Life So Short, the Craft So Long to Learn

The Schnapsen Log

April 6, 2014


Martin Tompa

Sunday, August 24, 1947. Cookham, Berkshire, U.K. Peter and Liesl sit with Hans and Phyllis at their dining room table. The dinner dishes have been cleared and washed and the children are in bed. Peter and Hans are in the middle of a game of cards, of course. Liesl and Phyllis alternate between watching and chatting. This visit is the women’s first time together, and fortunately they are getting along famously.

As Peter studies his cards, deciding what to lead next, he abruptly looks up and says, “Hans, when we were out walking earlier, you said something about showing me a letter from Uncle Jozsef.”

“Ah, right,” Hans agrees, putting his cards down on the table. “I thought you might like to see what he wrote when Apu died last year. Would you? Let me go look for it.”

While he is gone, Peter explains to Liesl that Uncle Jozsef is Apu’s older brother, now 82 years old and living in Palestine, the last survivor of six siblings. Hans returns after a short time with an aerogram that he hands to Peter.

March 26, 1946
60 HaYarkon Street
Tel-Aviv, Palestine

Cookham Rise, Berkshire, U.K.

My dear nephew Jancsi!

With deepest grief and with weeping eyes I read the sad tidings brought to me by your dear letter of the second of this month, and am distressed by the sudden death of my sole remaining brother Adolf, your dear, good father. Three days before I received the letter, I had answered his letter from the beginning of February at great length, imploring him to take a little care of himself and not to surrender so entirely to his circumstances. Unfortunately my letter never reached him.

Your Papa wrote often, which made me very happy, and I always recognized the family devotion in him. May he find his eternal peace. I am certain that you will all maintain an eternal precious memory of him, who fought through so many heartaches and worries in life. When I next visit the grave of my precious, unforgettable Etta, I will not neglect to have the cantor recite an “El male rachamim” for your Papa also.

I informed your dear cousin Ilona here in Tel-Aviv, who is also extremely saddened by his departure, in addition to the loss of so many other family members. As you know, both of her parents, Rozália (my own dear sister and your dear aunt) and her husband Lipot, died in the Nováky labor camp in Czechoslovakia in 1944.

May the dear Lord protect you from further misfortune, and let you remain healthy and live on in good spirit. My best wishes to you and all your family,
your Uncle Jozsef

Peter slowly refolds the letter in his hands and passes it to Liesl to read. To Hans he says, “It is a very warm and heartfelt letter. The style is typical for Uncle Jozsef: pious and old-fashioned. But clearly heartfelt, with his own devotion to family.”

“Yes,” Hans replies thoughtfully. “Do you remember Uncle Jozsef from our childhood days in Vienna? He was devoted to Apu and the whole family. So many members of Apu’s family were lost in recent years in the Holocaust, not only Ilona’s parents. There is also Ilona’s brother Imre, and our Aunt Giza from Slovakia together with three of her children, Gyula, Emanuel, and Géza.”

Peter nods sadly. “As Jozsef says, what we can offer is remembrance.”

After a few moments of silent contemplation, Peter suggests that they could return to their game. Hans agrees, picks up his cards, and says, “How did we get to this point? Oh yes, I think I remember what happened. You declared the club marriage and have 45 trick points. I have 20. And it’s your lead. Does that all sound right, Peter?”

Unseen cards:

♣ T

Peter’s cards:
♣ K

Trump: J
Stock: 1 face-down card
Game points: Hans 5, Peter 5
Trick points: Hans 20, Peter 45
On lead: Peter

What is Peter’s best line of play? 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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