Using Hobby Statistics to Make Decisions in Diplomacy


The School of War game continues. I’m writing about this Fall 1905 turn because it brings into focus an interesting strategic choice intersection for Italy.

Just a bit of background. The Italian formed an alliance with Turkey to stab and eliminate Austria. Italy has now stabbed the Turk (6), who is still a viable power and who occupies the strategic corner of the board.

Meanwhile, in the west, England is on the cusp of elimination. France has just stabbed Germany. In my view, there are three major players in this game. Italy (9), France (8), and Germany (7). Italy faces a choice of which of the warring western Great Powers to support and how fervently will be Italian support.

How to make that choice? Diplomacy Hobby statistics help. Keep in mind that stats are but a guide. A solo can be achieved without compliance with the numbers. Diplomacy games, like economies, are heterogenous. But the data should be considered.

Below are three graphs used to illustrate how one might consider statistical factors in planning an Italian strategy. The chart below shows the Great Powers eliminated in Italian solos.

italy solo

Austria is dead which is great. Eighty percent of all Italian solos involve dead Austrias. Who next to kill to improve Italian solo chances? Obviously, that target would be Turkey, a decision this sharp Italian has already made.

Great Diplomacy players are skilled at managing events in all theaters. Even theaters in which they no longer operate. Italy has no units in the west. But the west is vitally important to Italy and events there will impact his opportunity to solo.

France has the upper hand against Germany at this point. Germany, while still strong, is at war on two fronts with Russia and France. Possibly, France has an English toady besides. Germany could be quickly eliminated if Italy helps speed that process. Is that a smart course for Italy?

German Eliminations

The data above suggests that would be unwise for Italy to attack Germany. Italy’s chances of a solo bottom out when Germany dies. Considering the current diplomatic situation, a German elimination is much more likely than a French.

What happens to Italy’s chances when France is eliminated?

french eliminations

Based on the data here, Italian solos decrease in likelihood when either France or Germany dies. This leads me to conclude that Italy’s choice here should be to come to the aid of Germany. Maybe Italy does not even insist on Munich.

Italy’s chances for a solo increase best by killing Turkey and keeping France and Germany locked in a wrestling match for a while, neither gaining an upper hand on the other.

Based on this analysis, Italy should insist on Russia disbanding some of his northern units, and promote Russia joining a southern campaign against Turkey. It would be ideal if Russia keeps his northern fleet, which could swing the balance in favor of Germany in the French-German struggle. In exchange, Italy makes Germany give Russia Warsaw. An Italian mediated peace between Germany and Russia needs to happen at this point in the game for two reasons. One, Russian help will expedite the Turkish demise. Second, Germany can neutralize the French stab and that helps Italy in the long run. There you have it, Italy.

Thank you Joshua McOwen for a brilliant piece. A Look at the Statistics of Diplomacy, Joshua McOwen (May 2011)



The Greatest Football Rivalry in the Nation: The Transparency Incident of 1902


A Poetic and Incongruent Symbol is Born

McKissick! Make every shot count!.”

Those were the words shouted to future USC President, J. Rion McKissick, who was clutching a pistol, as he and twenty-nine other Carolina students crouched behind a hastily-erected barricade on the Horseshoe in 1902.

On the other side of the barricade, an angry mob of 400 Clemson Cadets, armed with bayonets and swords, threatened bodily harm to the Carolina men and destruction of the South Carolina College. What had enraged the Clemson Cadets to such a degree? Merely the poetic and incongruent symbol of a fighting Gamecock. This was The Transparency Incident of 1902 and it is part of the history of the greatest rivalry in College football, South Carolina versus Clemson.

To understand the context of this armed confrontation between the Carolina and Clemson one must understand the roots and origins of this college football rivalry. The Gamecocks had been playing football from 1895, but to be frank and honest, the early South Carolina football teams were poor. Of course, the school itself was small, not even a University at that time. South Carolina College, which had been stripped of its University status by former Governor Pitchfork Ben Tillman and his political allies in the State Legislature, had only 79 students in 1890. By 1902, it was slightly better; there were just 200 students going to South Carolina College.

Clemson on the other hand, was a much more powerful institution. By and large a creation of Tillmanism, a populist political movement that germinated in South Carolina’s turbulent reconstruction era politics. Clemson was a great beneficiary of Governor Pitchfork Ben Tillman’s efforts. She was flush with revenue derived from taxes on tobacco, and Tillman, a notorious racist who condoned lynching while governor and later on the Senate floor, ordered African-American prisoners to labor on and improve the campus. Then a military school, Clemson had over 400 student-cadets in 1902.

The two schools began playing football against one another in 1896. Carolina won the first game, 12-6, but Clemson quickly overtook Carolina on the football field, winning the next five meetings. In fact, in those days, Clemson was one of the most powerful football teams in the southeast. In 1900, Clemson’s football team was coached by the legendary John Heisman, whose first “Tiger” team went undefeated. The 1900 Tigers also whipped South Carolina by the embarrassing score of 51-0. The defeat was so complete, that the two schools were unable to work out an agreement to play each other on Big Thursday in 1901. (Of course, the Clemson fans claimed that it was because South Carolina College was afraid Clemson would administer another whipping.)

As most serious fans of both schools know, back in those days the Carolina Clemson game was always played on Big Thursday during the State Fair in Columbia. As part of this event, every year the entire student body from Clemson–its entire Corp of Cadets– would come to Columbia for the game on Thursday. Afterwards, Clemson’s Cadets would remain in Columbia and march in the Elks Club Parade on Friday afternoon.

During the 1897-1900 parades, the Clemson Cadets wore garnet and black colors around their shoes. In this way, Clemson literally dragged the Carolina colors through the dust. Clemson also carried a big bass drum, which a Cadet beat upon as they marched. Inscribed on this drum was a picture of a roaring Tiger with the letters, “S.C.C” (South Carolina College), inside its mouth. This was, obviously, symbolic of Clemson eating up their rival on the football field.

As a modern-day Gamecock fan, I can easily sympathize with the feelings these indignities must have inflicted on the students and supporters of the liberal arts oriented, South Carolina College. But endure it our people did, in hopes that someday the incredible might reoccur against all odds–a victory over Clemson in football.

1902 was a very special year for the Gamecocks. The school’s nickname, “Gamecocks,” did not become commonly accepted in South Carolina until 1903 when The State newspaper began referring to the team by that name. However, I’m confident that after you read about The Transparency Incident of 1902, you will agree that the 1902 South Carolina football team was was the first Gamecock team.

Bob Williams, a Virginian, coached the 1902 football team. Williams still has the best winning percentage of any coach who has ever coached football at South Carolina (overall 14-3). South Carolina College began the 2002 season 3-0. The team would finish the year 6-1. The 1902 football team had a stifling defense. It surrendered just 16 points all season, and it shut out five opponents.

Prior to the Clemson game, the fourth game of the season, Williams hired Christy Benet as his assistant coach. Benet, a former guard on earlier football teams at South Carolina College, was reportedly an inspiring speaker.

Meanwhile, the 1902 Clemson team was clearly a dominant force on the field. The 1902 Clemson team also brought a 3-0 record to the Big Thursday game. Included amongst the Clemson wins was a 60-0 thrashing of North Carolina State, as well as wins over the then very powerful football teams, Georgia Tech and Furman.

As noted above, Clemson had John Heisman as their coach. Heisman was a noted trick play artist. According to contemporaneous newspaper reports, Clemson was so confident of a victory over South Carolina College on Big Thursday, that Cadets were offering bets with odds of four and five to one. What those over-optimistic Clemson Cadets didn’t know was that their Tigers were about to meet the first Gamecock team.

The game itself was described in both The State and The Greenwood Index papers as one of the “prettiest games of football ever played.” The Gamecocks jumped to a quick 12-0 lead. The Gamecocks gained the advantage by simple old-fashioned football. They played great defense. Clemson did not get a first down in the first half. Meanwhile, the Carolina offense ground out first down after first down running the ball up through the middle of the line. Thus, the Carolina football team twice marched methodically down the field, running the ball through the middle of Clemson’s line. Junior Fullback, Guy Gunter, scored the two touchdowns on short runs. (Touchdowns were only worth 5 points in 1902.) Converting on both extra points, Carolina led 12-0 at halftime.

But this was Clemson. It had a weight advantage, a great football team, and a great coach. In the second half of the game, the Tigers stormed back. First, Clemson scored on a 60 yard trick play run by a halfback named Sitton, an end around play. Then, the Tigers took possession of the ball at the beginning of the fourth quarter and began a determined drive. The drive stalled, however, on the South Carolina 20-yard line, and the Gamecocks took over midway through the fourth quarter. The Carolina offense then proceeded to run out the clock by grinding out first downs through the middle of the Clemson defensive line. Thus, the game ended in a 12-6 Carolina victory.

This was a monumental upset!

After such a long victory drought, what joy and happiness this brought to the students and fans of South Carolina College. One football player was quoted in the 1903 Garnet and Black as stating, “Well, Old Pards, how about we just lay down and die right here.” The South Carolina students were in happy and celebratory.

That is when the transparency arrived on the scene, and things got a bit ugly. By Thursday evening Carolina’s students had a drawing by F. Horton Colcock, a Professor at South Carolina. The drawing depicted a bedraggled tiger beneath the crowing gamecock. (See a replica of the transparency at the top of this article. This picture was referred to as a “transparency” by the 1902 newspapers.

It was a poetic and incongruous symbol, a proud Gamecock crowing over a powerful feline, the tiger. Perhaps in an era when football teams were typically named after ferocious beasts, it was the unique quality of a Gamecock, crowing over its beaten, apparently stronger foe. The symbolism of Professor Colcock’s drawing was beautiful and the liberal arts students at South Carolina fully appreciated its meaning. Thus, on Thursday evening, South Carolina’s students began carrying the transparency around Columbia as they celebrated the football victory.

It is not clear what it was about Professor Colcock’s transparency that triggered such a hostile reaction from the Clemson Cadets, but it had a detrimental affect on their minds. The cadets assaulted the Carolina students. The State paper reported that in two separate attacks, the cadets destroyed the offensive transparency, and wounded half a dozen Carolina students with sabres, swords and bayonets. The Greenwood Index also reported on the Thursday night incident. “Several students were slightly cut with knives and left the scene with blackened eyes and swollen faces and some scalp wounds made by canes and stones.” Fans were serious about the rivalry back in those days.

As reported in The State newspaper, the Clemson Commandant, Lt. Sirmyer, an Army Officer from West Point, approached the South Carolina Assistant Coach Benet Friday morning after the assaults. Sirmyer warned Benet that the Carolina students would be wise not to carry Professor Colcock’s “offensive transparency” in the Parade on Elks Club Friday night. Ominously, Lt. Sirmyer told Benet if the Carolina students did not heed his warning and if they had the temerity to carry that transparency in the parade, he “would not be responsible” for any violence that might ensue.” The State reported that after this meeting, “It was openly and repeated stated by the Clemson Cadets that they would break up South Carolina College that night if the transparency was used.”

Finding Benet unbowed by his threat, Lt. Sirmyer resorted to political pressure. He went to General Jones, Columbia’s Chief of Police, and asked for the Chief to order Benet not to display the Gamecock transparency. Thus, shortly before the parade, Benet met with Lt. Sirmyer and the Chief. Both urged Benet to talk the Carolina students out of displaying their transparency during the parade. The Chief said he saw nothing offensive about the transparency, but he wished to avoid trouble. Benet considered the request, but decided it would be wrong to acquiesce. He told the Carolina students that they must carry the transparency or they would, in effect, reward the whining, political maneuverings, threats, and violence against them by the Clemson.

Therefore, Carolina students did proudly carry their transparency in the Big Thursday parade. They had earned the right by the football victory. As the Clemson cadets marched by students waving the Gamecock image at them, Lt. Sirmyer urged restraint. At the Capitol where the parade ended, however, Sirmyer told the cadets to “behave like soldiers.” Then he added, “while on duty.” The amendment to his order was met with cheers by the 400 cadets. Lt. Sirmyer dismissed the Clemson cadets, and retired from the scene. The 400 Clemson boys proceeded straight up Sumter Street toward the Horseshoe, and were, according to Benet’s statement published in the paper, “very angry and excited.”

Before the approaching Clemson mob arrived at the campus, word reached the Carolina students and they built barricades. The students, including future President McKissick, armed themselves with pistols and repeating rifles. When the 400 Clemson cadets arrived waving their swords, sabers and bayonets, they faced approximately 50 Carolina students behind the barricades. The State paper correctly pointed out that the Carolina students were entitled to protect themselves, and their residences on the South Carolina College campus from the Clemson mob. The State said that most were armed “with pistols and several with repeating rifles.”

Fortunately, Benet learned of the approaching Clemson Cadets and he intervened to avert loss of life. Meanwhile, Lt. Sirmyer, the Clemson Commandant and leader who stated he would not be responsible for the bloodshed that resulted from the display of the transparency, was absent.

Recognizing the gravity of the circumstance–one that could easily have led to multiple fatalities–Benet stepped David-like between the two sides and offered to resolve the dispute by fighting any one of the Clemson men that they might choose. When this proposal was not accepted, Benet argued that the two parties should form a committee to arbitrate their differences. By this time, authorities and police began to arrive, and Benet’s suggestion was adopted. The Committee decided that the Carolina students would burn the transparency–an image easily reproduced–and Clemson agreed to cheer Carolina, a further humiliation for the Clemson Cadets. This accomplished, the two sides disbursed. Very fortunately, no death or further mahem resulted.

But here the transparency incident did not end. Upon learning news of the incident was reported in The State newspaper, the President of Clemson, P. H. Mell, wrote a letter, justifying the lawless behavior of the cadets. He also argued that Lt. Sirmyer had properly performed his duties, and he implicated Benet and the Carolina students who lacked the “good sense” not to display the transparency.

Clemson’s President Mell stated in his letter that the image on the transparency was “too much for them to bear,” meaning the Clemson cadets. He argued the violent actions of the Cadets were justified because the City of Columbia had refused to prohibit the Carolina students from displaying the offensive Gamecock symbol in the parade. Therefore, President Mell wrote, the city, “assumed responsibility for the transparency, its intended insult and the results occurring therefrom.

The failure to acknowledge responsibility and recognize that the Clemson cadets had acted lawlessly and breached the peace of the City, provoked a strong and direct response by the Editor of The State, A. E. Gonzales. Gonzales specifically blamed Lt. Sirmyer for the incident. He stated that President Mell should immediately dismiss Lt. Sirmyer as the Commandant of Clemson’s Corp of Cadets. “One judges a tree by its fruit,” wrote Gonzales. “The fruits of Lt. Sirmyer’s actions have been lawlessness and provocation of domestic war.”

Please Clemson fans, this November, as the loudspeakers in Williams Brice ring over and over with the beautiful sounds of a Gamecock crowing, do not be bitter or angry. Rejoice with us as we true South Carolinians celebrate in our victory. Let us celebrate our victory, and please don’t get mad at us about our Gamecocks.

Go Gamecocks!

Edwin’s Top Six


I feel that you have to favor the undefeated teams. Between Oklahoma and Clemson, I favor Oklahoma because they have played a tougher schedule. However, Clemson also controls it’s own destiny. By beating Miami it will move into the top four and Miami will fall out. Auburn is interesting. They also control their own destiny. If they win out beating Alabama and Georgia again, they will be into the playoff. Obviously, if the three undefeated teams win out they are all in the playoff.

Diplomacy as art


I’m going to make the remarkable assertion that every Diplomacy game is a potential work of art. A great Diplomacy game is art. The number of twists in the story of the game are potentially multiple. The plot and tension of a good game rise and fall.

Listen to Kurt Vonnegut discuss the shape of stories and imagine a diplomacy game where the players are the author of the game. I used the term singularly because it is a singular story written by seven players together.


A good game of Diplomacy is a great story. A great story is a work of art. Students, you are the artists who write your own game.

Imagine, if you will, the story of England. He starts out as an average boy. But Professor edouche says unkind things and England becomes unhinged, emotionally unstable. Things go from bad to worse as England makes a series of wild accusations against professor edouche and everyone else involved the Diplomacy game too. England makes so many accusations, and so wild are they, he cannot sink much lower. All England’s neighbors begin to imagine he is a pariah. England feels very sad and isolated from the community. The fortunes of England decline precipitously.

But England regrets his actions. He is sorry for what he said and did. He is especially sorry for his remarks about edouche, who he now recognizes as a benevolent savior of England. He repents. Makes conciliatory posts on global. Makes amends for the past wrongs inflicted upon partially innocent neighbors. A neighbor, or maybe two, forgive him. They forgive because that is what human beings do at their highest and greatest. England is redeemed! Restored to her rightful greatness! Praise for edouche! Could this be the story of England in School of War?


Lecture on Drama, Human Emotions, and Diplomacy


Spring 1903

Reacting to drama in a Diplomacy game

One of the reasons Diplomacy is a great game is because the game is played by human beings and not automatons. A Diplomacy game is designed to create human drama. A Diplomacy game is full of conflict and tension that effects human emotions. A Diplomacy game is unpredictable because the emotional range of seven human beings in conflict is heterogeneous.

A lot of people play Diplomacy because they love gaming. Most of us understand that we are just playing a game and don’t take anything other players do in it (like when you get lied to and backstabbed by a friend) too personally. Veteran Diplomacy players shrug stabs off and congratulate the stabber for pulling it off. Being philosophical doesn’t mean you won’t try to extract revenge. It means the stab is not personal. You realize it’s in the game and part of the fun.

In the face-to-face (FTF) Diplomacy world, we stab and get stabbed. After the game, we drink a beer with our game enemy and laugh about the game, vote for the “I got hammered award,” and talk about the stab–how it was executed and played out, the look on your face—happily reminiscing about the game’s twists and turns with the very person who killed or maimed us. We are friends who love Diplomacy. We understand the treacherous ways of the game. Not everyone in the FTF world (or here) is an ideal Diplomacy player able to remember it’s all just for fun. The drama makes it difficult even for the most thick-skinned among us.

Sometimes people become emotionally unhinged and let their emotions rule their play. Diplomacy is not a game for everyone. It involves scheming, lying, and backstabbing. That kind of unethical action can cause the victim to become emotional. Recognizing that you may run into an emotional person while playing Diplomacy is a reality you should anticipate. It’s going to happen.

What if you are in a game with an emotional person? What should you do? First, you need to recognize whether the person’s emotional reaction is authentic. It could be fake. Feigning madness to convince you he intends to make irrational, emotional moves might be a ploy to stab you. Discerning whether he is an authentic madman or a great actor is sometimes difficult. Let’s say you determine the madness is real; how should you use it?

Unlike most of us, an emotional player is playing for reasons other than winning, getting into a draw, survival, or points. His motives are emotional. He wants nothing but to kill the target of his emotional wrath. Satisfaction of his honor is his most important objective.

If you are in a Diplomacy game with him, you could use the player’s emotional goals to advance your strategy. Once you figure out his emotional objective you can offer strategic advances of your units that also to help him to extract his revenge. Empathize with him and agree that the target of his wrath is deserving of his madness. Sometimes you can ride an emotional player to a solo. But doing so may seem like you’re flying a glider in the eye of a hurricane. You never know when the hurricane might turn and catch you in its swirly wind.

On the other hand, what if you’re the target of an emotional player? What should you do? First, talking to an emotional person rationally probably isn’t going to work. But maybe you can use drama and emotional appeal to divert the madness toward another. Meanwhile, try and convince other players to help you. If you see someone exploiting the other person’s emotion to gain strategic advantages, show the other players in the game how that player is doing it. Or you can try meta-gaming arguments. Emotional people are not good for The Hobby. Gamers don’t appreciate madness. It causes fear. It creates an unease. It disrupts the fun of the game. Your meta-argument might work even when the other player could benefit from the madman’s moves against you. She might be more repelled by the madness and the negative energy it brings.

Running into emotional players in Diplomacy is normal. It is one of the reasons why Diplomacy is a great game. The human element and the drama, make every game refreshingly unpredictable and unique.

Using Public Press In Diplomacy


Fall 1902

Lecture on Deceptive Moves and Public Press

A good diplomacy player uses the entire game environment, public press, and moves on the board to her advantage. I am going to use two examples from the Fall 1902 moves and post Fall 1902 press to illustrate how a player might exploit these weapons to advance a stratgic cause.

Let me start by observing that England and Turkey are two intimately connected powers. It is counter-intuitive because they start the game on opposite corners of the board and seem to be very far and disconnected from each other. I am going to assume that the English and Turkish players here are keenly aware of this and could have executed a brilliant move to dramatically advance their partnership influence over this School of War game.

To recap. In Fall 1902, we saw Turkey take Greece with a perfectly executed support order and move, but ostensibly make a blunder in his ordering of F Con and A Smyrna. Had Turkey properly written his order, his second fleet would have entered the Med on Bulgaria(south coast). But from Bul(SC) a move into Black Sea is not possible. The misorder here keeps possible F Constantople to Black Sea in the spring.

One of the best pieces of diplomacy advice I have learned is that you look at the location of the pieces on the board. These are the best indicator of a player’s true intentions.

Using a misorder to fool another player is only effective when the player you’re trying to fool thinks you are capable of a mistake. Even the best players can misorder. However, there is a sliding scale of how believable the misorder might be depending on the experience of the player supposedly making the mistake. See diagram below:

diplomacy graph

In this case, the target of the deceptive misorder is Turkey’s ally Russia. The main objective is to stab and secure Black Sea. Even if Russia bounces the move, A Ank-Arm is assured. Meanwhile, A Greece S A Smy-Bul; F Aeg C Smy-Bul; A Smy-Bul; gives Turkey outstanding position against Austria, a potential alliance with both Italy and Austria.

The other thing to note here is an outstanding effort by the English player to facilitate his ally Turkey’s stab of Russia. He even takes his public press to this thread, a clear violation of the agreed rules, but also not unprecedented as other players have mistakenly posted here earlier.

The English public press on global and here was outstanding. In the global section he orchestrates hue and cry about a Steamroller alliance. Here, he gives the impression of a broken teacup upset by a mean professor’s stern lecture. He supports the insulted Turk who the professor said made an “abysmal” move. The English player cleverly weaves the professor into the deception, implicitly and explicitly suggesting the mistake was by a novice, beginning player and the professor is too insulting and not understanding of the level of inexperience for the players in this game. A deception of Russia could not be more brilliantly orchestrated by two potentially allied players, Turkey and England.

Should a shark, in a sea of anonymity, hide?


The curse of a world champion Diplomacy player. I’ve seen it over and over in the face to face Hobby. A player rises to fame by playing championship caliber Diplomacy and cements his reputation by winning Worlds.

When that player next enters the tournament circuit, he is beaten time and again. Lied to by everyone and hammered. Diplomacy is a humbling game. World Champion one year. Frequently eliminated the next. Fear does that to people. Fear of a shark.

Sometimes it gets so bad that the former World Champion drops out of The Hobby in frustration. The shark gets eaten.

One of the benefits of sharks playing online at places like WebDiplomacy is that you can join anonymous games. Sharks swim with the newbies and there are usually three or four newbies in most Diplomacy games there. Its fun to solo.

As stated in this post, my strategy on WebDiplomacy evolves around identifying and limiting the more dangerous players in a game. It stands to reason that other sharks in the game are doing the same thing. The last thing you want, when you are a shark, is for another shark to spot you and organize diplomacy aimed at killing you.

Therefore, walk a fine line in communication with other players. You do not want to write too much and too deeply early or you might reveal yourself as a shark to another shark. Your prose needs to concise and direct. Avoid verbosity. I realize this is contrary to most of the advice given to new players, who are frequently told to write, write, and write some more. A shark must write. But she writes concisely.

Next, avoid Hobby terms. Butcher them on purpose. As Italy, I might write to Austria or France and say that I am thinking of making a La Panto move. Or I might tell Turkey that Austria and Italy want me to La Panto on you. Also, occasionally use weird abbreviations. Not too much to be obvious, but just enough to cause the other sharks to misidentify you as a newbie.

Last, be very careful in discussing strategic vision. This is a tricky one because you have to lay out enough vision to establish an alliance. But ideally by the time such a message is required, you have identified a reliable newbie with whom you can work. Then, open up because it doesn’t matter. A newbie doesn’t know the danger of living next to a shark. If your initial alliance is with a more experienced player, take his advice. Let him take the lead. Just make sure you get a fair balance of the centers and try to create problems for him by using diplomacy. Usually, this diplomacy involves telling other players he is a shark.

I have exploited the inexperience factor frequently on the WebDiplomacy site. My ghost rating is an unbelievable 5/3694. I am not this good at Diplomacy. I consider the GR achievement largely a product of good luck and use of the tactics described in these SoW posts.