Life So Short, the Craft So Long to Learn

The Schnapsen Log

December 29, 2013

Exit Plans

Martin Tompa

Saturday, August 19, 1939. Budapest, Hungary. It is twilight. There is a knock on the apartment door and Anyu goes to answer it.

“Who’s there?” she calls out in her lyrical voice.

“Peter,” comes the muffled reply. Anyu throws open the door and wraps her son in her arms.

“Oh, Peter, we have missed you!” she coos in his ear. “It is so lonely here without my boys.”

Apu hears the unaccustomed commotion and emerges from the bedroom. “Welcome home, son!” he says with the hint of a smile. “How was Paris? Tell us all about your trip!”

Peter comes in and takes off his hat. “The trip went well. Most important, my mission was a success. I went to the Dominican Consulate in Paris and got my visa to enter the Dominican Republic.”

Peter’s plans had changed a number of times over the past year. The original plan he’d had, when he first arrived in Budapest, was to accept the job offer in South Africa, but that had not worked out. This was thanks largely to the Hungarian army, who didn’t want to let a young man of 26 out of the country. In the end, though, Peter was not inducted due to his flat feet. The South African offer having meanwhile evaporated, he instead took an actuarial position in Budapest with Generali, the same insurance company for whom he had worked in Vienna.

Still, none of them relished the idea of living in Hungary longer than necessary. Conditions were poor, and the government’s anti-Semitic laws reminded them too much of what had happened in recent years in Austria. In May of this year, the Hungarian government had passed a new law that defined Jews by heritage, disregarding religious conversion, and restricted Jewish participation in the economy to 6%. The family members spent most of their energy on plans and dreams of emigration to somewhere safe.

In Wales, Hans had recently succeeded in obtaining visas for Apu, Anyu, and Tibor to enter the United Kingdom and he declared to the government his willingness to stand surety for their financial support. He could not get a visa for Peter, who was of working age, whereas Tibor was young enough and Apu old enough to be exempt from this immigration restriction. What remained for Apu, Anyu, and Tibor was to wrap up their Budapest affairs and make travel arrangements to Wales.

Peter’s first choice of destination would not have been Wales anyway, and certainly would not have been the Dominican Republic. He wanted to move to New York, where his long-time girlfriend Lore had emigrated, but the United States’s Hungarian immigration quota was full. Most other countries, inundated with requests from European Jews (and others) to immigrate, were also closing their borders. But a year ago Rafael Trujillo, the Dominican dictator, had come forward to invite European Jews to immigrate to his country; in Trujillo’s own personal bigotry, Europeans of any sort were preferable to Haitians. Peter saw his opportunity to get out of Hungary and much farther from Hitler’s growing reach, and he leaped at it.

Peter continues his travelogue: “It took a few days for me to get the visa. Once that was done, I spent another week in Paris to see the sights. What a wonderful city, particularly at night! I thoroughly enjoyed myself there.”

Anyu smiles. “I’m so glad, Peter. It has been years since Apu and I have been in Paris.”

“Over the past few days,” Peter continues, “I returned here from Paris by train. The route, of course, is mostly through Germany, not a country I can say I thoroughly enjoy these days. At first I felt anxious that the German authorities would give me trouble. But I quickly discovered that they were all too busy to trouble themselves over me. Something is going on in Germany, something different and very strange.” He pauses, recalling.

“What is it, Peter?”

“Everywhere I looked, the German military was on the move. Uniformed troops mobilizing everywhere, on the roads, in all the major train stations we passed. And it seemed to me they were all traveling east, east, east, following me from Karlsruhe on the French border to Eisenstadt, where I crossed into Hungary this morning. It was an eerie experience.”

“This cannot be good,” Anyu says thoughtfully. “So much troop movement is never a good sign.”

Peter shakes off the mood and changes the subject. “What do you hear from Tibor?”

“Tibor is still in Riccione,” Apu replies, “on the Italian Adriatic. Enjoying himself and avoiding conscription by the Hungarian army. If we can get to Great Britain, Tibor will have to make his own way without coming back to Hungary.”

“I truly hope he succeeds,” Peter says lovingly. “I would hate to see my little brother in uniform! But meanwhile I have lost my second Schnapsen ally. First Hans and now Tibor. What do you say to filling in, Apu? It has been a very long time since we played together.”

“I would enjoy that, Peter,” Apu replies.

Apu fetches the cards, sits down at the kitchen table, shuffles, and deals. In the very first deal, Peter finds himself in this situation:

Unseen cards:

♣ —

Peter’s cards:

♣ AQ

Trump: ♣J
Stock: One face-down card
Game points: Apu 7, Peter 7
Trick points: Apu 25, Peter 21
On lead: Peter

How should Peter 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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