Life So Short, the Craft So Long to Learn

The Schnapsen Log

May 24, 2012

Counterforce Play (solution)

Martin Tompa

Given the tension for trump control in this deal, perhaps your first thought was to try a forcing defense. This would mean leading A to force Peter to trump. But he has too many trick points for that to work: he will trump with ♣T and cash A for 68 points.

You could always cash your ♣A and A, but these only get you to 60 trick points. You have that third ace, but how will you ever get to cash it? To do that, you need to pull Peter’s trumps first. If you play out ♣A and ♣J, you seem to be pulling trumps on Peter’s behalf, because he is then free to cash AT and win the deal. And if the first trump you lead is ♣J, you fear Peter will force you to trump his second heart with ♣A and you will lose trump control.

But this last fear proves illusory, because leading ♣J is a counterforce play. You might as well cash A first and then lead ♣J, leading to this position with Peter on lead:

Peter: (45 points)

♣ Q

You: (46 points)
♣ A

Peter can cash A to bring him to 59 points, but he is then endplayed. If he were to force you with T, that trick would give you enough points. His only other choice is to lead ♣Q, effectively pulling trumps for you, after which you can finally cash your A.

It is instructive to notice that the order of your first two leads, A and ♣J, is not important for the success of the counterforce play. Let’s go back to the original position in today’s problem, when you both held five cards. If you lead ♣J, this will be the position:

Peter: (45 points)

♣ Q

You: (31 points)
♣ A

Peter is still endplayed, though it is less obvious because you each still have a nontrump ace you can cash. After cashing his A, he cannot force you by leading T, because that trick plus your A would give you 67 trick points. He also cannot lead ♣Q, because then the trumps are gone and you can cash both of your aces. The best he can do is to exit with his safe K. But then you will pull his last trump yourself and be able to cash A for the winning trick. This makes the counterforce endplay different from the throw-in endplay. In the former, the presence of a safe exit card (K) does not spoil the endplay. In the latter, you would have to first remove that safe exit card by leading A, the elimination play we saw in an earlier column.

There is one more very interesting facet of today’s deal. Let’s go back one final time to the original position when you each held five cards. Suppose you cash A as before, but then make the seemingly “safe” play of exiting by leading Q. This would leave Peter on lead in the following position:

Peter: (47 points)

♣ TQ

You: (46 points)

♣ AJ

Trick point scores are very close, trump control is still uncertain, and each of you has a big outside card (T and A) you would like to cash. But because Peter is on lead instead of you, he now has the counterforce play at his disposal! Do you see it?

© 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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