Life So Short, the Craft So Long to Learn

The Schnapsen Log

October 19, 2013


Martin Tompa

Saturday, April 19, 1930. Vienna, Austria. As is their long custom, Hans and Peter are playing cards at the kitchen table while their mother Anyu cooks. The rich smell of paprika in the steamy air makes this a most pleasant spot to play. They have not lived in Anyu’s sister’s apartment for years now: Apu and Anyu have their own apartment not far outside Vienna’s central Ringstraße, with a neighboring apartment for Apu’s dentistry practice.

Hans is 19, studying physics in his first year at the Technische Hochschule, Vienna’s University of Technical Sciences. Peter is 18, two months away from graduation at Hans’s alma mater, the Alt-Hietzinger Bundesgymnasium, and maintaining the family reputation for mathematics and science at this preparatory school.

“Where is Apu?” Peter asks his mother. “He was gone when I got up this morning.”

“He’s taken Tibor to synagogue,” Anyu replies while stirring her pot on the stove. “Your Uncle Jozsef couldn’t use the seat he has purchased, so he let Apu have it today. You know that Apu never passes up that opportunity!”

“That reminds me, Peter,” Hans puts in, “Apu was asking this morning how your mathematics thesis is going, and I didn’t even know what your topic is.”

“Oh! I’ve decided to write my thesis on trochoid curves,” Peter answers excitedly.

“I’ve never heard of them,” Hans says. There ensues an animated discussion for the next hour, their cards and mother temporarily forgotten, in which Peter tells Hans everything he knows about the subject, filling pages with diagrams and formulas. Peter is happy to be the authority for a change, though Hans makes astute observations along the way that hadn’t occurred to him.

When they have finished, Hans tells his younger brother, “I’m glad you’ll be starting at the Technische Hochschule next autumn. We can ride the tram together and talk about our classes, as we used to before I graduated last June. I’d enjoy doing that again.”

“I’ve missed that, too, Hans,” Peter answers happily.

“Did I tell you that I took first place in my Statics and Dynamics examination this term?” Hans says to both Peter and Anyu. “The humorous aspect is that Herr Doktor Professor Weinhardt is such an outspoken anti-Semite that I could never have taken first if he’d had any idea that I am Jewish. Let’s get back to our game, Peter. Where were we? Ah, yes, I remember how we got here. Ready?”

Unseen cards:

♣ AT

Hans’s cards:
♣ K

Trump: ♣J
Stock: One face-down card
Game points: Peter 3, Hans 5
Trick points: Peter 31, Hans 27
On lead: Hans

How will Hans proceed? 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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