Life So Short, the Craft So Long to Learn

The Schnapsen Log

August 31, 2013


Martin Tompa

Sunday, August 17, 1919. Zalaegerszeg, Hungary. Apu walks in through the front door with a tired and worried expression on his face. Running out from the kitchen, Anyu exclaims, “Goodness, my darling, are you all right? A neighbor told me that the police came yesterday while I was out and took you away. I’ve been worried sick. What happened?”

“I spent the night in jail. They arrested me for communist sympathies and activities during the Kun government. I’m all right.”

“Communist activities!” Anyu explodes in disbelief. “That’s absurd. You’re not the communist.”

“Keep your voice down, please, dear,” Apu replies, trying his best to exert a calming influence on his wife. “You are right, I did nothing for the communists other than my usual medical duties for the county. It’s Jewish activities for which I was arrested, not communist activities, but they cannot come right out and say that. You know how it is. The Hungarian people and the new government blame the Jews for our involvement in Kun’s communist regime and some of the horrible things his regime did.

“But listen, I learned something very important while at the police station,” Apu continues in a very hushed voice. “There is a warrant out for your own arrest on counts of incitement and forgery of public documents. And this is much more serious because you really were involved as a communist, even if in a small role. This could be very bad for you. I have thought it through during the night, and I think you should disappear for a while.”

Anyu’s face turns white. “Disappear!” she exclaims as quietly as she can manage. “How? For how long?”

“Just until this passes. The military government cannot last long. Something more stable and hopefully less vengeful must take its place eventually. As to how you disappear, I’ve thought about that too. You must get out of Hungary. Go to your sister Lenke’s place in Vienna. Leave Zalaegerszeg immediately, before the police come. Go to the border and wait for nightfall. Then cross into Austria where you will at least be safe. I will see to the boys and take care of them.”

“Oh, my little darlings!” Anyu begins to cry at the thought of leaving her children. “I can’t just leave them.”

“I’m afraid you have no choice, dear. If you don’t leave them of your own accord, and right away, the police will take you away from them anyway. Let’s go talk to them and then you can pack a quick bag.”

Apu and Anyu walk into the boys’ bedroom where, as usual, they find Jancsi and Peti lying on the floor playing cards. Not wanting to upset them more than necessary, they watch quietly as the boys finish the deal they are playing. Here is what the position looks like from Peti’s point of view:

Unseen cards:
♣ TQ

Peti’s cards:

♣ AK

Trump: A
Stock: 1 face-down card
Game points: Jancsi 3, Peti 4
Trick points: Jancsi 52, Peti 0
On lead: Jancsi

“Apu, Jancsi has taken all the tricks and he’s nearly to 66,” Peti whines. “It’s not fair.”

“Fortitude, son,” Apu coaches. “The deal isn’t over yet. What are you going to lead, Jancsi?”

“The J,” Jancsi replies, laying it face-up on the floor between them.

What should Peti do? When you think you have a good plan, you are welcome to read my analysis.

© 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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