Michael Green, the humourist, defined the coarse golfer as one who plays his golf never troubling the fairway, and the coarse actor as one who remembers the lines, but not the actual order in which they come. The coarse diplomacy player shares with these exemplars of their chosen areas of expertise, a concern with aspects of the hobby not necessarily shared by other players. The coarse golfer knows only the rough, while the coarse actor’s chief concern is with upstaging every single member of the cast, and being dead by the second act so that he can spend as much time in the bar as possible. The coarse diplomat, in similar vein, is seldom concerned with what other’s see as the main aim of the game, the seeking, or preventing a solo, and usually displays an agenda idiosyncratically his own.
Take Askew, for example, that doyen of all things coarse. A Diplomacy player of fearsome reputation, Askew has never actually won a game. He once came close, of course, with a twelve dot Austria in 1905 after Italy, Russia and Turkey NMRed in 1901, blamed each other and bounced each other out of the game. Unfortunately for Askew, France and Germany were made of sterner stuff, and Askew’s finest hour was short-lived, being eliminated by 1911. The coarse diplomat does not need to win to satisfy his ambitions. Askew is normally eliminated by 1903, or sooner if he’s up against anyone he’s played before! So where does his reputation stem from?
What one has to understand about the coarse diplomat, is that reputation is not won on the board, it is always won in the bar afterwards. Askew is nothing, if not a persuasive racconteur and he is able to put a spin on any game which makes him appear to have been the evil mastermind of every game he plays in. “I was down to my last dot,” he proudly proclaims before a brace of newbies who are hanging on his every word, keen to learn the game at the feet of the master. “But I was able to persuade Germany to stab France over St Petersburg, and prevent the solo. After that I managed to convoy to Ankara, and ended up on seven dots, and a vital draw for round three!” The reality of course was very different, and had very little to do with whatever machinations Askew himself was behind. For starters Askew was actually eliminated in that game! He was reduced to a single dot in 1902, allowed to sit in Naples for a few turns, during which he took increasingly less interest in the proceedings and sat sulking on his cell phone. By the time Germany stabbed France he was already out of the game, and was wandering around the hall telling other players he was close to a solo. Reality and reputation have very little to do with each other when Askew is around.
How does he get away with it, you may ask? Simple! No one cares to actually check a result in a game. Why would you when the man himself is on hand to tell you all about it. Diplomacy players, despite their reputation, are generally honest enough fellows, and would never dream that another would lie about what happened in a game. Lie through his teeth in the game, sure, but why lie about the result? It just doesn’t make sense! And that’s why Askew gets away with it. If confronted with any inconsistency, of course he will immediately back-track and apologise for confusing two games – “very similar games, but, of course, you are right! In THAT game I was eliminated early! Hey – it happens!”
The coarse diplomat, then, is one who essentially plays the game off the board, rather than on it. He has realised that the game itself will soon be forgotten, but the stories that you tell will be remembered for a very long time, especially if they are suitably embellished! In many ways, the bigger the whopper, the more credible it is. If a chap tells you he is the Diplomacy World Champion it is a statement that surely would never be made unless true? Surely? That is in fact precisely what Askew told a group of convention hangers-on a few years ago. One of these was a member of the press, and the fact was reported in a national newspaper. Why would you doubt something reported by a respected journalist in a prestigious journal? From that day forth it became common knowledge that Askew was a former world champion – something no one ever bothered to verify!
In many ways then, the coarse diplomat does not actually ever need to play a game, all he needs to do is talk about the games he says he has played. Now Askew does play, occasionally! And what a player he is!
Most players aim first of all for a rule-book victory, a solo! If they cannot achieve this they will certainly try to prevent anyone else winning, will try to be included in a draw, or to top the board. Some will play simply not to be eliminated! These are all pretty standard aims, but they are never the aims of the coarse diplomat!
There are those who are said to play the game in order to stab everyone, preferably alphabetically, and this qualifies as fairly coarse! But Askew takes the biscuit! He is king of coarse! I have been making a keen study of Askew’s games, the few that he does actually play, and I have come to the conclusion that his main aim is to make moves which will be talked about. Take the following moves from a recent tournament.
Spring 1901: F Edi – Yor, A Lvp – Clyde, F Lon – Wales
Fall 1901: F Yor – Lon, A Lvp – Edi, F Wales – Lvp
There is really no rhyme or reason here! My best guess is that Askew himself would have gone all mysterious when pressed on why he was making the moves he was. He would attempt to appear infinitely wise, and would probably invent a name for the opening. “I’m simply making a Side-Step Opening,” he might say, as if gracing it with a name confers a rationale that can only be guessed at.
I am convinced I am right about this. Here’s another of Askew’s Openings I found in an Internet game. Notice how the Opening serves absolutely no purpose, but follows a pattern. This one he probably named the “Irish Opening” or something similar!
Spring 1901: F Edi – Clyde, A Lvp – hold, F Lon – Wales
Fall 1901: F Clyde – Lvp, A Lvp – hold, F Wales – Lvp
Now Askew seldom reaches the End game or even the Middle game or that matter, but his moves later on in a game can be equally erratic, but equally, well, … memorable. Here’s what he did as a 3 unit Italy in Fall 1905: F Tyr – Tunis, F Tunis – Ion, F Ion – Tyr. The solitary and unsupported Turkish enemy unit in Naples survived! Not that this was followed up by any alliance with Turkey, indeed Italy was defeated in Fall 1906! The only possible explanation is that Askew wanted it known that he had foregone a sure-fire capture of a dot and wanted people to speculate on why.
The Coarse Diplomat, in other words does not make moves to win a game or forge an alliance as other players do; his moves are designed purely to be talked about! We all know that in Diplomacy the moves themselves are not nearly as important as the negotiations. In a face to face game, the ability to pull someone aside, almost unnoticed and get them to give you Tunis unopposed is what makes for a great player. In an email or Internet game, frequent and copious press is often seen as the path to success. For Askew there is not much to be said for his negotiating style because I, for one, have never ever seen him negotiate. He is very good at collaring people, at distracting them from making their own moves to be sure, but he does not actually ever discuss the game at hand after cornering his unfortunate victim and shepherding them away from the board. In the one game I played against him, after a hissed, “We must talk,” which I ignored, I found him at my shoulder while I was attempting to get my orders written quickly, while anxiously trying to see who was talking to France. “Psst!” he repeated. “We must talk!” Since he was a single dot Turkey, sitting in Armenia, and I was playing England, I could not really see why we had anything that urgent to say to each other!
“It’s parky in here!” he began.
“Yes,” I replied, somewhat unkindly – where had France gotten to!?
“Nice venue, though! Enough space, good atmosphere!” I agreed with him and made the kind of gesture that normally invites a certain coming to the point.
“Not enough public transport though,” he continued. “Ah, there’s France! I have to speak to him! Will you excuse me!”
And that, amazingly was it! When I finally did get to speak to France, seconds before orders were due, and I asked what Aksew had had to say to him, France replied that he appeared to have urgently wanted to discuss the air-conditioning! It was then that I understood that the Coarse Diplomat does not want to negotiate anything, all he wants to do is prevent others from doing so. Askew is a master at this sort of thing! I have heard that he has spilled a can of coke all over the board; knocked all the pieces off kilter after “accidentally” depositing his dolly-bag on top of most of the Mediterranean Sea; been rushed to hospital after being stung by a wasp; and most infamously of all set off the water-sprinklers in the hall after setting fire to his beanie. He gets urgent telephone calls when a negotiation phase starts, he has to rush to the loo, or pick up litter – anything to avoid negotiating!
He spends most of his time, though, studying the board with a preternatural intensity, nodding his head and making audible asides such as, “gottem!” or “like rats in a trap!” To any casual onlooker he is the very picture of composure and control – every inch the ex-World Champion, the puppet-master, plotting, scheming, about to spring his surprise. He will fix his opponents with a stare and say things like, “think before giving him Tunis!” or “it’s over for you now! Can’t you see what he’s done?” This causes maximum consternation, and turns ordinary healthy paranoia into rabid pre-emptive stabbing frenzies. And all the while Askew smiles and smiles, and in less savoury moments, laughs maniacally! Despicable, you might say, but, honestly, the game would be poorer without people like Askew, the coarse diplomacy players.
I once asked him if he’d ever stabbed everyone in alphabetical order as he is reputed to have done. “Never!” he replied emphatically. “That would be too easy!”