This was the 20th consecutive year for the Atlantic Storm tournament, and while we gained some new players at the table, the total number of entrants fell to 98. That was our lowest attendance to date, and only seven of 16 former champions joined us. The average number of players per table was 5.25, and Pacific Typhoon was the game of choice for 43 of 210 starts.
I introduced a last-minute rule to the tournament this year: all players were dealt eight cards at start, and they then discarded two cards from their hands before seeing the first choice of battle.
In Heat 1 the defending champ, Pat Mirk, made a respectable win at his table to prove he hasn’t lost his skills. This win earned him a seat at the semifinals, but Pat also advanced in another tournament that conflicted with our time. He chose to pursue that other glory instead of ours, but we hope to see him again next year. Nine other players gained a spot in the semis during Heat 1, including Bruce Young (2008 champion), Bill Place (2014 champion), and John Coussis who is a two-time champion like Pat.
Heat 2 saw some drama in several games. Greg Schmittgens won a close victory in a five-player game, beating three of his opponents by only one or two points. Iain McGraw won his table handily, but John Keating and James Pei needed every spoil they got to win at their respective tables. Meanwhile, on the Pacific front, the last draw in one game presented a choice of 1941 Pearl Harbor or 1945 Home Islands (i.e., the first and last battles in the deck). Pearl was chosen but it resulted in a tied battle, pushing it into a second round. Anna Kiefte managed to win that game by two points. In another Pacific game, Jeff Miller pulled ahead of his opponents on the very last round, which was a renewed air battle for Pearl Harbor in 1945. Imagine President Truman’s surprise as Japanese aircraft dove from the clouds to sink Intrepid and give Jeff a one-point lead for the win.
Perhaps the closest finish in this year’s tournament occurred in Heat 3, when Bob Wicks won by most convoy points in a six-player game. Bob and the second place player each had 21 victory points, and the third and fourth place players at that table each had 20 points, so that must have been a well-played game by all. At another table, Joel Tamburo edged out a win where one convoy battle saw the Tirpitz, Bismarck, Duke of York, Renown, and Bomber Command pushed into a second round. Over on the Pacific side, Jeff Heidman comfortably won his game to earn a seat at the semifinals.
Heat 4 gave us the high score of the year, with Steve Scott (2007 champion) earning 54 VPs in an Atlantic Storm game. Elsewhere in the Atlantic, Stephen Squibb (2013 champion) won his table, and Bill Burch snatched his victory on the last turn by playing a fated die roll against a convoy and needing a 5 or 6 result to control the battle and win, which he did. Pete Pollard won his game of Pacific Typhoon after Renewed Battle shifted 7 VPs away from Tim Evinger, allowing Pete to beat Tim on a tie-breaker.
One of the funniest moments for me was watching a five-player Pacific game in Heat 4. Scott Nerney called the battle of Tokyo and led with Allies. Mike Shea followed him with the Little Boy and another Allied card, and two other players gambled with a 1 VP Japanese card each, which would keep things interesting while putting little at risk. Mike rolled a 6 for Little Boy, which is the only result that fails, so he didn’t get Tokyo as a spoil but he had to keep the negative VPs of Little Boy. Scott won the battle, and he kept Tokyo and one of the 1 VP spoils while giving Mike the other 1 VP spoil. Mike begged Scott to give him the second spoil to help offset his negative VPs from Little Boy. Scott said, “Why should I? You’ve just unleashed nuclear horror upon the world.” But Mike persisted, so Scott said, “Okay. Roll anything but a 6 again, and I’ll give it to you.” Mike rolled a 6 again, so Scott kept the extra spoil.
To qualify for the semifinals, a player had to win a game in any one of the four heats. Three players won twice during those heats: John Coussis, Eric Buetikofer, and Joel Tamburo, but Joel did not reappear for the semis. In fact, only 26 of the 31 qualifiers showed up for the semis, which kept the number of tables at five. John Keating won his table with a significant lead, and Iain McGraw and Jeff Heidman won their semifinal tables with good margins. By contrast, John Coussis snuck past Steve Scott in a five-player Atlantic game by a single point although Steve had won the preponderance of convoys. Likewise, James Pei nudged ahead of Shane McBee by a single spoil courtesy of a die roll in one of the last rounds.
The random seating order for the 2017 final was James Pei, Iain McGraw, John Coussis, Jeff Heidman, and John Keating. James and Iain had never advanced to the finals before and had no previous laurels in the event. John Coussis is the top laurelist, while Jeff is 15th, and John Keating is ranked 24th.
As is typical in a final game of Atlantic Storm, most round leaders toss aside the larger convoys, especially the fated ones, in favor of smaller or unfated convoys unless they have a good reason to go big. For example, James tossed away the fated SC 42 (7 VPs) to fight for SC 48 (5 VPs) on Round 1. Iain won that convoy, giving him an early lead with a seven-card hand.
James played Bogue with Minefield to win large convoy ON 166 in Round 3, and John C won Rounds 4 and 6 by playing Bismarck and Tirpitz respectively. Nevertheless, Iain’s initial victories kept him in front throughout the entire first half of the game.
Round 9 saw a hard-fought battle over ONS 154. Jeff led and called sub, playing Coastal Command. John K played Catalina in support, and James played B-24 Liberator. At this moment, John C talked Iain into playing German to start a fight. They each played a wolf pack, and John C was also lucky enough to storm away James’ Liberator. The last laugh was Jeff’s, however, as Jeff rolled a 6 for Coastal Command and the two German wolf packs did not roll high enough to overcome the total Allied strength.
Jeff pulled into the lead on Round 11 when his Condor 1 defeated Renown and gave him possession of HX 84. He now had a seven-card hand. Iain won Round 12, which tightened the gap, but John C used skillful play and good fortune to win the next three rounds, giving him the lead by the end of Round 15 and an eight-card hand. John K stormed away John C in the next battle and bested James’ Alynbank with his Griffin to win the large and fully-loaded SC 121. However, John C secured his advantage on Round 17 by winning UC 1 on a roll of 6, which was better than James’ natural 6 (a U-boat and two bonus cards) only because John C had played earlier in the round. James and John K each got a 1 VP spoil in that battle, but John C got the 3 VP convoy.
At the end of Round 19, the visible convoy spoils were James 8, Iain 14, John C 17, Jeff 12, and John K 9. It was John K’s turn to choose the convoy and call suit for Round 20. He knew he had 5 VPs of face-down spoils, for a total of 14. He also knew that other players had face-down spoils. To improve his position in the finals, Keating would need to go big. His choice of convoys were PQ 16 (4 VP Arctic 1942) and ON 202 ONS 18 (7 VP Atlantic 1943). He opted for the smaller 1942 convoy, probably believing his chances of winning it were higher than winning the larger 1943 convoy. He called sub and played U-100 Schepke with Metox. No one could do better, so he won the 4 VPs, but that was not enough to change his 4th-place finish. If Jeff in the kingmaker’s seat had been able to win that last convoy, Jeff would have grabbed a photo-finish win, but it was not in the cards. Therefore John Coussis, who had won seven of the twenty rounds in this final, walked away as a three-time champion of Atlantic Storm. Well done, John.
I’d like to thank everyone who participated in the tournament this year. Your laughter and good-natured talk is always a pleasure to hear. Be safe, and I look forward to seeing you again next year.