I am a no-press fan. In fact, I only play no-press games. I do not intend now to argue in favor or against the variant. I simply wish to point out that this article is based on my experience in mute games. Some or most of its content may also apply to full-press games.
Russia is the country that I have played the most. This does not mean that Russia is my favorite country. Rather, my penchant for Russia has been a sign of frustration. Why? Because, according to some statistics, Russia has the best winning record. Instead of reaching victory I invariably lose, even when trying different and well-known openings. Although the most likely explanation is that I am a lousy player, it does suggest that Russia has a tougher break in a no-press setting than in a full-press game.
I finally got to solo with Russia (game "daily" at USDP). Needless to say, this in itself does not warrant my writing this article let alone your reading it. What prompted me to write it is that I came up with an opening that may solve some of the problems Russia has to face in its tough first year.
Russia is an exciting country to play with. Its uniqueness resides not only in the obvious fact that it is the sole country with four SCs. Russia's position on the map allows for flexibility and the ability to influence every corner of the board. I believe that Russia's most important asset lies in the fact that of all seven nations, Russia is the best placed to overcome stalemate lines, the most dreaded of all obstacles to getting the sweet 18.
Russia's situation at the beginning of the game, however, is fraught with difficulties. Having four units may be considered more of a liability than an advantage because it creates an incentive among neighbors to gang up against the young bear. Paradoxically, Russia is the only power that cannot guarantee a build in 1901. Moreover, the sheer extension of Russia's frontiers, stretching from north to south, makes it very difficult to effectively coordinate all units, thus enhancing its vulnerability to attacks from its neighbors regardless of whether they work in concert or not. The fact that Russia, while being a land-based power, has only two armies only makes matters worse.
Ordinarily, these disadvantages can be countered by active diplomacy with other powers. What happens in a no-press game? Which opening, if any, help to overcome Russia's shortcomings at 1901?
Russia's extra SC makes it the country with most possible openings. According to the Library of Diplomatic Openings, there are no less than 915 total alternatives available! Fortunately, the Czar needs not exhaust every possibility because common sense and logic set aside roughly 9 out 10 of them. That leaves us still with a pretty large number to reckon with.
In my opinion, any sound opening should seek to achieve three things:
For the reasons outlined above, Russia has a hard time reconciling those three seemingly contradictory objectives.
My contention is that the opening I used in game "daily" attempts to do just that. As a result, it provides a fairly reasonable chance to succeed:
According to the Opening Library, this is an unnamed opening and no information exists for it. It is not mentioned in any other articles or databases that I checked (although I am sure that SOMEONE must have used it before me!). I later found out that it is actually a combination of the so-called "Lapland Lurch" (F StP - Fin) with the Southern System (A Mos - Sev), Rumanian Opening (F Sev - Rum), Ukraine Variation (A War - Ukr).
The merits of the opening lie in its prudence: It is a threat to no-one. All units except the southern fleet are within Russian frontiers. Therefore the logic of the Lapland Lurch is extended to the other units as well. The message of a non-aggressive or even a friendly Russia is more effectively transmitted than with other moves. Thus it provides a significant diplomatic added value which may be particularly useful in a no-press game.
As mentioned before, Russia cannot guarantee a build in 1901. That necessarily means that some degree of good-will is needed from other powers to conquer one or more SCs. I submit that with this set of orders, the likelihood of that good-will is enhanced. Of course, being friendly alone does not defend you against aggressive neighbors. In fact, it may even tempt them to finish you off. You must show some teeth and protect your rearguard.
This is precisely the idea behind A War - Ukr, A Mos - Sev, F Sev - Rum. It provides solid defense: If Turkey orders F Bla - Sev, Sevastopol is securely held with two potential supports, while the army in Ukraine may be spared to cover Warsaw against any intrusion from Galicia, Silesia, or Prussia. On the other hand, unless Austria orders the unlikely A Bud - Rum, Rumania may almost certainly be held by Fall 1901.
Needless to say, I am not arguing that the opening is foolproof. Such things simply do not exist in our wonderful game. Indeed, it has some disadvantages: The fleet in Rumania, for example, is not ideally placed because seldom may it go much farther. Moreover, if Austria orders a pure Hedgehog (A Vie - Gal, A Bud - Rum), and Turkey orders F Bla - Ank, A Smy - Arm (my own personal favorite Turkish opening) Russia will probably be in deep trouble. Then again, the strong diplomatic message conveyed by Russia may win over Austria or Turkey (or perhaps both).
Indeed, in that particular game Germany ordered F Kie - Den, Austria A Vie - Gal, A Bud-Rum, and Turkey F Ank - Bla (but fortunately not A Smy - Arm) in Spring 1901. I eventually got the two builds by occupying both Sweden and Rumania. The bounce in Rumania allowed me to take it with the army and then a solid Juggernaut was established.
One game is certainly not enough to draw conclusions for or against a given opening; there are simply too many factors involved. Hopefully these ideas may be helpful to someone who is tired of starting 1902 with only four white units!