Sherlock Holmes,
Consulting Diplomat

by Graeme Ackland,
Master Aenigmatist

The Riddle of the Mirrored Openings

Holmes looked up from his armchair at me. I was engaged in a heated discussion across the room with his dear brother, Mycroft. Holmes took his pipe out of his mouth, put it back, and returned to his reading.

I was visibly upset. "Confound this NMR rule, Mycroft! A chap misses a single deadline and he's eliminated -- in 1901 to boot! Look at this."

Pulling the battered Diplomacy set from the bookcase, I set up the pieces in their familiar starting configuration. I then wrote out a set of orders, saying "A reasonable enough opening, eh?" "Now I think of it, weren't you at the Calhamer Club that night, Mycroft?"

Mycroft peered at my scrawl. "Indeed I was! I believe you requested my advice regarding the opening moves on this occasion, as I was playing the same power as you were in another room. It looks that from the offers you have written, evidently you took that advice."

"Yes, and a lot of good it did me!" I growled. "Here are the other orders."

Mycroft waited as I pushed pieces around the board, and then exclaimed, "Remarkable! The identical openings for all the other powers occurred in my game as well. This situation requires urgent negotiations, Watson. You need only make your neighbours aware of the logic of the position and an excellent Fall awaits you".

"Perhaps," said I, "but you'll recall that that very night we were called urgently away to that business on Dartmoor. When we returned to the Club the Fall moves had already processed: in our absence that infernal NMR rule was enforced. All my units had been ordered to hold while all the other powers' units had moved out of their home countries. The other powers had each taken two neutral centres and four of them had invaded me! My 1901 elimination was unavoidable. That has never happened to me before, and it is in no small measure due to your foolish opening."

"A sorry tale, Watson, but you really should look to your negotiations for blame rather than to the opening I suggested: I also missed the fall deadline and had my forces declared in civil disorder. Before I left I took some elementary precautions. As a result of skillful diplomacy on my part, the Fall moves in my game were considerably different from those in yours. On our return, I found myself in a position to capture three new centres in 1901."

"Well, Mycroft," I complained, "I definitely could have used those additional supply centres after seeing the Russian-English alliance that showed itself when England supported the Russians into Kiel and Holland in Spring of 1902."

At this point, Holmes again looked up from his book. "You know, Watson," he began, "Mycroft is quite right. Had you negotiated arrangements for different Fall moves from the other powers as he did, you would have been in a much more favorable position."

"Holmes!" I exclaimed, "I hardly think you are in any position to comment on either your brother's openings or my negotiations. You have been sitting at the other end of the room reading; you don't even know which power we played, let alone what our opening moves were!"

"On the contrary, dear Watson. Not only do I know the power you played and your opening moves, I can even tell you what your board looked like at the end of 1901." Holmes nodded to his brother, smiled at the both of us, and drew on his pipe as he returned to his book.

What was the position in Watson's game at the end of Fall 1901, and how did Holmes know? Send your answer to The Pouch!

Graeme Ackland
([email protected])

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