Was I Right?
by Richard Sharp
The most obvious change in the Austrian
openings over the years has been the swing away from the Balkan Gambit to the
Southern Hedgehog in the late 1970s, and back again some eleven years later.
I can certainly claim to have been largely responsible for the first of
these phenomena. In articles in Dolchstoß and in
Game of Diplomacy I plugged the Hedgehog as being the best way for
Austria to avoid an early bath; I didn’t claim it was particularly a winning
opening, but there is no doubt that it is much more difficult to win if you have
been eliminated in 1903...
The question is, was I right?
To find out, I ran a programme comparing Austria’s results with the
openings chosen, ignoring games in which Austria had resigned or dropped out,
and ignoring abandoned games and those in progress.
The facts of the case are as follows:
The Trieste Variation of the
Balkan Gambit (F(Tri)-Alb, A(Bud)-Ser, A(Vie)-Tri), still the most popular
Austrian opening overall and now making a comeback, is significantly less likely
to produce a win (9.3%) than its main rivals the Southern Hedgehog (F(Tri)-Ven,
A(Bud)-Ser, A(Vie)-Gal) and the Galicia Variation (F(Tri)-Alb, A(Bud)-Ser, A(Vie)-Gal),
both 12.3%. The Galicia Variation
is significantly more likely to produce a draw (25.1%) than either of the others
(20.4% and 20.2%). Overall, then,
the Galicia Variation avoids defeat in 37.4% of cases, as compared with 32.5%
for the Southern Hedgehog and 29.7% for the Trieste Variation.
Mind you, these pale into insignificance compared with
some of the less popular choices: of openings played 10 or more times, the best
success rate (50%) is shared by the unbaptised F(Tri)-Alb, A(Bud)-Tri,
A(Vie)-Tyr and, believe it or not, the Bohemian Variation of the Balkan Gambit (F(Tri)-Alb,
A(Bud)-Ser, A(Vie)-Boh)! Shows what
a load of rubbish statistics are, doesn’t it?
For out and out winning prospects, F(Tri)-Alb, A(Bud)-Tri, A(Vie)-Tyr is
the best at 20%, though this is based on a sample of only ten games (two
wins, three draws, two 5ths and three 6ths).
At the other end of the scale, three Austrian openings have been played
10-20 times without a single win: the Viennese
Variation of the Galician Gambit (F(Tri)-Alb, A(Bud)-Tri, A(Vie)-Gal),
the Italian Attack (F(Tri)-Ven, A(Bud)-Ser, A(Vie)-Tyr) and, surprisingly, the
True Hedgehog (F(Tri)-Ven, A(Bud)-Rum, A(Vie)-Gal).
In terms of disaster avoidance
(where “disaster” is arbitrarily defined as 5th or worse) the Trieste
Variation scores 58.9%, the Galician 64.7% and the Southern Hedgehog 65.8%.
The most successful of the more popular openings has been the Vienna
variation of the gambit (F(Tri)-Alb, A(Bud)-Ser, A(Vie)Std.) with an impressive
76.3%; the least successful has been the Hungarian Roadhog (F(Tri)Std., A(Bud)-Ser,
A(Vie)-Bud) with 44%. The best
chance of coming 7th, if you want a quick game, is offered by the Budapest
Variation of the Gambit (F(Tri)-Alb, A(Bud)-Ser, A(Vie)-Bud), closely followed
by the Hungarian Hedgehog (F(Tri)-Ven, A(Bud)-Ser, A(Vie)-Bud), which I once
described as “quite interesting” in an inattentive moment.
It looks as though A(Vie)-Bud is a losing option.
Among the minority openings, I suppose the worst is what I called the
Dead Porcupine (F(Tri)-Ven, A(Vie) S A(Bud)-Gal), still only played once, and
the only way of guaranteeing that you can’t get Serbia in 1901.
This is the frequency table fro
the three most popular openings:
First published in The Numbers Game No.17 (April 1992)