Life So Short, the Craft So Long to Learn

The Schnapsen Log

June 19, 2012

Get Out of the Way (solution)

Martin Tompa

Your only sure trick is A, which will not provide enough points to win. But perhaps you are beginning to recognize AK opposite TQ as potential for an endplay?

You should first consider what will happen if you close the stock, because that is usually a little simpler to analyze. You don’t want to be the one to lead spades, so you will exit with one of your other two cards. Even if Q is in the stock, Itell cannot collect enough trick points to win by cashing A, ♣T, and T, so that’s good news. He would then be left with TQ and endplayed; whichever one he leads, you will take both spade tricks and collect another 28 trick points for a total of 68.

Can anything go wrong? Absolutely: if either T or Q is in the stock, you will collect only one spade trick instead of two, and fall short on points. This gives you a 2/3 probability of winning 2 game points, and a 1/3 probability of losing the game and the tournament. That’s not too bad, but you don’t really want to go home yet, even if the probability is only 1/3.

Let’s see if you can do better by not closing the stock. You again don’t want to be the one to lead spades, so you’ll have to lead one of the other cards. Leading ♣Q looks more promising, because Itell cannot afford to discard any of his tens or Q: if he did, cashing your A next would give you enough trick points. He will have to win with ♣T, leaving him on lead from this position:

Itell: (20 points)
♣ —

You: (40 points)
♣ —

Itell is not quite endplayed yet, and you are not out of the woods. The problem is your K, which provides Itell an entry back to your hand. He can play A followed by Q to your K, and you will be the one thrown in who has to open up the spade suit, having nothing else left in your hand.

Is there anything you can do about this? Yes, there is: when he leads A, dump that dangerous entry K on it as quickly as you can! This is an unblocking play that we encountered in an earlier column. It will certainly wipe that smirk off Itell’s face when you drop this trump winner in his lap! He has no way left to escape. He cannot exit with T, because trumping that with J and then cashing your A would give you exactly 66 trick points. He can cash Q and T, but then will be in that same endplayed position we saw earlier, having to lead from his TQ. Your clever throw-in and unblocking play guarantees you 1 game point.

You might be thinking, correctly, that if you led K instead of ♣Q back in our original position, that would avoid retaining K as a dangerous entry to your hand. This is an elimination play, a good thing to do before throwing Itell in. This play is almost as good as leading ♣Q, but not quite. The drawback is that Itell can afford to duck K by playing Q. If you are unlucky enough to then draw T from the stock, you won’t be able to get to 66 trick points.

And, even worse, you won’t get to enjoy the crestfallen look on Itell’s face when your unblocking play foils his own throw-in attempt.

© 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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