Life So Short, the Craft So Long to Learn

The Schnapsen Log

November 12, 2013

Almost Inseparable

Martin Tompa

Friday, May 18, 1934. Vienna, Austria. Hans enters the apartment, the last of the family to arrive home. He joins his family at the table.

“I’m very sorry to be late for dinner, Apu and Anyu,” Hans apologizes. “I had a very long meeting with my doctoral advisor, Professor Abel.”

“That’s all right, Hans, we understand,” his mother Anyu reassures him. “We just sat down ourselves and were about to start. What was the meeting about?”

Hans pauses, wondering where to begin. “It wasn’t the usual technical discussion about electrolytic processes. Dr. Abel confided in me about his views of what’s happening here and in Germany, and his vision of the future. It was stark and alarming. His vision, I mean.”

“Whatever did he say?”

“He says Hitler in Germany, and the Nazi Party more broadly, are not going to blow over any time soon. As German Chancellor, Hitler has imprisoned, killed, or intimidated all his political enemies.”

Anyu nods sadly. “It’s true. Did you know that Hitler has made the Nazi Party the only legal political party in Germany? That ensures they will not ‘blow over’, as you say.”

Hans continues. “Dr. Abel says our own Chancellor Dollfuß will not be able to stand up to Hitler at some point. The ban of the Nazi Party in Austria, in light of all the underground Nazi activity here, is a joke. Dr. Abel says anti-Semitism has been widespread in Vienna at least since the days of Mayor Lueger 30 years ago, and is bound to become more rampant and violent in the coming days and months because of the Nazis. Did you know that Dr. Abel is Jewish himself? He says that no one with any intelligence should remain here. He is planning to emigrate himself.”

“Where does he plan to go, Hans?” Apu inquires.

“To Great Britain. He wants me to go, too, not just for my research, but more because he is concerned about my well-being. He has a colleague in South Wales who is looking for a research assistant, and Dr. Abel says I am well qualified and should apply.”

Peter, normally calm and quiet, turns white. “Will you, Hans? When would you leave us?”

“As soon as possible, given Dr. Abel’s bleak predictions. And I suggest that you should all move with me, for your own safety.”

Silence follows, finally broken by Anyu. “We cannot all just pack up and leave like that. Peter has just begun his actuarial career at the Generali Insurance Company. Apu has his practice and his patients that have taken a decade to build up. Tibor is in the middle of his schooling. This is our home.”

Following an unusually quiet dinner, Hans turns to Peter and says, “Why so glum, Brother?”

“Because you’re leaving us,” Peter replies unhappily. “We’ve been inseparable for 22 years. With whom am I going to discuss mathematics now?”

Hans tries to reassure him. “We can write letters often and discuss anything you want. And until the time comes, we can play lots of cards. What do you say, shall we right now?”

Peter nods. In the very first deal, he finds himself distracted from his worries in the following position:

Unseen cards:
♣ —

Peter’s cards:
♣ Q

Trump: J
Stock: One face-down card
Game points: Hans 7, Peter 7
Trick points: Hans 26, Peter 21
On lead: Peter

As Peter stares at his cards and reviews the cards still missing, he worries about trump control, the possible diamond marriage, and his brother leaving. How should he 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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