Closing the Deck

By looking at all the previous posts, it becomes obvious that closing the deck is an important part of Schnapsen. It might even be a player's single most important ability to recognize when to close the deck and to be able to put oneself in a position to actually close the deck at that point. In this article, we are going to have a closer look at the dynamics of closing the deck and at how to successfully adapt one's strategy towards the end of a Bummerl. It might not be apparent at first, but these topics are related to each other.

Consequences of Closing the Deck

First of all, it must be stated that after closing the deck, the rules change. Players must follow suit or trump depending on the actual situation. Consequently, the player who does not have the lead is constrained as far as strategy is concerned. Because of these limited options available to the opponent, the player who decided to close the deck can more accurately estimate what might happen during the remainder of the game. It is easier to estimate the outcome. Therefore, you should always close the deck as soon as you figure that you have a good chance to reach 66 card points. What good actually means often depends on the specific circumstances.

If you play against a weak opponent who makes lots of mistakes, closing the deck might not always be the best strategy, as the constraints put upon players by closing the deck take away this player's chance to commit any major errors. Of course, if closing the deck is the best strategy against a good player in a particular situation, it cannot be a bad option against a bad player in the same situation, but it just might not be the best strategy.

Before Closing the Deck

Whether you should actually close the deck in a particular situation – and this should not come as a surprise to you - depends on the cards in your hand. It is your goal to reach 66 card points. Before closing the deck, you have to estimate the number of tricks you are likely to take and how many additional points you can score via the cards your opponent surrenders. Usually, you have to have the highest remaining cards of live suits and a couple of trump cards. Obviously, it is difficult to give general advice as the cards that are out of a game and the points you have already scored play an important role.

However, the one thing you always have to consider before closing the deck is your winning percentage and the associated EV. As the game points that can be scored depend on the players' card points at the time the deck is closed, it is absolutely clear what is at stake. In a regular game, the possible payoffs are the following ones:

-) either you: +3, or opponent: +3 (blue line);
-) either you: +2, or opponent: +2 (red line);
-) either you: +1, or opponent: +2 (green line).

Obviously, if the game points you and your opponent can score are the same, a winning percentage above 50% is associated with a positive EV. However, if you can just score a single point, your opponent has the chance to score 2 points if you fail to reach 66 card points. Therefore, you need a winning percentage of 67% to break even.

At the beginning of a game, you should only close the deck if this decision yields a positive EV. If that decision has a negative EV, it is usually better to wait and see how the game develops. Towards the end of a game, you might want to close the deck even if that decision has a negative EV: This situation occurs if the decision to continue without closing the deck would have a negative EV and the option to close the deck, while still having a negative EV, has a slightly higher EV.

Towards the End of a Bummerl

Once a player needs less than 3 game points to win at the end of a Bummerl, the payoff structures change. Let's look at an example. Your opponent is ahead, the score is 1-4. In this situation, the highest number of game points she can score in the next game is a single point, while you can still score anywhere from 1 to 3 game points. Now the diagram depicting the relationship between winning percentage and EV looks different from the one above:

In a nutshell, you should play more aggressively and try to score big if you have some chance to do so. If you can score 3 game points, you need a winning percentage of just 25% to break even. For 2 game points, that figure is 33%. As you are far behind, it makes no sense to settle for a low score. You should take the risk of losing and thereby give yourself a better chance to win the Bummerl in the following game.

If your opponent is 2 game points away from a win, the situation is similar:

However, you need slightly higher winning percentages to yield a positive EV.

These numbers should not only influence your strategy when you are behind at the end of a Bummerl, but when you are ahead as well. There is no need to try and score 3 game points, when you can actually score but a single point. By taking unnecessary risks, you give your opponent the chance to get back into the game.