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The Schnapsen Log

May 24, 2012

Counterforce Play

Martin Tompa

Let’s return to the Café Abeles and the last deal you played, but this time let’s look at it from your buddy Peter’s point of view.

You:
T
Q
♣ T
AK

Peter:

TK
♣ —
TQJ

Trump: J
Stock: 1 face-down card
Game points: Peter 3, You 3
Trick points: Peter 32, You 28
On lead: Peter

The only change I have made is to move one of your trick points over to Peter. Other than that, the position is identical. You will remember that Peter closed the stock with the intention of setting up his T as the winning trick, but you defeated him using a forcing defense, which forces him to trump every time you are on lead. He eventually lost control of the trump suit and the deal.

Let’s go through the play again from Peter’s points of view and with the small change in trick points. Peter is pretty confident he is going to win this deal, but seizes the opportunity to gain 2 game points by closing the stock now. Cashing his trumps won’t give him enough trick points, so he leads J to begin the process of setting up his T as an additional trick. You, in turn, lead T to begin the forcing defense. It’s a race to see who can accomplish their goal first. Here is the position with Peter once again on lead:

You: (34 points)

Q
♣ T
A

Peter: (52 points)

K
♣ —
TQ

Notice what happens when Peter continues with Q. You are now stuck. You would like to continue your forcing defense with the ♣T to drive out his last trump as you did last time, but the 14 points in that trick would give him enough to win the deal. The only other card you have left to lead is Q, which does him the favor of pulling trumps for him so that he can cash T. You are caught between a rock and a hard place: either lead loses the deal for you, but in different ways. We saw something very similar in an earlier column, where a throw-in “endplays” the opponent: any lead results in a loss of the deal. When Peter leads Q here, you are similarly endplayed.

Unlike the forcing defense, Peter’s play in this deal seems to have no analogy in bridge, because Schnapsen’s trick points play a key role in the play. Since there is no bridge analogy, I find myself in the pleasant position of being able to invent a name for this play. I will call it a counterforce play, because it is a countermeasure against what would be a successful forcing defense if the player using it had fewer trick points.

Now it’s your turn. It’s still raining outside and you are still in the Café Abeles playing cards with Peter. You’re on your fourth cup of coffee and the cake is long since gone when you find yourself in this position:

Peter’s cards:

AT
♣ TQ
K

Your cards:
A
Q
♣ AJ
A

Trump:
Stock: Exhausted
Game points: Peter 1, You 1
Trick points: Peter 33, You 31
On lead: You

This is the game point that will determine the game, and the trick points are very close. It’s not clear who has trump control, but whoever it is, the control is tenuous. Plan the play. 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 (tompa@psellos.com)

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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