Life So Short, the Craft So Long to Learn

The Schnapsen Log

September 22, 2015

Winning Schnapsen

Martin Tompa

I am proud to announce my book, Winning Schnapsen, about the most fascinating two-player card game. No one has ever written a book about the intriguing winning strategy of Schnapsen, despite the game’s 300+ year history and despite certain similarities to the card game Bridge, about which hundreds of books have been written. Winning Schnapsen will be the definitive book on this game.

Schnapsen and its variants are popular throughout continental Europe. Schnapsen is, in fact, the national card game of Austria, where tournaments are played regularly. Winning Schnapsen now brings the game to a global audience.

You do not need to know anything about the game when you start reading Winning Schnapsen. Schnapsen is simple to learn, and the book begins with the complete rules and some very general tips on how to play. Each of the following chapters focuses on one particular type of winning endgame play. The strategies are introduced entirely through the use of thought-provoking, concrete examples from the game, in a manner very similar to the daily newspaper’s bridge or chess columns. Each such example is posed as a fun and challenging puzzle on which you can test your mastery of that chapter’s strategy. There are more than 100 of these puzzles in the book, each with an illuminating analysis.

The analyses early in the book are simple and just require counting and logical thinking. Later ones are more challenging, some using elementary concepts from Probability Theory such as Mathematical Expectation. These concepts are explained simply from first principles, and understanding them does not require any math background. Chapters 9-11 introduce some advanced endgame plays that, until now, have been known only to a select group of Schnapsen masters.

Chapter 1, “Introduction to the Game”, introduces the wonderful game of Schnapsen. The complete rules of the game are given in eight easy-to-read pages. If you have never played a card game that involves tricks and trumps, those basic concepts are explained in simple terms. Chapter 1 closes with some very general strategy guidelines, particularly aimed at beginners who are unfamiliar with similar games.

Chapter 2, “Basic Plays”, contains 9 puzzles that illustrate simple but important endgame strategies. These include the safety play, designed to protect the player against a small probability of failure, and the diametrically opposite desperation play, designed to seize a small probability of success by assuming the only distribution of cards that would allow success.

Chapter 3, “Force and Counterforce”, contains 9 puzzles that deal with the critical issue of trump control in the endgame, and the means of gaining such control when you do not already have it. The forcing defense is the strategy of coercing your opponent to trump one of your cards each time you obtain the lead. The counterforce play is an interesting strategy that, in the right circumstances, counteracts the forcing defense. The forcing defense comes from bridge, but the counterforce is peculiar to Schnapsen and has no analogy in bridge.

Chapter 4, “Throw-In and Elimination”, contains 12 puzzles that deal with what is certainly the most important and most frequent endgame coup. The idea will be familiar to advanced bridge players: you orchestrate everything to put your opponent on lead in a position in which he or she is compelled to lead from a vulnerable suit.

Chapter 5, “Expectation”, uses 15 puzzles to introduce and practice an important concept from Probability Theory that is used to deal with the fact that you usually have imperfect information about the distribution of the unseen cards. In most situations, some of these distributions will lead to a win for you and some will lead to a loss. When this is the case for each of two lines of play you could choose, how should you decide which of them is superior? The answer is given by the concept of Mathematical Expectation.

Chapter 6, “Ducking Ruff”, contains 3 puzzles illustrating a play peculiar to Schnapsen. In the ducking ruff play, it is advantageous to trump a lead voluntarily that you could have won without using a valuable trump.

Chapter 7, “Tempo and the Last Trick”, contains 6 puzzles that focus on the important rule that the winner of the very last trick wins the deal, if neither player could claim a win before that trick. The strategy for winning the last trick is subtle, and often quite different from the rest of Schnapsen’s endgame strategy. You will learn how to recognize situations where the decision will come down to the last trick, and how to jockey for position to win it.

Chapter 8, “Inference”, uses 4 puzzles to illustrate the advanced topic of inferring the cards your opponent holds from the plays your opponent has made.

Chapter 9, “Squeezes”, contains 11 puzzles that illustrate a variety of squeeze plays. These are advanced plays in which you reel off a sequence of winning cards; in the process, your opponent is coerced to discard something that, either directly or indirectly, establishes one or more new winning cards in your hand. These plays are related to, but necessarily different from, squeeze plays in bridge.

Chapter 10, “Role Reversal”, contains the most challenging sorts of analyses in the book, related to the inferences of Chapter 8. In these analyses, illustrated by 4 puzzles, you must put yourself in your opponent’s position and imagine which cards might be concealed from your opponent and what your opponent would play in such a situation.

Chapter 11, “Deception”, contains another advanced strategy, in which you make an unusual play whose purpose is to deceive your opponent. This play can only succeed against an expert opponent who is capable of drawing inferences (of the type discussed in Chapter 8) about your cards from your play. The purpose of deception is to induce your opponent to draw the wrong inference about your cards and thereby make the wrong play.

Finally, Chapter 12, “Endgame Review and Family Tale”, contains 31 puzzles that test your knowledge of endgame strategy from the previous ten chapters. In those earlier chapters, you often had the artificial advantage of knowing what sort of play to look for, based on the topic of the chapter. Each puzzle in this final long series tests one or more techniques that were introduced earlier. This is the realistic situation that you face every time you are at the battlefield of the Schnapsen table.

Something other than Schnapsen makes this book utterly unique and personal. The 31 puzzles of this final chapter are bound together by stories of my father’s family history in the turbulent years of Europe from the aftermath of World War I in 1919 to the aftermath of World War II in 1947. The stories deal with politics, the White Terror of Hungary, persecution, arrests, bribery, deportations, the rise and fall of Nazism, religion, danger, youth, mathematics, family bonds and, of course, Schnapsen. The integration of family history and games combines two passions of mine.

Using concrete examples and clear explanations, Winning Schnapsen presents techniques that will increase your playing skill, no matter how experienced you are. You can improve your game dramatically by working through just one of the book’s puzzles each day. If you do that, it will be as if I were your private tutor in the comfort of your own home.

Product Details:

  • 452 pages
  • List price: $16.99
  • Trim size: 6 ⨯ 9 inches
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1515377369
  • ISBN-13: 978-1515377368

© 2015 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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