Life So Short, the Craft So Long to Learn

The Schnapsen Log

June 21, 2013

On the Edge of a Knife (solution)

Martin Tompa

Uncle Hans moves cards face-up around the table to recreate the position at trick 5 when you led ♣A. Although you sometimes suspect he doesn’t remember your name, his memory for cards is impressive.

Unseen cards:
♣ TK

Your cards:

♣ AQ

Trump: J
Stock: 1 face-down card
Game points: Emmi 4, You 6
Trick points: Emmi 34, You 32
On lead: You

“The ♣A turned out to be an unlucky lead for you,” he begins. “Did you consider leading ♣Q?”

“I thought about it a little, but not all the way through,” you reply a bit sheepishly. “I was worried I might end up having to lead my spades.”

“Well, dear, your intuition was spot on! Suppose you had led ♣Q. Your sister could win the trick with ♣T and endplay you by returning her ♣K to your ♣A, leaving you on lead in this position.” Hans shifts a few cards on the table.

Emmi: (47 points)
♣ —

You: (47 points)

♣ —

“You would eventually be forced to open up the spade suit, as you guessed, giving her enough trick points. You could postpone it by cashing your trumps, but she would discard K and Q, in that order, giving you only 60 trick points.

“What about leading a spade at trick 5?” Hans inquires, returning the face-up cards to their original positions.

You give him a puzzled look. “Isn’t leading a spade exactly what I’m trying to avoid?”

“That’s right,” said Hans. “Or, at least, it’s right once you’ve let her win her ♣T. But from this position at trick 5, when she has only 34 trick points, handing her both spade tricks doesn’t yet give up the deal, since it would only provide her 26 more trick points. Let’s just see what would happen if you made the counterintuitive lead of T, right into her presumed A! She couldn’t afford to let you win this trick, because that would bring your trick point total to at least 45 and, no matter what card you drew from the stock, cashing K and ♣A would then make your total at least 66. That’s the reason to lead T instead of J, by the way, to give yourself enough trick points if your opponent decides to duck. So Emmi would have to take your T with her A, putting her on lead from this position.” Hans again rearranges the cards on the table.

Emmi: (55 points)
♣ TK

You: (32 points)

♣ AQ

“What will you lead from this position, Emmi?” Hans asks.

“I suppose I’d lead K, in order to force a trump,” Emmi replies.

“That’s as good a lead as any other you have,” says Hans, “because you’re endplayed, Emmi. Though perhaps that’s not clear yet. All right, you return K and I trump with K for 40 trick points. Next I cash ♣A, collecting your ♣K and another 15 trick points, for 55. I then cash my last trump. What do you discard?”

Emmi thinks for a moment. “I can’t discard either ten, because that would give you 67. So I’m forced to discard Q. Hey, that discard is going to establish your J as a new winner.”

“That’s right,” says Hans with a nod. “The lead of J squeezes you! The only discard you can afford to make sets up a new winner in my hand. When I then lead J, you’re going to be forced to throw one of your tens anyway and I’ll have enough. It’s a pretty play, isn’t it? The sacrifice of T in order to draw the squeeze card J from the stock! It’s rather like a gambit in chess, sacrificing a piece in order to achieve a winning position.”

“I get it so far, Hans,” you say. “But what if Emmi cashes her Q right away after winning her A, so that my J never becomes a winner?”

“Ah, good question,” says Hans. “In that case, you’re right, Emmi can’t get squeezed out of her Q. But she’s going to lose the deal just the same. When you cash your ♣A and two trumps, she’ll have to contribute one of her tens on the last trump, and that will give you enough trick points. You see, Q was her only cheap discard on your last trump, so by playing it early she uses up that cheap discard.”

“Ah, I see now,” you say. “As you said, sacrificing my T is a very pretty play, and one that would have never occurred to me.”

“I’ll bet that next time it will.”

© 2013 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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