The Tough Rules

In all previous posts, we have assumed that the game is played according to the basic set of rules. Then, we have identified sensible strategies. In Schnapsen tournaments however, there are additional rules that make the game a bit more difficult to play. In this article, I will outline how these additional rules affect your game and your strategy.

Additional Rule #1: Tricks are taken by the winner, immediately turned face-down, and must not be looked at again.

There is no need for you to change your strategy because of this rule. You simply have to keep track of the game, count the cards that have left the game, and count the card points. As I have stated before, you should do all of these things anyway.

Additional Rule #2: The turned-up trump card cannot be exchanged for the trump jack right at the start of a game or if the stock is down to one card.

This rule has some implications: At the start of a game, the player who has the lead usually has an advantage. This rule basically takes away this advantage, especially in combination with additional rule #5. Still, this does not affect your strategy in any way as there is nothing you can do about it.

If you get the Jt at some point during a game, this rule will not have much of an impact on your game: If you want to win, you need to start taking tricks at some point, so most of the time you will get a chance to exchange the Jt for the other trump card. However, you should expect the face-up trump card to be a card of higher value more often than under standard rules. Consequently, you will more often find yourself in a position in which you have to make a difficult decision: Would you rather take the face-up trump card or have the lead once the deck is gone? Obviously, this decision depends on the actual situation, but there are a number of interesting scenarios that could occur: The last trump card could give your opponent the trump marriage; it could give you the trump marriage; the face-up trump card could be the At. It must be stated that just holding the trump marriage is not enough. You have to actually announce it to score 40 points. So, if you hold the trump marriage, but your opponent has the lead, you will often be forced to trump and thereby lose your marriage. Furthermore, if additional rule #6 applies, it does not matter if anybody has a marriage after the deck is gone.

Additional Rule #3: The deck may not be closed if it is down to one card.

Usually, once the deck is down to one card, the leading player has a very good idea about the opponent's cards: Of the 6 live cards she has 5. Therefore, it is very easy to estimate the success rate of closing the deck, while the opponent can do nothing about it. This rule takes away the huge edge the leading player has. If you consider closing the deck, you have to take trick #3, as the deck may not be closed after trick #4. There is more uncertainty involved, yet good players should not have a hard time coping with this situation.

Additional Rule #4: After announcing a marriage, the king has to be played.

The only difference between playing the king and the queen is a single point in card value. Obviously, in certain situations, this single point might make a difference, but usually it does not really matter.

Additional Rule #5: Marriages may be announced only if a trick has already been taken.

Just like additional rule #2, this rule takes away one of the advantages the starting player has. Only the starting player is affected by this rule: If you want to announce a marriage at any other time, this implies that you have already taken at least one trick. Now, most of the time it is pretty clear which card to lead with: a low card that is not part of the marriage. The most interesting situation occurs when you have the marriage and 3 cards of high value: If you have the highest trump card, you might decide to play that card and then announce the marriage, which will put you above the 33 card point mark in most cases. This is not a bad option, especially if you have unprotected tens in your hand. If you cannot be sure to take the first trick, however, you should consider giving up the marriage: Let's look at an example. You decide to play a ten. Your opponent is 36% to have the ace of that suit, in which case she would score 21 points with that trick. Furthermore, depending on the actual situation, your opponent might be more or less likely to have trump cards. In both cases, if your opponent takes the trick, you might end up not announcing the marriage at all.

Additional Rule #6: Marriages may not be announced once the deck is gone.

If you hope to catch a marriage yourself, you have to try to be in charge during the fifth trick at the latest, as after trick #5 no marriages may be announced. You can use this rule to your advantage, as well: If there are live marriages that your opponent might have, you can keep him from announcing them by taking the fourth trick.