Life So Short, the Craft So Long to Learn

The Schnapsen Log

December 23, 2012

Too Clever By Half (solution)

Martin Tompa

“This was the position when you closed the stock at trick 5,” Hans instructs, rearranging the cards face-up on the table in front of each of you. It’s impressive how Hans always remembers every card.

Polona: (21 points)

♣ AK

You: (25 points)

♣ T

“You exited with ♣T, and Polona returned ♣K. That’s when you found the chance for your clever unblocking play, which led to Polona getting thrown in with her last trump. So what’s the mistake that Polona made?”

“Oh,” you reply, “she could have exited with K instead, so that she wouldn’t get thrown in with it.”

Polona: (42 points)

♣ K

You: (39 points)

♣ —

“Then I would have been forced to open up the hearts and I wouldn’t have been able to capture her T and reach 66.”

“Very good, dear,” Hans confirms. “But I can’t blame her for missing this. She would have to foresee your unblocking play in order to realize that ♣K and K aren’t equivalent as exit cards.”

“Thanks for that, Hans,” Polona puts in.

“But you said that I made a mistake too, Hans,” you put in, before Hans can react to Polona’s sarcasm. “I don’t see what I did wrong.”

“Well,” Hans continues, “first of all, I like the fact that you closed the stock. That was smart, since you knew you would have to let Polona go over 33 trick points on the way to endplaying her. But you had an entirely different endplay that would have circumvented her safe exit with K. Let’s see what happens if you run both of your trump cards. What can Polona play on your Q? If she plays J, you will be on lead in this position.” Hans removes a few cards to show this position:

Polona: (21 points)

♣ AK

You: (44 points)

♣ T

“You can now cash your AK and have plenty of trick points. The only other possibility for her discard is ♣K.” Hans rearranges the cards.

Polona: (21 points)

♣ A

You: (46 points)

♣ T

“In this case, you have eliminated all of her safe exit cards and can now safely throw her in with ♣T. She will have to open up the heart suit.”

Hans continues: “Leading your Q is a squeeze without the count. It’s a squeeze because you have different winning plays, depending on what Polona chooses to discard. It’s called “without the count” because, if she chooses to discard ♣K, you still have to give up the lead to Polona before winning.”

“That’s all well and good, Hans,” you say, “but everything you’ve shown us on the table depends on knowing which card is still face-down in the stock. What about all the other possible cards that could have been there?”

“An excellent question, dear,” Hans beams, “and one that shows that you are on your way to mastering the game. Let’s analyze the squeeze in general, without knowing Polona’s exact cards. My suggested play is to run TQ. If Polona doesn’t follow suit when you lead T, you know her cards exactly and your Q squeezes her as planned. So assume that she does follow suit with K. If Polona discards ♣K on Q, I said to play ♣T next. If she instead discards a small heart, play A next. That’s the plan. Now what can go wrong?

“If she discards ♣K, you will have 46 trick points and nothing can go wrong. Your ♣T might win the trick, if ♣A is in the stock, and then A will give you enough points. If ♣A isn’t in the stock, Polona wins the club trick and you win the last two heart tricks. Even if T is in the stock, you will collect 20 more trick points in hearts, which is just enough to get you to 66.”

“And what if she discards a small heart on my Q?” you inquire. “I’m supposed to cash AK in this case, but she might still have two more hearts left in her hand!”

“Another excellent observation, dear.” Hans beams. “This brings us to an interesting psychological point. The case when ♣K is in the stock is the only one that causes any difficulty with our plan. This would be the position.” Hans rearranges the cards on the table once more.

Polona: (21 points)

♣ A

You: (39 points)

♣ T

“In this position, when Polona discards a small heart on your Q, you are absolutely right. The plan is to continue with A, but in this case it won’t work. The problem is that you have no way of knowing whether her remaining small card is a heart or a club. Or do you? If, when you lead Q, Polona takes a long time and squirms or looks uncomfortable, you can be pretty sure that the squeeze is working and she has ♣K in her hand. If, instead, she quickly and easily discards a small heart, particularly J, you might guess that the squeeze didn’t work, and change plans by throwing her in with ♣T. I actually wouldn’t recommend changing plans, though, because she would quickly discard a small heart if T were in the stock instead of ♣K. Or she might have put on an act to deceive you.

“For her part, Polona should try to mislead you by squirming and delaying when she doesn’t have ♣K, as in this position on the table, and even discarding Q instead of J as a deception. When she does hold ♣K, she should discard her small heart quickly and nonchalantly, and you may be misled into playing ♣T. Neither of those acts is an easy one for her to anticipate and pull off.”

A clever man, your Uncle Hans.

© 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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