Life So Short, the Craft So Long to Learn

The Schnapsen Log

March 14, 2012

To Duck or Not to Duck (solution)

Martin Tompa

Let’s start by asking what happens if you duck. We have to decide first which card to discard. In this deal, there is only one sensible discard, Q. This leaves you in the following position:

Claudius: (43 points)
♣ —

You: (28 points)
♣ —

Notice that we’ve added 26 to Claudius’s points for the marriage and trick. The advantage of having ducked is that your K is now protected, and your trump length is equal to Claudius’s, denying him immediate trump control. The problem is that you cannot accumulate enough points to win from this position. Claudius will lead K to knock out your A, bringing you to 43 points. The only other trick you are going to win is A, which will bring you to only 58 points. Whatever else you do, Claudius will win both his Q and T, plus either your T (if you lead it) or his T (if you lead diamonds). Either way he will have plenty of trick points. No wonder he is your nemesis! Ducking is a dead end.

Well, then, there’s no choice but to take his Q with A back at trick 5. If you do that, the bad news is that Claudius will have three trumps to your one. Despite this disadvantage, things look rosy no matter what card you draw from the stock. Ignoring that mystery card for a moment, it looks as though you immediately will be able to cash T (collecting his K) and A (collecting his K). Adding the cards from these three tricks brings your total to a glorious 71. Can anything go wrong with this plan? Well, yes, it’s possible that Claudius doesn’t have one of those kings you’re depending on collecting, because it’s in the stock and you’ll draw it. If the K is in the stock, that’s actually fortunate for you, because your A will pick up his more valuable T instead. However, if the K is in the stock, this plan falls apart, because then he will trump your A. But wait, K is the one card you know cannot be in the stock. Claudius already showed it to you as part of his marriage. Success!

The secret to finding the winning play will always involve counting up your possible points. If Shakespeare had played Schnapsen, Hamlet himself might have said it best: “I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king or two.”

© 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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