Life So Short, the Craft So Long to Learn

The Schnapsen Log

February 2, 2017

The Glass is 9/10 Full

Martin Tompa

All your aunts and uncles and cousins are at your home again today for a cheerful, boisterous gathering. As usual, there is a card game involved. You are once again pitted against your Uncle Tibor, with clever Uncle Hans looking over your shoulder. Midway through the game you shuffle, deal out the cards, and look down at this starting hand:

Your cards:

♣ A

Trump: J
Stock: 9 face-down cards
Game points: Tibor 4, You 3
Trick points: Tibor 0, You 0
On lead: Tibor

Your pulse quickens as you think about the possibilities. Any hand containing the royal marriage and two outside aces is a beautiful starting hand. You have a real chance of landing 3 game points and the whole game. Wouldn’t it be something to beat Uncle Tibor for once? As Tibor contemplates his opening lead, your one concern is that he may lead a heart. But, joy of joys, he finally leads J and you grin. You can taste the sweet victory already.

You win the trick with your Q and draw the useless ♣J from the stock, but this doesn’t dampen your glee at all. You close the stock and show your trump marriage, fully expecting to score both of your aces for plenty of points.

To your surprise, Tibor plays A and follows it with T, pulling your last trump and leaving you with these cards:

Your cards:

♣ AJ

Trump: J
Trick points: Tibor 28, You 45
On lead: Tibor

Your smile fades and you suddenly feel a bit dizzy. Tibor leads Q, on which you discard ♣J. And then Tibor leads T, and your own heart sinks. You are forced to discard one of your beautiful aces. What is much worse is that your only remaining hope of reaching 66 is that Tibor’s last card is ♣T or T and you’ve saved the right ace. You have gone from riches to rags in 10 seconds!

You see very little evidence to help you choose which ace to discard. Finally, thinking that it would be like your aggressive Uncle Tibor to have led the jack from TJ at trick 1, you discard ♣A on his heart. To add insult to severe injury, Tibor’s last card is ♣T, and he is the one who scores 3 game points.

You turn to Uncle Hans, who has watched the whole deal and is fully ready for your outburst. “Can you believe my luck, Hans?” you whine. “That Tibor should have both high trumps, plus two hearts? And that he should choose to play out those two hearts and squeeze me? And then I still had a chance to win, and guessed the wrong ace to discard. Have you ever seen anyone with such bad luck?”

Kind Uncle Hans commiserates. “That was indeed some of the worst luck imaginable, dear,” he says. “The odds of Tibor having all those terrible cards were tiny.” Hans pauses for a moment before going on. “And yet, my dear, can you think of something you could have done differently that might have saved you?”

Do you see what Hans has in mind? When you have your answer ready, you are welcome to read my analysis.

© 2017 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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