Life So Short, the Craft So Long to Learn

The Schnapsen Log

September 14, 2012

Taking the Initiative (solution)

Martin Tompa

Did you work out that today’s deal will come down to a battle for the last trick? If so, congratulations, because recognizing that is the first big step toward winning the deal.

The way to see that it’s a last trick battle is to add up the maximum score you can attain and the maximum score Lore can attain, and see that both are less than 66. For you, winning AT will get you to 57 trick points. Even if you can trump Lore’s K, that will still only be 65 trick points. For Lore, at most she can win A, ♣A, and K, which would give her 63 trick points. Notice that, in these estimations, we have counted K once as a loser and once as a winner for Lore, since we don’t yet know exactly what will happen. But even so, neither of you can reach 66. So it’s all a matter of who can win the last trick. And that’s not a simple matter.

The lessons you learned about the last trick from the deal you played against Peter hours ago are to lead losers and avoid leading the opponent’s long suits, the ones in which you can be forced to trump. In this deal, Lore’s long suit is diamonds, which you can’t lead anyway since you have none, so that lesson doesn’t help. What worked against Peter in that deal was to lead your own long suit, forcing him to trump. This forcing defense seems like a good plan now, since it will set up your K as the master trump.

So let’s see what happens if you start playing hearts. You can cash AT, leaving you on lead in this position:

Lore: (20 points)

♣ A

You: (57 points)
♣ T

Now your Q forces out Lore’s A, which is good. But she will force you right back with K and will take the last trick with ♣A. So starting out with hearts won’t work.

What other losers do you have to lead at trick 6? You’re eventually going to lose ♣T to Lore’s ♣A, so you could lead it out immediately. But Lore’s reply will be the same, forcing you with K, and you will have nothing left in your hand but hearts, leaving Lore to win the last trick with her trump.

By the process of elimination, the only option we haven’t explored at trick 6 is leading your trump. This seems an odd play, since normally it’s the player with the master trump who pulls trumps. In addition, it seems as though you’d like to use K to regain the lead by trumping later. But we might as well see what happens. Lore will win the trick with A and be on lead in this position:

Lore: (35 points)

♣ A

You: (30 points)

♣ T

With the trumps gone, Lore can cash K, on which you will discard Q. But now count up the remaining entries. You have 2 entries in hearts and Lore has 1 entry in clubs. She leads a heart, you lead a club, and she leads a heart, giving you the last trick.

How is it that leading the losing K worked? What it did was to sacrifice one entry (K) in order to create two entries (AT). In all the other scenarios, you played out the top hearts, so they couldn’t be used as entries. By eliminating the trumps, you created the opportunity to use both hearts as entries, which bought you the last trick. This is a subtle play.

© 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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