Card Counting and Card Points

This article is going to present a number of general facts about card counting and card points you should know. These are not exactly strategy concepts, but nevertheless, these facts are going to have an impact on your strategy.

Card Counting

If you are new to the game of Schnapsen, you have to internalize all the basic processes and rules at first. This will help you limit the number of easily avoidable mistakes everyone makes at the beginning. Next, you should try to become proficient in card counting, which improves one's game dramatically. Specifically, you should keep track of the following things during a game:

-) How many points are the tricks you have taken worth?
-) How many points are the tricks your opponent has taken worth?
-) What cards are out of the game?
-) What cards are still live?

Under tough rules, the impact of card counting on your game will be massive: Since you must not look at the tricks you have taken yourself, you would not know at what point you would have reached the 33 or 66 card point marks if you had not kept track of your points. All you would do is guess. But even under soft rules, a player usually may not look at the tricks the opponent has taken. Consequently, it would be difficult to know which cards are still live if you did not count cards.

Now let's look at why you should be able to answer the four questions mentioned above at all times during a game.

The Players' Card Points

As I have mentioned before, you have to keep track of the card points you and your opponent have scored to be able to estimate the potential payoffs, i.e. the game points one can still score. Consider the following example: If both you and your opponent have taken a trick, but are still below 33 points, you know that no player can score 3 game points in that game. Furthermore, depending on your opponent's card points, you might be forced to play more aggressively: Let's say that your opponent is close to 66 card points, but you are still below 33: You should try everything you can to get over that threshold fast.

Live and Dead Cards

Keeping track of live and dead cards is important as it impacts the classification of the strength of your hand. Consider the following example: You have the Ts. Does the presence of the Ts strengthen or weaken your hand?

The answer is: It depends. If the As is dead, you know that you have the highest card of that suit, which is definitely positive. However, if all other cards of that suit are dead as well, the Ts is a problematic card: If you play it, your opponent will likely trump and secure the 10 card points (if trumps are still out there). If the As is still live, the ten is not exactly a powerhouse card.

Here is another example: You have the Qs-Qc-Qh-Qd in your hand. If all the kings are still live, you have an excellent chance to get a marriage at some point in the game. If all the kings are dead, all you have is 4 low cards worth 12 points that will not exactly help you take many tricks.

Keeping track of the live cards is vital for another reason: As a game progresses you get an ever clearer picture of the cards in your opponent's hand. Finally, once the stock is gone, you should know exactly what hand your opponent has. Furthermore, the chance of you getting certain cards increases during a game: Let's say you long for a particular card: After the first trick, you are 7% to get that card. After the third trick, your chances have increased to 10%. After the fifth trick, you are even 17% to get that card.

Sometimes it might be possible to exactly predict the last card of the deck if your opponent is to lead after the fourth trick: If a marriage is still live, you do not have any cards to that marriage, and your opponent does not announce it, you can be almost dead certain that the last card in the deck is a card that would be part of that marriage. Therefore, you can decide if you would prefer to have that card in your hand and have the lead, or if you would rather get the last trump card.

Tempus Fugit

After having stressed the importance of counting cards, I would like to point out the following fact: If you lose the lead during a game, by the time you might regain the lead your hand will have changed dramatically.

Let's say you have a hand that on the whole does not look too bad, but you play a card that will likely allow your opponent to take the trick. Now, you take a new card from the deck and your opponent leads. You decide to take the following trick, and you get a new card again. At this point, there has been an exchange of at least one card, possibly two cards (that is 40% of the cards in your hand). A hand that might have been quite good two tricks ago may have become a loser.

Card Points

Finally, we should take a closer look at card points: All 20 cards add up to a total of 120 card points. Since a single game can consist of a maximum of 10 tricks, the average trick in this scenario is worth 12 points. To reach 66 card points, you need to take 6 average tricks.

Obviously, the situation changes once marriages come into play. A marriage increases the amount of card points available in a game. Please note that once two 20-point marriages or the trump marriage have been announced, there is no need to be in a position to take the last trick since one player will have scored enough points by then.

Of the 120 total points, 84 points are covered by aces and tens, 36 points are covered by the remaining cards. Consequently, one of your key objectives should be to secure as many aces and tens as possible in the tricks that you take. In the previous article, I briefly mentioned the problem of an unprotected ten, i.e. a ten in your hand that is the only card of its suit: Once you are forced to follow suit and your opponent plays the ace of that suit, you have to play the ten, which is a card of high value that you would prefer not to surrender to your opponent.

Finally, towards the end of a game, aces and tens of dead suits might become problematic if you do not have the upper hand as far as trumps are concerned. If you play one of these cards, your opponent will have the chance to take those tricks by trumping.