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The Lisbon Leapfrog

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Categories: Opening | French Opening

by Mark Berch


No country can equal France in the variety of exotic, but perfectly sensible openings. One of these is the Lisbon Leapfrog which features, in Fall 1901, Fleet Mid Atlantic convoying Army Gascony to Portugal.


There are two scenarios where this can show up. The first, and most important, is where you, the French player, would like more options for Spring 1902. A lot more options.


Ordinarily, unless someone has opened to the Channel or Picardy, you can expect your fleet to descend peacefully on one of the Iberian neutrals (Spain or Portugal) in Fall 1901. The problem, as centuries of French players have discovered, is that this gives you a rather restricted list of choices for Spring 1902. In nearly all cases, only three options make much sense:


1.You can move to the Western Med. provided you chose Spain’s south coast in Fall 1901.


2.You can use the fleet to take the other neutral. But often this isn’t necessary; you took it with an army in Fall 1901. Even if your armies have been engaged elsewhere, the fleet may well be too precious for such a pedestrian duty - one of your builds can often take care of the job. If you do use the fleet to take the other neutral, you’re just postponing the problem for a year: what will you do in Spring 1903?


3.The most common choice is to move back to the Mid Atlantic. The problem here is that you won’t have anything interesting to attack in the fall. You’ll have to content yourself with a positional move - or blocking someone else’s move. Your tempo is off; it should be Spring for positional moves, fall for something more lethal.


And that’s where the convoy comes in, as the Fall 1901 convoy permits you to make a strong positional move in the Spring of 1902 and not the Fall.


In this case you have significant anti-English options available for Spring 1902: Fleet Mid Atlantic to North Atlantic, Irish sea or English Channel (the later with Brest’s support). That’s an impressive array and can be well worth the price paid for this opening.


England, of course, is not going to like this opening. If you’ve got at least decent communication established, you should be able to smooth things over. To begin with, England didn’t ask you not to do the opening, right? I’ve never made such a request as England, nor have I ever heard one as France. Moreover, its pretty hard to argue that France shouldn’t be allowed to occupy the Mid Atlantic in the opening game. It’s very much like asking England not to leave a fleet in the North Sea. The Mid Atlantic, like the North Sea, is a vital sea space, bordering home centres and gateway provinces. If England ended up a fleet in the North Sea, it going to be impossible for him or her to argue that the English can leave a fleet in the water but France can’t.


The value of this move goes far beyond the tactical. If you are trying to elicit German and/or Russian support for an early alliance against England, this should get their attention. You’ve clearly positioned yourself to take part in an attack on England - but you won’t get into anyone’s way. When your letters go out, urging Germany and Russian to build against the English, these missives will have more credibility. This isn’t just some new French scheme, designed, perhaps, simply to create discord. It’s a plan that you’ve at least partially committed to. Clearly, the Lisbon Leapfrog gives you a better chance to persuade Germany and Russia that an anti-English alliance can work.


In addition, this opening, provided it doesn’t frighten England, makes an English stab feasible. Typically, England will prepare the groundwork for a Spring 1902 stab by proposing that no fleets be built in Liverpool, Brest or London in winter 1901, particularly when England has only one build. This is a very attractive deal for France. England would then stab by building a Fleet Liverpool. If England builds Fleet Liverpool and France doesn’t build a fleet, the English player will have to guess in Spring 1902 just to get his fleet out of port, as either Fleet Liverpool to Irish Sea or North Atlantic can be blocked. Even if England happens to have a fleet in the Norwegian Sea and can thus support himself to the North Atlantic, Fleet Mid Atlantic to Irish Sea will cause problems. In shah., even a successful winter 1901 betrayal by England will be less lucrative - and thus less tempting and likely.


In summary, the overwhelming majority of French players who open Fleet Brest to Mid Atlantic will follow up with F Mid Atlantic to Portugal. They must thus spend Spring 1902 undoing that move. If you a willing to forgo the third build, and don’t have any serious duties for your armies, you can overcome that loss of tempo with the Lisbon Leapfrog.


The situation for a southern campaign is murkier. F Mid Atlantic is obviously one crucial season ahead of Fleet Portugal. Fleets in the Mid Atlantic and Spain (south coast) have the same access to the Western Med. Fleet Spain (sc) can also move to the Gulf of Lyon or Marseilles, which fleet Mid Atlantic cannot, although normally your Marseilles build can be expected to handle that. But the extra job that F Mid Atlantic can do is moving to North Africa. This is an advantage in a south where France built Fleet Marseilles but not Fleet Brest and Italy has Fleet Tunis. Ordinarily, Spring 1902 could see F Spain (sc) - Western Med. F Tunis-North Africa and Fleet Naples-Tyrrhenian Sea. Assuming Italy has an army prepared to convoy to Tunis this places France in an awkward guess: will Italy send a fleet to the Western Med. or Mid Atlantic? If France guesses wrong, she will make no progress in its southern campaign or even have to face a marauder behind its lines. France’s options of moving Fleet Mid Atlantic-North Africa in Spring 1902 throws a monkey wrench in Italy’s plan here, for she, not France is now doing the guessing. As on the northern front, France’s better-placed fleet may make aggression less attractive to its southern neighbour.


There are two final related issues here: what to do with the other army and why not just move Army Gascony to Spain so as not to bother with the convoy. If the army has no other duties, it can zip Marseilles-Spain-Portugal. In that case, you can do Army Paris-Gascony-Spain and dispense with the convoy altogether while F Mid Atlantic holds. This is a close cousin to the Lisbon Leapfrog. This particular configuration is very useful if you suspect that Italy will move to Piedmont in the Fall of 1901. If that happens, both Fleet Mid Atlantic -Western Med and Fleet Marseilles-Gulf of Lyon are possible with Army Spain covering Marseilles. By contrast, putting the Fleet in Spain in Fall 1901 means one of the two fleets would have to guard Marseilles.


Of course, Fleet Marseilles holds is a bit conspicuous but you may not have another use for the piece in Fall 1902. The positional advantage is maintained, however.


More commonly, Army Marseilles will be in a Spring 1901 stand-off in either Burgundy or Piedmont. It can move to Spain in the fall for a second build. You could take Burgundy though this is risky. If you don’t get Munich or Belgium, you’re going to feel undermanned with just one build.


There is a second scenario for this move. If England has opened to the Channel and you think he will try to go to the Mid Atlantic, the convoy will do the double duty of blocking the move and getting Portugal. This is such an outrageous set-up that ordinarily I wouldn’t mention it, but it actually happened in 1976JL. The GM (Cliff Mann) would later deny that the French player was his girlfriend, although on at least one occasion, a call to the GM was answered by her. As you can imagine, there were some hard feelings about the game. But I digress.


Admittedly, the Lisbon Leapfrog is an unusual opening, requiring a very particular set of circumstances. But if they do occur, the Lisbon Leapfrog can be just the ticket for a more successful 1902. Keep it in mind the next time the light blue pieces come your way.

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