Life So Short, the Craft So Long to Learn

The Schnapsen Log

March 27, 2012

“You First.” “No, You First.” (solution)

Martin Tompa

Begin, as usual, by counting how many trick points you can accumulate by cashing your immediate winners. In this case, your only immediate winner is A, which will bring you another 13 points for a total of 56. If you cash it right now, that will be your last trick. So we have to keep looking.

Can you possibly set up any of those black cards as winners? No, Polona has far too many trumps. Well, then, can you arrange to win the deal by taking the last trick? No, for the same reason: even if you could force Polona to trump every time you have the lead, she would still have a trump to win the last trick. The only possibility for this deal is if you can win a trick with Q. This means you cannot lead hearts under any circumstances. If you lead A, Polona’s T will always be there to take your Q. And if you instead lead Q, she will take it immediately.

So lead one of your black cards. It doesn’t matter which one, they’re all losers. Let’s say you lead ♣J, just because it’s cheapest. Polona will trump this, and she might as well do so with A in order to cross the 33-point threshold. This leaves her on lead in the following position:

Polona: (39 points)

♣ —

You: (43 points)
♣ Q

What can Polona do now? She can play out some number of trumps, but you’re just going to discard your useless black cards on them. Eventually, she will be forced to lead a heart. Whichever heart she chooses, you will win both heart tricks and collect an additional 26 points, which is enough.

Notice that, like you, Polona didn’t want to be the first one to lead hearts. But unlike you, she had no choice. In bridge, this type of play is called a throw-in: when you led a black card, you “threw Polona in”, meaning you gave her the lead and forced her to open up the heart suit. Bridge players would also say that Polona was endplayed, which is the same as saying she was “thrown in”. That heart suit is like a door, and you and Polona are like two polite, old-fashioned gentlemen, each insisting the other go through the door first. All the while, each of them knows what’s waiting on the other side of the door for the first one to go through.

You should look for throw-in possibilities whenever there is a suit where the cards interleave the way they do in today’s heart suit: AQ opposite TJ, or AK opposite TQ, or anything of the like. We will see more complicated variations on the throw-in play in future columns, including an important one in the next column called an elimination play. These throw-ins are essential tools in your endplay arsenal.

© 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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