Life So Short, the Craft So Long to Learn

The Schnapsen Log

January 5, 2014

In the Nick of Time

Martin Tompa

Saturday, September 2, 1939. Skewen, South Wales. There is a gentle knock at the door. Hans can hear voices outside and he opens the front door wide. Standing on his doorstep, dressed for travel, are Anyu, Apu, and Tibor. Hans has not seen any of them for three years, since he last visited Vienna. His initial look of surprise turns into a wide grin.

“Well then, you made it!” he exclaims. “Welcome to the U.K.!” He puts his arms around Anyu first, and hugs and kisses each of them in turn. “Come in, come in. Let me help you with those bags.” Once inside with the front door closed, Hans calls into the sitting room in English, “Sweetie, come out here and see who has arrived.”

A young woman comes out and Hans introduces his fiancée Phyllis to his family, both in German and in English. When the greetings are done and they are all seated comfortably, Phyllis goes into the kitchen to make tea and the questions finally begin.

“How on earth did you manage to get here with all that is happening on the continent?” Hans asks with a puzzled frown on his face. “When I heard the news, I gave up on seeing you any time soon.”

“Tell us exactly what the news is, Hans,” Anyu says by way of reply. “We have heard only snatches of conversation while traveling here, and it was all in English and confusing.”

“Ah! Well, yesterday Germany finally invaded Poland. The news is very sketchy but, from what we have heard on the wireless, the German forces far outweigh the Polish defense, and the Poles are being pushed back. The German air force bombed the town of Wieluń, destroying it, and moved on to bomb other cities. The German navy fired on the military depot in Danzig, and German tanks and troops massed over the border from Germany. Poland sends desperate pleas to its allies, the U.K. and France, who had promised to come to its defense.”

Anyu turns white. “Oh, I knew yesterday that something was very wrong.”

“Where were you yesterday?” asks Hans. “And did you have difficulties?”

“Yesterday we were traveling by train across Germany,” Apu replies. “We met Tibor in Munich. No difficulties at all. In fact, we remarked several times how quiet everything seemed.”

“Well, I am amazed and extremely pleased that you got here! It seems that you made it just in the nick of time.”

They go on talking about recent events all during tea, with Hans translating for Phyllis’s sake, except when multiple people are talking at the same time. Hans asks eagerly for news about Peter.

When they are finally finished and the table has been cleared, Hans turns to his young brother and says, “Tibor, I hear from Peter that you have become something of a terror at the Schnapsen table. The last time I played with you, you were only 15. Would you like to show me what you can do?”

Tibor nods happily and Hans brings out the cards. He and Tibor play while the others look on and chat. After several deals in a closely fought battle, they find themselves in this position:

Hans: (40 points)

♣ A

Tibor: (14 points)
♣ —

Stock: Exhausted
Game points: Hans 1, Tibor 1
On lead: Tibor

“You have certainly improved since we last played,” Hans says. “This game is very close: whoever wins this deal wins the whole game. Do you know the precise cards in my hand? I have more trumps than you do and a big trick point advantage. Think you can overcome those?”

“I don’t know yet,” Tibor answers. “But yes, I do know which cards you are holding. Let me think.”

How should Tibor proceed? When you think you have a good plan, you are welcome to read my analysis.

© 2014 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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