Life So Short, the Craft So Long to Learn

The Schnapsen Log

January 20, 2014


Martin Tompa

Sunday, October 19, 1941
The Old Parsonage
Nant y Gors
Llangyfelach, Glamorgan, Wales

Calle Arzobispo Portes #7
Ciudad Trujillo
Dominican Republic

Dear Peter,

I am afraid that today’s letter will not be filled with cheerful news. Our life here has become much more difficult in recent months. The changes can all be traced to events in June, when Hungary agreed to join forces with Germany and invade the Soviet Union. Why should events so distant affect us here in Wales? Because the attack has made Hungary the ally of U.K.’s enemy Germany, and hence the U.K.’s enemy. And we are all citizens of Hungary living within the U.K.

Apu, Anyu, Tibor, and I are now all classified as “enemy aliens” here. As a result, I lost my job in the National Oil Refineries. My Phyllis lost her U.K. citizenship because she is married to an enemy alien. With no income, we have had to move in with Phyllis’s parents in Llangyfelach, which is very near to Swansea and not at all far from where we were living previously. It seems to be impossible for me to find employment as an enemy alien. I have been doing some tutoring in mathematics in order to keep busy and make a little money.

It is not only employment that is affected. Enemy aliens are subject to numerous restrictions on our daily routines. We must remain indoors between 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. We are not permitted to possess cameras, maps, radios, or weapons. There are limitations on where we can travel, including prohibition from any area within a few miles of the coast. We do not dare to speak German or Hungarian in public, as the natives are highly suspicious of foreigners. In short, we are treated as the enemy. This despite the fact that we are Jewish, and thereby also the enemies of the U.K.’s enemy Germany.

Apu seems to be very unhappy and withdrawn. I think this was true even before we became enemy aliens. He feels displaced, speaking very little English and having no work and little money. He will be 70 in March, which I am sure plays a role. Anyu, on the other hand, has picked up enough English to make herself understood, and is as cheerful and optimistic as ever, always busy, often singing. This brightens the rest of our spirits, but unfortunately not Apu’s.

We were very happy, as always, to receive your latest letter from the tropics. Despite your vivid description, I am having great difficulty picturing you spending half your work time on horseback and muleback buying paddy rice! What an interesting occupation for the Sub-Treasurer and Accountant of Lockie & Company, Importers and Wholesalers!

Tibor visited us today. He is doing well under the circumstances and seems happy enough. Fortunately it is hard to make a 20-year-old sad, particularly our cheerful Tibor. He sends you his love.

Naturally, we played some cards before dinner. Here is a pretty little deal that arose while we played:

Unseen cards:
♣ —

Hans’s cards:
♣ —

Trump: J
Stock: One face-down card
Game points: Tibor 2, Hans 4
Trick points: Tibor 32, Hans 21
On lead: Tibor

Tibor led his Q. How would you have played my hand? I will write my thoughts on a separate page so that you can consider the question at your leisure.

With many kisses,
your Hans.

© 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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