Life So Short, the Craft So Long to Learn

The Schnapsen Log

May 3, 2014

The Tale Ends

Martin Tompa

Sunday, May 3, 1964. Bergenfield, New Jersey, U.S.A. It is Sunday afternoon and, like most Sundays, our small surburban house is crowded with my aunts, uncles, and cousins. They have all come to our house for the weekly “Jause”, a Viennese tradition of afternoon coffee and cake and conviviality. The coffee and my grandmother’s delicious cake have been consumed, and the dishes have been cleared away for cards. I am playing Schnapsen with my uncle Tibor, while my father and brother follow the action and add commentary. A game of canasta is going on at the other end of the dining room table.

I am 12 years old, the younger son of Peter and Liesl. I love these Sunday Jause gatherings of the family, with all their European traditions. I love the varied foreign accents and the mixture of German and English spoken by all. I love all the activity in our house: the chamber music, the conversations, the jokes, the card games, and the traditional Viennese cakes. I love the fact that my relatives all seem so happy to be together again. I love the attention I get from each of my aunts and uncles. I know so little about their past, and none of them ever talk about it. I know vaguely that they all came to the United States about the time my parents did, but I don’t question why they did. I have no clue about my Jewish heritage or what might have driven them all to immigrate at one time. I am a happy and oblivious child, safe and secure in a middle class American home during a peaceful time.

(It has now been fifty years since that particular Jause. I am shockingly among the eldest generation of my family and, in recent years, I have discovered so much more about my family history, a topic that intrigues me. Recently I find myself with a recurring fantasy. In this fantasy, I relive one more Sunday Jause in my childhood home. All my aunts, uncles, and cousins sit around the extended dining room table for another joyous gathering. There is the happy clamor of all their remembered voices in a mix of German and accented English, and the clinking of silverware on china as we enjoy another of my grandmother’s wonderful Viennese cakes. In this fantasy, the others are all the ages they were in 1964, but I am anachronistically an adult, armed with the fragmentary knowledge I possess today. In this fantasy, there are so many things I get to ask each of them about their past that I never got to ask when they were alive. In this fantasy, there are so many things I want to tell each of them about my feelings for them that I never managed to say when they were alive.)

But in 1964, in reality, I am only 12, and all that matters to me at the moment is to win this game against Uncle Tibor.

Unseen cards:
♣ AQ

Martin’s cards:

♣ T

Trump: J
Stock: 1 face-down card
Game points: Tibor 2, Martin 4
Trick points: Tibor 28, Martin 21
On lead: Tibor

The trick point scores are low and Tibor leads T. What is my best 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.


Getting Started

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