event that was huge, competitive, efficient, innovative, and—above all and by all accounts—fun.

A total of 93 players participated on 52 boards, making this WDC the largest in North America since Denver in 2003, and the largest anywhere since Berlin in 2006. And the field was really strong.

We had seven former world champions in attendance (although only six played—more on that in a moment), including reigning champ Toby Harris and a blast from the past, mystery guest Bruno-Andre Giraudon, the 1995 champ. The others were Chris Martin (1998), who sat out to focus on promotion instead; Nicolas Sahuguet (2006); Doug Moore (2007); Andrew Goff (2009 and 2011); and Doc Binder (2012). We also had 10 former North American champions, seven former North American Grand Prix champions, and a host of other players who have won tournaments.

Perhaps the best indication of the strength of the field is Italy’s performance. Of the five solos over the weekend, three of them were Italian. Five other Italian players posted outright or shared board-tops.

John Gramila, the local hero and captain of the Windy City Weasels’ Middle Guard, racked up the first one in the first round Friday morning. Goff followed suit Friday night. Then Brand bagged the third one in the team round on Saturday morning. For the purpose of Best Country awards, breaking ties is as the discretion of the Tournament Director. I went with size: Gramila got 20 centers; Brand and Goff, 19.

The other two solos were French: Nathan Barnes on Friday night and Doug Moore Saturday morning. Since both had 18 centers, I broke this tie based on speed. Barnes got his in 1909; Moore, in 1910. (Each had a former world champ on his board, by the way.)

The best three out of four rounds seeded the world championship game on Sunday. Because there were so many boards, and because many of the board-tops went to the usual suspects—David Maletsky, Peter Yeargin and Adam Silverman each bagged three—a solo alone wasn’t sufficient to punch a ticket. Those three all earned spots, as did four of the five soloists. The odd man out was Gramila, who had a shared second Saturday night but nothing else to package with it. He finished 10th.

We used the familiar French method to select powers for the championship game. As usual, the process was dramatic and filled with surprises. Expecting a tight game that could go down to the wire—and the wire was unknown; all that was known was that the game would end between 2 and 4—several players dropped down in the selection order, as reverse order was the tie-breaker. That elevated Yeargin, the third seed going in, to the first spot. He selected Austria.

Barnes took France with the second pick, followed by Silverman in England, Goff in Russia, and Moore in Germany. With the sixth pick, Brand chose Italy, which left Turkey for Maletsky.

I didn’t get to watch much of the top board, but dozens of people tuned in to Eric Mead and Matt Shield’s broadcast on Twitch. They used BackStabbr to log the moves, and kept up a running commentary on the game. As expected, the observers enjoyed sharing their insights in the chat box. The ability to engage people back home is what has made the social media coverage of recent top boards so popular.

The DiplomacyCast crew did their usual fine job of entertaining their audience. This time they were without Barnes, who followed through on his promise to play if he made the top board. Shields picked up the slack, as did a series of guests, including Rick Desper, the Australian Peter McNamara, and even yours truly.

It was a great addition to the event, and I believe their coverage will help move our hobby forward. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t call out Chris Martin, the former world champ who has owned Weasel Moot in the past.

He won the first Moot in 2007 and had captured the Alpha Weasel title in three of four appearances. That’s why I was so surprised when he informed me that he wouldn’t be playing.

In addition to his past successes, he played a house game with us in February and even squeezed in a round at CODCon last year when he was in town on business. Typical of him, he was playing some great Diplomacy heading into Moot, having won the North American Championship at the Philadelphia Massacre last August, and he had laid the groundwork for a title run at WDC. So why sit out?

The answer? Because growing the hobby he loves is way more important to Martin than winning the game he loves. Instead of competing for a second world championship, he spent the entire weekend either behind a camera, interviewing players about their games, or in front of his laptop, producing compelling short videos that can only help us promote our hobby. He actually started before the competition, producing profiles of some of the players and other content to help generate enthusiasm and excitement. (Check out his play list here.)

Additionally, using Cisco’s Spark, a tool he promotes for work, he set up a group that players used to coordinate social activities between rounds and that also pulled in every Tweet that used the official #DejaMoot hashtag. And there were a lot of them.

Facebook coverage was also outstanding. It’s unbelievable how far we’ve come as a hobby at promoting our events in just the four short years since we last hosted WDC in 2012.

Anyway, in the championship game, Barnes built a commanding early lead, growing to 10 by 1905. But the board checked his growth and beat him back to nine. Brand, as Italy, played aggressively when he needed to be aggressive, patiently when he needed to be patient, and caught Barnes at nine in 1908. Brand seized the lead at 11 in 1909 and held on for one more year. I called the game after Fall 1910 at the predetermined end time known only to me.

Seeing Brand’s reaction to my announcement—a mixture of relief at knowing that he wouldn’t have to hold on for 90 more minutes, joy at knowing that he was the world champion, and exhaustion from five rounds of intense Diplomacy—truly was a highlight of my 24 years in this hobby.

For once, my friend had actually won his spot in the Murphy Bed fair and square.

A few more things before I wrap up. First, despite being a huge event by modern standards, our rounds started as close to on time as any tournament I’ve ever attended. I believe that’s because of the push notifications we used to announce board calls by email. We lost some of the fun drama of the public board calls, but my God, it was fast, slick and efficient. We used Manus Hand’s Diplomacy Tournament Manager to run the event. If you’re using that software, drop me a line. I’d be happy to share my work with you.

Second, the social events on Thursday set the tone for a really fun weekend. For our welcome party, Founding Weasel and trivia mogul Dan Burgess put on a Diplomacy-themed trivia night at Bar Louie, a couple of blocks from the venue. I think we had more than 50 players for that, and the room buzzed all night as players renewed old acquaintances and forged new friendships.

Then, I’d say more than 30 of them continued on to the obscure karaoke bar in Brian Shelden’s condo building. To say we took the place over would be an understatement. Other than the bartenders, we were the only people in the room, and we had a blast. It really was a lot of fun.

I was in the audience at the 2005 WDC at Tempest in a Teapot in DC when Maletsky stood up and implored us all to incorporate more social events into our tournament weekends. I was listening, and I’ve tried to make our tournaments not only a place where travelers could come to play good Diplomacy with people they haven’t faced before, but also a place where they know they’ll have a good time. We’ve now hosted 20 tournaments, and I’d say we’ve always delivered in this regard. We play hard, and when the games are over, we play harder.

Third, I was really pleased to see eight teenagers in attendance.

Back in April 2007, at our very first tournament, the CODCon Open, I was staring at the 16 registered attendees in the DTM for the first round, wondering how I was going to break the news to two of my committee members that they weren’t going to be able to play in the first round of an event that they worked just as hard as me, and were just as excited about as me, to bring to fruition, when I looked up to see a kid standing before me.

“We’re here for Diplomacy,” he said.

“We?” I asked. “How many are you?”

“Five,” he said.

It was a CODCon mircacle. Grant Smith and the Milwaukee Mafia singlehandedly turned our first tournament into a nine-board event. We met two more of their group at our first Weasel Moot a couple of months later, and over the years, the Milwaukee Mafia has consistently supported our events.

At the welcome party, Mike Sullivan, I think, said, “We were the youngest people in the room when we came here in 2007, and we’re still the youngest people today.”

“That’s not true,” I responded, and pointed out the high school crew from Michigan that came down for the weekend.

They were one of two new young mafias attending WDC. The other was a gang of three from Jorge Zhang’s local club at a Chicago magnet school. Those six along with Danny Grinnell and Oliver Steel, who came with fathers Eric and Grant, respectively, represent the future of our hobby, and the future looks bright.

In the second round on Friday night, on a board with a former world champ and some of the biggest names in the North American hobby, Jorge fought his way from two centers in 1903 to eight by game’s end. He also topped his board in the fourth round. The other young guns took some lumps but also had some decent games. And they all seemed to be having a ripping good game. In fact, when Grant Steel took his family to the Sox game Friday night courtesy of the Weasels, Oliver opted to stay for the Hat Round. (And by the way, as a nod to the great podcast DiplomacyCast, we did indeed play Chicago Hat during the round.)

Burgess donated a pretty cool award for the Best Young Diplomat, which went to Jorge. I think it’s safe to say that more awards are in his future. And there seems to be some promise in that Michigan group, as well. Here’s hoping that like the Milwaukee Mafia before them, both groups will be regulars in Chicago and beyond for years to come.

Fourth, we also had three female players, including one of the players from Jorge’s club. I think we can all agree that we can do better here, but three is two more than we had in 2012. We’re going to work hard at growing the number of regular female players in the Chicago hobby. The Board of the Valkyries remains a goal of ours.

Fifth, I’d like to talk about resiliency. We discussed resiliency a lot back in 2009 and 2010 when we were exploring a bid for the 2012 WDC. Some members of our board were concerned that hosting a highly competitive event like the world championship could blow up our friendly little gaming club.

We took the plunge anyway, and I’m proud to say that the Weasels weathered 2012 pretty well. This year, we had more local players than we had that first time around, and most of them didn’t play in that first one. They’re new to the scene here. A couple in particular who have been tearing up our league all year had big dreams of playing on the top board on Sunday. They took their lumps, and the boards, for the most part, didn’t break their way.

Are they discouraged? On Sunday, one of the overseas stragglers asked us to organize a bar game three days hence. Both players showed up at our regular bar venue to make that game happen and ensure that our out-of-town guests had fun.

And then there’s Brad Harrington. Many of us who play Diplomacy will play other games, too, if that’s what people are doing between rounds, but we’re just as happy doing something else. But Brad is a gamer’s gamer. His bridge to the group is Tony Prokes, another gamer’s gamer.

Diplomacy is just one game that Brad plays, and it’s probably not anywhere near the top of his list of favorite games. But he played all five rounds. In the first four, he posted goose eggs, but in his final round on Sunday, he topped the board.

The Chicago hobby will be just fine.

And I say that not only because our players are resilient, but also because so many of the local players stepped up to help put on this event. Shelden, Burgess, Kevin O’Kelly, Mike Whitty and Brandon Fogel helped with airport runs. Shelden even put up a couple of international players in his condo.

Fogel, Bryan Pravel and Jake Trotta helped ensure that registration went smoothly during the Friday morning rush.

Pravel, in fact, did anything necessary, even garbage duty when the trash bins started to overflow. And when we ran short on paper, he and Matt Sundstrom went out and found more, at their own expense.

Sundstrom, Burgess, Don Glass and Prokes contributed the boards we used and helped set them up between rounds and cleaned the playing areas. Peter Lokken contributed his beautiful handmade Diplomacy board to the cause.

O’Kelly, Glass and Prokes helped conduct the many draw votes over the weekend, and O’Kelly stepped up whenever I was too busy to make an announcement.

And Gramila did the lion’s share of the lifting on Sunday when we had to load up Glass’ truck after the event.

Above all, the entire committee and all the local players worked really hard to make the more than 60 out-of-town guests feel welcome and wanted.

In a recent interview in Diplomacy World, I announced that I’d be stepping down from the organizer’s role I’ve held in the Chicago hobby for the past 11 years. I said in that interview that our local hobby would have to sink or swim without me. I’m now confident that it will swim, and that’s a good thing, because I still want to play Diplomacy.

At the core of this game we all love lies a paradox: You can’t win without help from the other players, but they’re trying to win, too, so why should they help you? Diplomacy is a selfish game.

There’s also a paradox at the core of our hobby. It’s a selfish game played by selfless people. Our hobby works because of all the people who willingly give up their time to give us a place to play and who work tirelessly to promote the game so that there are always people to fill out those boards.

Being an organizer for the past 11 years has truly enriched my life, but I now have a rising sophomore and two small kids at home, soon to be 4 and 2. I have to be more selfish with my time, and that means I can’t devote the time it takes to do the organizer’s job the way the hobby deserves it to be done.

Whoever steps into my role will have as much support as I can give. I’m not going away. I’m just stepping back. And I look forward to many more years of playing this great game with all of you.

The complete results for the World Diplomacy Championship at Weasel Moot X, including the final standings, best country and other awards, team results, and individual game results and supply center charts, are here. Thanks for everything.

And now, I must go.


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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Jim O'Kelley

    I also meant to talk about the inroads we made with some of the online communities at this tournament. Here is some feedback I saw on

    “Go! Have fun! I had so much fun this weekend. I am exhausted but I would love to do this again. I had so much fun. If you are an online player who is even the slightest bit interested, do yourself a favor and go try it. … It is by far the best way to get in consistent games with friendly people who are passionate about the hobby. Go!”

    “All my boards have had multiple WDC Champions or multiple region champions (Euro or N.A.). So, I have been playing against the best of the Face to Face hobby in the preliminary rounds. It has been absolutely great! Saw some guys I haven’t seen in years.”

    And on

    “It was a marvelous time and I enjoyed every second of it.”

  2. Bryan Pravel

    Might be the best piece you have ever written Jim. Your passion radiates from the page. Thank you for the summary and more importantly, thank you for such a fantastic event.

  3. Jim O'Kelley

    I also forgot to praise the committee members who voluntarily sat out rounds to make multiples of seven. Oftentimes at tournaments, we end up stretching to make multiples of seven by asking people to play on two boards.

    In 52 boards over five rounds, we didn’t once need people to play on two boards, and as the TD, I only had to play one time. (Fortunately I was randomly assigned to a board with three other members of the club’s Old Guard. Naturally, we did what we’ve been doing for 10 years — tried to kill each other.)

    The numbers worked so well because of the local guys who selflessly dropped out when necessary. Don Glass and Brian Shelden each skipped one round, Kevin O’Kelly sat out twice — he had a pretty good tournament, too; imagine what might have been had he the two drop rounds to play with — and Tony Prokes dropped out in four of the five rounds.

    Willing sacrifices by all of them so that our many guests could play untainted games worthy of a world championship experience. There was only one winner at this year’s WDC, but the four of them are all champions in my book. I appreciate it.

  4. greg duenow

    We don’t believe you anymore Jim. You will never leave!!!


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