The headline for this summary doesn’t quite tell you who won. The father-son duo of Andy and Ben Gardner, both already well-established among the top players in the world, not only entered, but they also ended up facing each other in the Final. In the end, it was son Ben (7-1-0) besting dad Andy (6-2-0). Ben’s 2nd crown tied him with Andy in that category. GM Vince Meconi (5-2-0) finished 3rd with Ed Menzel (5-2-0) garnering the 4th and final plaque. Other playoff participants were 5th place Matt Makuch (4-2-0), 6th Ed Prem (3-2-0), 7th John Pack (3-3-0), and 8th Robert Frisby (3-3-0). Our 9th through 12th place should be mentioned too because the only reason they didn’t make the playoffs was because they lost strength of schedule tie-breakers. They were, in order, Karl Bodenheimer, Chet Makuch, Jim Bodenheimer, and Bruce Monnin, all with 3-2-0 records. In lieu of plaques, the 5th through 10th place finishers received books as prizes, either a World War II naval history volume or a copy of War At Sea competitor Darren Kilfara’s wargaming novel, Do You Want Total War?
I thought last year’s tournament was the most even competition ever, but this year exceeded even 2022. For only the second time in 31 tourneys, no player finished undefeated in the Swiss rounds. The only players without a legitimate chance at the title, in my opinion, were those who chose to enter only a round or 2 so they could compete in other events.
Thirty-one players opened the competition with 5 more joining us for Round 2. Overall, 20 players were there for all 5 rounds. That’s the highest number of all-day participants in 20 years and the second highest number ever. The 76 games played were the most in 8 years. And befitting our status as a highly competitive event, almost nothing was resolved until that last round. 17 players were still in the hunt for the 8 playoff slots at that point. Only Andy Gardner at 4-0-0 with 40 Victory Points had clinched a playoff berth. He faced the GM Vince Meconi (3-1-0) with 32 VPs. My Allies (2.5 bid) defeated Andy’s Axis via an early resignation after an Axis debacle on turn 1 placed them in an impossible path forward.
On board 2, Ben Gardner squared off against John Pack; each was 3-1-0 with 30 VPs. Ben’s 5 Allied ASW sank all U-boats on turn 2 and it was downhill from there, rendering the Allied bid of 2.0 useless. Ben qualified for the playoffs and John was forced into the dreaded strength of schedule tiebreaker. Board 3 featured Ed Menzel’s Axis against Robert Frisby’s Allies, bidding 1.5. Both were 3-1-0 with 30 VPs. The Axis cruised to a maximum POC score lessened only by the bid. Ed made the quarterfinals and Robert awaited the tiebreaker. On Board 4, Matt Makuch (3-1-0, 28 VPs) faced Jim Eliason (2-1-1, 25 VPs). Matt’s Allies, bidding 1.5, prevailed over Jim’s Axis; Matt joined the playoffs while Jim was knocked out of contention. The next matchup was Chet Makuch’s Allies (2-1-1, 25 VPs), bidding 2.0 vs. Joe Collinson’s (2-1-1, 23 VPs) Axis. The 2nd tie of the day for each of them knocked Joe out and placed Chet in the strength of schedule tiebreaker. Board 6 had Bob Hamel’s Axis against Ed Prem’s Allies; there was no bid. Bob at 2-2 and Ed at 2-1-0 both had 22 VPs to that point. Ed’s narrow 1-POC win boosted him into the now crowded tiebreaker and sent Bob off. The 7th game was Bruce Monnin’s Allies (1.5 bid) vs. Shawn O’Connor’s Axis, both 2-2-0 and 20 VPs. Bruce’s 2.5 POC victory entered him in the strength of schedule sweepstakes and ended Shawn’s playoff hopes. Board 8 matched 2 more players with 2-2-0 records and 20 VPs, Jim Bodenheimer and Glenn Petroski. It was Jim’s Allies (no bid) besting Glenn’s Axis by 3 POC. Once again, the win put Jim in the tiebreaker situation and Glenn on the sidelines. The 9th and final game with playoff implications had Karl Bodenheimer (2-2-0, 20 VPs up against John Sharp (1-2-1, 13 VPs). Karl was still playoff eligible, but John did not have enough VPs for the playoffs, though he could still be a spoiler. That did not occur, though, as Karl’s Allies (no bid) topped John’s Axis by a 4-POC margin and moved into the tiebreaker.
After 5 rounds of competition this year, we had 5 guaranteed entrants (the GM, Ed Menzel, Andy Gardner, Ben Gardner, and Matt Makuch. Then, we had no fewer than 7 players logjammed at 30 VPs, competing for the remaining 3 quarterfinal slots. After the strength of schedule calculations were made, Ed Prem, John Pack, and Robert Frisby advanced to the playoffs, leaving Karl Bodenheimer, Chet Makuch, Jim Bodenheimer, and Bruce Monnin with 9th through 12th place finishes, respectively.
The Allies won all 7 Elimination Round games. That has not occurred since we added a Quarterfinal round in 2006. The #1 seeded GM’s Allies, bidding 2.0, defeated Robert Frisby’s Axis. Ten Allied ASW sinking all 5 U-boats in one turn converted what would have been a nailbiter into a game much less so; the margin was 3.0 after the bid. #2 Ed Menzel’s Allies, bidding 1.5, overcame #7 John Pack’s Axis by 4.5 after the bid. #3 Andy Gardner’s Allies (-1.5) forced an early concession from #6 Ed Prem’s Axis. Completing the Allied sweep, #4 Ben Gardner’s fleet (bidding 2.5) stopped #5 Matt Makuch’s. There was considerable attrition on both sides early, but the Allies killing every U-boat on turn 7 sealed the final 2.5 POC difference.
The Semifinal continued Allied supremacy, but by narrow margins. Andy Gardner’s Allies, bidding 2.5, took on Ed Menzel’s Axis. Andy came out on top by just 1.5 POC after the bid. The GM’s vs. Ben Gardner’s Semifinal was even tighter. At the end of turn 8, the GM’s Axis LBA needed to sink or disable the Barents convoy of Ben’s Allies, who had bid 2.5, to eke out a half-POC win after the bid was applied. Lo and behold, the final die roll of the game disabled the convoy. Ben congratulated me as we shook hands. Then, we counted up the POC and, oops, the Allies won by half a POC!
And so, the final became The Battle of the Gardner’s. Ben took the Allies for a 2.0 bid and deployed a Barents on 1 opener. The Axis sailed to the North Atlantic and sank 3 British BBs at the cost of a 225. In addition, the 3 U-boats decontrolled the South Atlantic vs. 5 ASW, costing 1 U-boat sunk and one disabled. The turn ended with the Axis up 3 before the bid. The POC count did not move on turn 2 as 3 U-boats decontrolled the North Atlantic vs. 4 ASW, again at the cost of one sunk. No action occurred on turn 3, resulting in a single POC gain for the Allies, now trailing by 2. On turn 4, again there was no surface or ASW action, but Axis LBA sank Convoy 1A, yielding another one-POC gain for the Allies, who were now trailing by one before the bid. On turn 5, the full complement of U-boats attempted to break the blockade in the North Sea but were repulsed by 20 ASW that sank 4 and disabled 3 ‘boats. With Convoy 2B dodging the LBA, the Allies gained 4 POC on the turn and were now up 3 overall. Turn 6 looked like a replay of turn 5 as 17 ASW stopped 6 U-boats in the Barents, sinking and disabling 3 each. The Allies gained another POC for a 4-POC lead pre-bid. With giant Allied fleets in the Barents and North Sea, the Axis opted to try the South Atlantic with the 3 remaining Italian cruisers and 4 U-boats vs. the Eagle, 2x443, and a cruiser on Turn 7. Those 6 ASW sank 2 and disabled one of the U-boats, but the survivor disabled a 443. In turn, the Eagle disabled an Italian 117, and the Allied carrier, BB, and CA dispatched the remaining 2 Italians to win the area. When the LBA could not sink or disable Convoy 3C, the Allies gained another 3 POC for a 7-POC lead. Even allowing for the Allied bid of 2, the margin was too great for the Axis to overcome, and they conceded.
David Rynkowski 2-0-0 mark earned him his 2nd Best Axis Player honors. In a down year for the Axis, David was the only Axis player who managed to win more than a single game as the Axis without losing. Andy Gardner went 6-0-0 to garner his 3rd Best Allied Player certificate, besting champ Ben Gardner, Ed Menzel, and Matt Makuch. Such was the Allied success this year that the GM’s 5-1-0 mark as the Allies was only the 5th best on the day. Ed Prem gained Rookie of the Year designation with a 3-2-0 tally. He was not only the sole player to defeat champ Ben Gardner, but he also managed the rare feat of making the playoffs after playing in only 4 of the 5 Swiss rounds. Ed’s 6th place finish was the best by a first-time player since 2001.
Play balance tilted heavily in favor of the Allies this year, with the Allies taking 42 games (55.2%) and the Axis 30 (39.5%); there were 4 ties. That’s the 3rd tournament in a row with Allied dominance, but those 3 followed 3 years of Axis superiority. Allied superiority was particularly notable among the playoff contenders. Our 4 Semifinalists went 22-2 as the Allies but only 1-5 as the Axis. The other 4 Quarterfinalists had a 9-2 log as the Allies but a 4-8 mark as the Axis. Allied strength this year can likely be explained at least partially by the bidding trend. 21 of our 76 games featured no bid: that’s 27.6%, or the highest such percentage since 2006. The average bids of 1.17 for all games and 1.41 for games that had a bid were the lowest in many years.
As always, I want to thank everyone ready, willing, and able to help out with tournament mechanics and competition. First and foremost, the ace Assistant Gamemaster pair of John Sharp and Bob Hamel made life easy. The team of Glenn Petroski, Ted Drozd, John Sharp, Bob Hamel, and Jim Eliason took care of the delivery, set-up, pack-up, and return of all the chess clocks.