Life So Short, the Craft So Long to Learn

The Schnapsen Log

March 7, 2012

Safety First

Martin Tompa

Welcome to the Schnapsen table. As I promised, we will warm up with some basic situations you will face at the table.

This evening you are at the Black Eagle, your regular card club, enjoying a cold beer and playing against the local milliner Katharina. Katharina happens to be the regional Schnapsen champion. She would intimidate you from across the table even without those outlandish creations on her head. You are in the last deal of a tightly contested game and find yourself in the following situation:

Unseen cards:
♣ A

Your cards:

♣ T

Trump: J
Stock: 1 face-down card
Game points: Katharina 1, You 1
Trick points: Katharina 30, You 17
On lead: Katharina

Before we continue with this deal, you need to know a few things that will be useful in this and all the future articles in this series.

In most Schnapsen circles, game points are counted down from 7 to 0. We will always use this convention. In your current game the score is 1-1, meaning that one more game point is all that’s needed for either player to win the game. This deal will decide which one of you is the true master.

If you are used to reading the bridge column, it might look to you in the diagram above as though your opponent has 6 cards and you have only the usual 5. Don’t get confused: the 6 cards shown in the top half of the diagram aren’t your opponent’s cards, they are all the cards you haven’t seen in tricks so far. One of those cards is still face-down in the stock, and the other 5 are in your opponent’s hand, but of course you don’t know which 5.

This brings us to a very important point. When you are at the Schnapsen table, how will you know exactly which 6 cards you haven’t seen so far? The answer is that, in your development as a Schnapsen master, it is crucial that you get to the point where you can remember exactly which cards remain to be seen. I know, this sounds impossible to you right now. But believe me, it is not that difficult, mainly because of the very small deck used in Schnapsen. There are some powerful tips in the strategy document that describe how to go about training your memory to perform this important trick. In the meantime, in these articles I will always tell you which cards you haven’t yet seen. When you see what wonderful plays are possible in the endgame if you know your opponent’s cards, I think you’ll be extremely motivated to work on your memory.

Returning to today’s deal, Katharina is on lead, shows the diamond marriage resulting in a new trick point score of 50, and leads Q. Plan your play for the remainder of the deal. When you think you have a good plan, you are welcome to read my analysis.

© 2012 Martin Tompa. All rights reserved.


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About the Author

Martin Tompa

Martin Tompa (

I am a Professor of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington, where I teach discrete mathematics, probability and statistics, design and analysis of algorithms, and other related courses. I have always loved playing games. Games are great tools for learning to think logically and are a wonderful component of happy family or social life.

Read about Winning Schnapsen, the very first and definitive book on the winning strategy for this fascinating game.


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