Life So Short, the Craft So Long to Learn

The Schnapsen Log

November 29, 2013

Show of Force

Martin Tompa

Thursday, April 28, 1938. Vienna, Austria. Peter, Tibor, and their mother Anyu delay dinner until Apu finally enters the apartment, looking more tired and defeated than usual. It has been a horrible few months for them and their friends and relatives.

On March 12, Adolf Hitler and his German Wehrmacht army had marched into Austria. Demonstrating miraculous efficiency, within just a few days 70,000 Austrian Jews and political opponents of the unification of Austria with Germany were arrested. Jewish organizations and activities were outlawed. Three days after the invasion, 200,000 cheering Austrians gathered in Vienna’s Heldenplatz to hear Hitler announce the annexation of Austria into the German Reich.

On April 26, Hermann Göring, in charge of the German economy, began a wealth transfer campaign with an order to catalog the assets of all Austrian Jews. Every Jew with property worth more than 5000 Reichsmark was obligated to report all financial holdings. The plan was to destroy the Austrian Jews economically. Jewish property would be expropriated. Jewish businesses would be atrophied through denial of raw materials and customers. Jews would be forced to emigrate and allowed to take no assets with them.

Is it any wonder that Apu should feel tired and defeated? But Anyu can see that there is something new troubling her husband. “What is it, my dear?” she asks him in the most supportive voice she can muster.

“I had a visit from the local police,” Apu answers quietly. “They had an official government letter to show me. It says we are no longer recognized as Austrian citizens, because our domicile certificate from Wiesen is invalid. Exactly as it happened to our Hans a few years ago. The police say we must all leave Vienna.”

“Oh, no,” Anyu says, her hands to her mouth. Peter and Tibor just look on in shocked silence. “What are we to do?”

“We may have to return to Hungary, if we cannot alter our course here,” Apu replies. “I will write for Hungarian domicile certificates tonight. Do you know, it has been nearly 20 years since we left Hungary?”

Dinner that evening is mostly a quiet affair, with some talk about contingency plans. After dinner, Tibor turns to his older brother and says, “Will you play a game of cards with me, Peter? Please?”

Peter, upset by the latest news, is about to say that he is not in the mood when he sees the look of entreaty in his brother’s eyes. Tibor is 17 years old, Peter 26. Tibor is the only one in the family who has never lived in Hungary and has little idea what might lie ahead. Peter suddenly remembers what it was like when he was 17 himself, spending so many happy hours with Hans. “Of course we can, Tibor,” he replies in a comforting voice, wishing that he could return Tibor’s life to normalcy.

In the first deal they play, the brothers finds themselves in this position:

Peter: (19 points)


Tibor: (34 points)

♣ TQ

Stock: Exhausted
Game points: Peter 7, Tibor 7
On lead: Tibor

“What will you do now, Tibor?” Peter asks. “I have control of the trump suit and you have only one winner left.”

How should Tibor 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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