Life So Short, the Craft So Long to Learn

The Schnapsen Log

January 26, 2014

As the Door Closes

Martin Tompa

Friday, December 12, 1941
2044 Colonial Avenue
Bronx, New York
United States of America!

The Old Parsonage
Nant y Gors
Llangyfelach, Glamorgan, Wales

Dear Hans and Phyllis, dear Anyu and Apu, dear Tibor,

After more than three years of planning and applying and waiting, in Vienna and Budapest and Ciudad Trujillo, I have made it to the United States of America! I received my immigration visa at the American consulate on November 21, having finally made the Hungarian immigration quota. Wasting no time, I bought my ticket and was on the San Jacinto two days later, setting sail for New York City. We arrived on November 27. My new life begins.

And, because of cataclysmic events now known to the entire world, I made it here just before the door slammed shut! Ten days after my arrival, Japan attacked U.S. forces in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, plunging the United States into what is now truly and unfortunately a worldwide war. If I had been delayed ten days, the border would have been closed to me for who knows how long. It occurred to me this morning that this is the second such amazing bit of fortunate timing in our family. The first was when Apu, Anyu, and Tibor just made it to Wales two years ago, as the U.K. declared war on Germany and closed its borders to immigrants. An interesting coincidence.

I feel as though I am finally at my destination. I have moved into a rented room on the second story of a small house on a quiet residential street in Bronx, one of the boroughs of New York City. The house is owned by an elderly Italian couple whose son used to have my room. I am very near a large park called Pelham Bay Park, which I have not yet had the opportunity to explore. I am also very near the last station of the Interborough Rapid Transit train that I can take all the way into the center of the city in Manhattan, although the trip is not as Rapid as the train’s name suggests. It reminds me of the long tram ride we used to take together to and from the Alt-Hietzinger school, Hans. Ah, those were happy, peaceful times in Vienna!

Obtaining a position at one of the many insurance companies in New York will take some time. My certification from Vienna will not carry me very far: the United States has its own series of actuarial examinations that I will have to study and pass. For the time being, like you, Hans, I am teaching mathematics at a private tutoring school.

You may wonder why I have not written anything about Lore. She lives here in New York, but we have not seen each other since September 1938 in Vienna. So very much has happened since then: our deportation from Vienna, life in Budapest, the war, Hitler’s conquest of half of Europe, and my adventures in the Dominican Republic. To be honest, I am anxious about how it will go when we see each other again. I have put off contacting her several times already, but I am determined to do so soon. Given how much we loved each other, I am baffled by my procrastination.

I have, however reunited with my good friend Pedro Furst from the Dominican Republic, who preceded me to New York by a few months. It is good to have a friend in this new, bustling city. We got together for dinner and cards last night, which I enjoyed very much. Here is an interesting deal that arose:

Unseen cards:

♣ QJ

Peter’s cards:

♣ TK

Trump: Q
Stock: One face-down card
Game points: Pedro 4, Peter 3
Trick points: Pedro 27, Peter 28
On lead: Peter

An unusual situation, because all the trumps but that Q on the table were gone. How would you proceed? As customary, I will write my analysis on a separate page for you to read when you are ready.

I miss seeing all of you.

With heartfelt kisses,
your Peter.

© 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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Recent Columns

Sidestep a Few Landmines, Sep 2
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