Life So Short, the Craft So Long to Learn

The Schnapsen Log

February 13, 2014

Rules of Engagement

Martin Tompa

Friday, September 24, 1943. New York, U.S.A. Peter and Liesl leave work in Manhattan’s financial district together, squeeze onto a crowded local uptown subway at Fulton Street, and travel ten short stops to 28th Street. From there they walk a few blocks across town, arm in arm, and arrive at the Marble Collegiate Church, a Reformed Protestant Dutch Church in the heart of Manhattan. The church is nearly 100 years old, a relic by American standards, and already quaint. They walk up the steps and Peter removes his hat and holds the door for Liesl.

Once inside, they find the assistant pastor, a Reverend Charles Haulenbeek, whom Peter recognizes from services. This tall, young man smiles warmly and asks, “How may I be of assistance?”

Peter speaks for the two of them in his Hungarian accent, getting to business immediately. “I am Peter Tompa, and this young lady is Liese Feiks. I have been a member of this church a short time, since coming to New York. We would like to be married, as soon as may be.”

How had this relationship been sown and bloomed so quickly? Liesl, 8 years younger than Peter, had arrived in New York from Vienna only a year before he had. She was talented in mathematics, though deprived of a university education by Hitler’s annexation of Austria the year she graduated from school. After her arrival in New York she was hired as bookkeeper for the International Excess Brokers Corporation. On occasion she would run into Peter there, though his hours seemed rarely to overlap her traditional ones. She became impressed by how much he knew and did in the company, and soon discovered that Peter was the brains behind the organization. Since she took care of the books, she was consequently shocked to discover how little he was being paid, less than she was making as a bookkeeper.

They went out on a few dates and quickly discovered that they had much in common: they had grown up not far from each other in Vienna, they spoke a comfortable German together, they both loved music and mathematics and intellectual pursuits, and they had both been torn from their families and homes due to Jewish heritage. Liesl learned that Peter spent his days working as an actuarial trainee at the Guardian Life Insurance Company and preparing for the actuarial examinations. This explained why she rarely ran into him at work.

After dating for a very short time, Peter proposed. Liesl sensibly turned him down, as it was too soon. Despite warnings from his family in the U.K. to slow down and keep in mind that he was on the rebound from a difficult breakup with Lore, and despite Liesl’s rejection, Peter proposed again a few weeks later. In the intervening time, Liesl had decided she had had enough of being sensible. And so they were engaged after the shortest courtship imaginable and, if they succeeded today with the Reverend, an even shorter engagement.

“As soon as may be, you say,” Reverend Haulenbeek repeats. “I hate to disappoint you, but the Reverend Dr. Norman Vincent Peale is away on a motivational speaking tour, and won’t return for a few more weeks. Of course you will want to wait for him to perform the ceremony.”

“On the contrary, Reverend Haulenbeek,” Peter replies. “We would very much like you to do the honors.”

Reverend Haulenbeek stares in stunned silence. Everyone wanted the famous Dr. Peale to officiate for them. No one had ever before asked for his unknown assistant pastor.

The pastor’s stunned silence gives way to a broad smile. “Well, then, we had better all go into my office and see what we can arrange,” he tells them. This couple is destined to become favorites of his.

When Peter and Liesl leave the church, the wedding has been arranged for one week later, on October 1. They go to celebrate at a small Hungarian restaurant on the Upper East Side that Peter knows. After an intimate dinner, Peter reaches into his jacket pocket and draws out not a jewelry box, but a deck of cards. Being Viennese, of course Liesl is a Schnapsen player, as Peter had discovered in one of their first conversations. The dishes are cleared away and they settle in for a few fun games over coffee. Soon Liesl finds herself in this position:

Unseen cards:
♣ K

Liesl’s cards:

♣ TJ

Trump: J
Stock: 3 face-down cards
Game points: Peter 5, Liesl 5
Trick points: Peter 32, Liesl 21
On lead: Liesl

Peter showed the club marriage earlier in the deal. How should Liesl proceed? When you think you have a good plan, you are welcome to read my analysis.

© 2014 Martin Tompa. All rights reserved.


blog comments powered by Disqus

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.


Getting Started

Links for Schnapsen and Sixty-Six

Links in German

Links in Hungarian

Recent Columns

Sidestep a Few Landmines, Sep 2
Two Last-Trick Problems, Jun 27
More Extremes of Luck, May 21
Grasping at Straws, Apr 4
A New Scheme for Remembering Cards, Mar 23
As Luck Would Have It, Sep 9