Guernsey Opening

(A Mar – Spa; A Par – Pic; F Bre – ECh.)

Summary

The Guernsey Opening is the most popular French opening involving Brest moving to the English Channel. The 25th most popular opening in the game, it occurs 7.3% of the time, making it France’s 4th most common set of Spring 1901 moves.

Many French openings are rightly described as embracing a “wait-and-see” approach, but this one is not in that family. Viciously anti-English in intent and completely trusting of Germany it aims to establish position and promote the threat of a French army being convoyed to Wales or London: a powerful attack. Combined with a Russian opening to St Petersburg this is hard to defend for the English.

This attack does come at a significant cost. Apart from only picking up one of the Iberian neutral centres in 1901, there is also a substantial risk to the well-being of France thanks to a German attack. Whether in Spring 1901, Fall 1901, or Spring 1902 (after a presumptive fleet build by France), the presence of an army in Burgundy is as hard to defend as the army in Wales is for the English. It makes the opening very high risk and dependent on the good will of the German player.

With great risk there is substantial reward, and if there is enough trust of the German then this is a brutal and effective opening that can set France up for a big game.

Historical Discussion

David Hood, writing in The Gamer’s Guide To Diplomacy suggests this is his preferred way of launching an early game attack against England:

The other primary school of strategy, to which I subscribe, is to open strongly against the English immediately with F Bre – Ech; A Par – Pic; A Mar – Spa (Personally, I prefer A Mar – Bur, but we’ll discuss that below). The avowed purpose here is to convoy the army to Wales in the Fall, or better yet support the German Fleet Denmark (or Holland) into the North Sea that turn. The latter is a devastating blow to the English. Detractors point out that two French units are being used to gain position in 1901 rather than new centres, which is risky in the early stages of the game. Possibly that is true… but novice players, as well as veterans, too often forget that. in the tactical game of Diplomacy, position is everything, especially against a power such as England. The extra units France might have had would be nice, but those units will rarely be involved against England right away. If, on the other hand, England is allowed to entrench unmolested they may be of little use anyway. Spain and Portugal will fall just as easily one at a time as both together.

The Player’s Guide doesn’t mention the opening (commenting generally that early attacks against England are ill-advised), but Richard Sharp gives the opening a lot of praise, though noting he dislikes the prospect of a bounce:

If you are going to move to the Channel, it should be because you have decided to make an early start on your biggest problem — the destruction of England. If you do this, you must follow up with A(Par)—Pic, the English Attack proper and the fourth most popular French opening at about six per cent. You must be sure of Germany’s co-operation; he should be inducing England to open with the Edinburgh Variation, explaining that the Yorkshire Variation is ‘anti-German’ (for the absurdity of this, see p. 37). If England falls for this infantile ruse, you’ve got him, as he cannot prevent the convoy to Wales in the autumn — you might risk trying for London if Germany seems half-hearted about the attack. Normally you convoy to Wales, move A(Spa)— Por, and take your one build of F(Bre); if all goes well, you have some very nice options open in spring 1902, such as A(Wal}—Yor! Let him sort that one out if he can.

I have played this opening with success in some of my early games; but nowadays I find greater difficulty in convincing England I won’t go there, and this tips the scale, so that I rarely play it any more. A stand-off in ENG is bad, and I never risk it. It is safer to delay the attack on England until he is committed against Russia in the north, whereupon the ‘back-door’ attack is unanswerable. But this remains a fiercely effective start against a weak England; it’s a lot of fun trying to arrange the demolition in such a way that your ‘unlucky’ German ally gets less than his fair share of the goodies.

 

Little other historical commentary is offered, but both the above thoughts were influential in French opening strategy regarding this opening and still hold a lot of influence over French players to this day.

Modern Theory

Modern theory of the opening puts a higher value on the risk element in the equation of what makes an opening worth doing, so this opening has fallen out of favour with many players – it cedes too much authority to the German player who can easily utilise it to become a massive force working with either England or France. This is one of the best openings in the game for Germany.

This doesn’t mean that the opening should be discarded though. In particular, where the German player is a weaker one and England is a perceived threat this opening is almost certainly the best option. It still requires a lot of trust that Germany won’t take advantage of the 1902 weakness, but if this can be arranged then a massive game beckons for a quality French player. Conversely, this is not a great opening against weaker English players, as it will tend to favour Germany or Russia as the English player collapses back to defend Liverpool and London rather than maintain a strong overall position.

While most very good players will open more conservatively, this is an opening kept in the back pocket for occasional use, if only to keep things interesting and other players guessing.

Notable Continuations

There are a lot of continuations for this opening, as in addition to the possibility of a bounce in the English Channel the moves of Germany and Italy also require a variety of responses. A selection of the top 20 options are listed, but this is not an exhaustive list by any stretch of the imagination:

  1. The Renoir (A Pic – Bel; A Spa – Por; F Bre – MAO.)
  2. The Degas (A Pic – Bel; A Spa – Por; F Bre – ECh.)
  3. The Monet (A Pic – Bel; A Spa – Mar; F Bre – MAO.)
  4. The Cassatt (A Pic – Bel; A Spa – Mar; F Bre – ECh.)
  5. The Manet  (A Pic – Bel; A Spa h; F Bre – MAO.)
  6. The Morisot (A Pic – Bel; A Spa h; F Bre – ECh.)
  7. The Sisley (A Pic s Ruh – Bel; A Spa – Por; F Bre – MAO.)
  8. The Pissarro (A Pic s Ruh – Bel; A Spa – Por; F Bre – ECh.)
  9. The Utrillo (A Pic – Par ; A Spa h; F Bre – MAO.)
  10. The Lautrec (A Pic – Par ; A Spa – Mar; F Bre – MAO.)
  11. The Caillebotte (A Pic – Wal; A Spa – Por; F ECh c Pic – Wal.)
  12. The Bazille (A Pic – Wal; A Spa h; F ECh c Pic – Wal.)
  13. The Seurat (A Pic – Wal; A Spa – Mar; F ECh c Pic – Wal.)
  14. The Signac (A Pic – Lon; A Spa – Por; F ECh c Pic – Lon.)
  15. The Cezanne (A Pic – Lon; A Spa h; F ECh c Pic – Lon.)
  16. The Bazille (A Pic – Lon; A Spa – Mar; F ECh c Pic – Lon.)
  17. The Renoux (A Pic – Par; A Spa – Mar; F ECh – Bel.)
  18. The Dufy (A Pic s Ech – Bel; A Spa – Por; F ECh – Bel.)
  19. The Daumier (A Pic – Bel; A Spa h; F ECh s – Pic – Bel.)
  20. The Hunter (A Pic s Wal- Bel; A Spa – Por; F ECh c Wal – Bel.)

Naming Conventions

The naming conventions are based on French Impressionist painters and as such are a little vague. Opportunities for renaming based on substantial contributions to their relative values should be considered.

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