Life So Short, the Craft So Long to Learn

The Schnapsen Log

December 23, 2012

Too Clever By Half

Martin Tompa

Your aunt, Polite Polona, has taken Emmi’s seat in this family gathering. Uncle Hans continues to look over your shoulder and waits to edify.

Unseen cards:

♣ AK

Your cards:

♣ T

Trump: J
Stock: 1 face-down card
Game points: Polona 2, You 4
Trick points: Polona 21, You 25
On lead: You

You list the cards you haven’t yet seen silently to yourself. You see a possibility of an endplay in hearts and try to find your way to it. When you think you may have found it, you close the stock in order to secure 2 game points. It pains you to give up your ♣T to her ♣A, but there’s no way that can be avoided. Well, then, that’s your exit card for the endplay. You lead ♣T, Polona wins the trick, and she exits safely with ♣K.

This looks bad, because you will trump it and pull her last trump with T, but then you will be the one who has to open up the heart suit. You add up the trick points: your current 25, 21 more for the two trump tricks, and 13 or 14 for the A trick. That comes to only 59 or 60, not enough.

And then, suddenly, inspiration strikes you. “Watch this, Hans,” you declare excitedly. Instead of trumping Polona’s ♣K with Q, you instead unblock by trumping unnecessarily high with T. You now have 39 trick points. You then lead your carefully preserved Q as an exit card for the endplay, which Polona wins with K. “If you’ve got the T you’re endplayed, Polona,” you announce, showing her your two remaining hearts. “I have 39 trick points, and these two heart tricks make it at least 66.”

Polite Polona shows you her TJ and, with a gracious smile, says, “That was a beautiful play, dear. How did you ever think of it?”

“It just came to me,” you reply. “Thank you, Polona.”

Uncle Hans clears his throat quietly. Polona turns her head toward him, raises her eyebrow in warning, and says, “Yes?”

Hans quickly turns to you and affirms, “Yes, that was a lovely throw-in, dear. Unblocking the T was very clever. That sort of play is difficult to find, and it worked out beautifully. However, my dears, I just wanted to mention something. Each of you made a mistake in this endgame.”

See if you can spot the mistake Polona made and the one you made. Once you’ve thought it through, you are welcome to read my analysis.

© 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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