John Swanson

Christmas Bridge Fantasies.gif (5152 bytes)

I began creating stories for our holiday greeting cards in 1996. Some feature family and friends. And others, well....

1997 - Rudolph, The Real Story
1998 - The Return of the Elves
1999 - A Dentist's Tale
2000 - An Interesting Topic
2001 - Mystery Opponents
2008 - The Yellowknife Sectional
2009 - Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere

Rudolph - The Real Story

Rudoplh The Red Nose Reindeer music
(Sing along if you so desire.)

You know Dasher, and Dancer,
And Prancer, and Vixen;
Comet, and Cupid,
And Donner, and Blitzen.

Each year before Christmas
A match they would play,
The elves versus reindeer,
Loser's loading the sleigh.

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer,
Had a very shiny nose.
And if you ever saw it,
You would even say it glows.
All of the other reindeer,
Used to laugh and call him names.

They never let poor Rudoplh
Play in section 'A' games.
Then one foggy Christmas Eve,
Dancer came to say:
"Rudolph with your nose so bright,
Won't you be our fourth tonight?"

The reindeer were trailing
With one hand to go,
And Rudolph was declaring
A skimpy six no.

Just eight tricks on top
And the finesses offside,
But Rudolph came through
Barely turning the tide.

(Could you have made the six notrump contract, winning the match for the reindeer squad?)




Then all the reindeer loved him.
And they shouted out with glee:
"Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer --
You'll go down in history!"

How Rudolph Saved the Day

Rudolph won the diamond lead and led the spade jack from dummy, covered by the queen and king. He then led a heart to the eight, nine and ten. After winning the spade return the heart queen was covered by the king and ace. A diamond was led to dummy for a heart finesse. Elf Crackle, sitting West, could comfortably discard a club but the last heart squeezed him in three suits. No matter which suit he discarded Rudolph could repeat the squeeze to take twelve tricks.

Appeal to Santa for Score Adjustment

The elves appealed to Santa for an adjusted score, stating that Rudolph must have had prior knowledge to take such an obscure line of play. Dancer, the reindeer team captain, countered that Rudolph was a disciple of Barry Crane and always played for queens to be over jacks. It is true that the reindeer enjoy a considerable size advantage against the diminutive elves and aided by his bright nose, Rudolph may well have clocked the opposing hands. Regardless, Santa let the result stand.

Christmas Reindeer

Merry Christmas 1997 from John and Nina

The Return of the Elves

Those familiar with bridge activity at the North Pole will remember the animosity which reigned between the reindeer and the elves after last year's match to determine which group would load the sleigh. Tempers had cooled (as things are wont to do at the North Pole) as the year passed. After relaxing January and February, the reindeer began training for their strenuous circle of the globe Christmas Eve. The elves were busy year round creating toys and games. But excitement grew in both camps as this year's match approached.

Both squads fielded their top pairs for the final 16 hands. The critical action took place on board 63 in the open room where Dancer and Vixen faced the Frost siblings, Jack and Dee.
South (Jack)


South (Dee)
South South South South
Dee Dasher Jack Vixen
1 Pass 1 Pass
2 Pass 2 Pass
2 Pass 4 Pass
4 Pass 6 All Pass

(Some readers may be confused with all positions recorded as South,
but at the North Pole the only possible direction is South.)

After an intelligent auction Dee became declarer in a club slam. The opening lead was the 6. Dee inserted dummy's queen which held, Vixen following with the 4. Before playing from her hand, Dee thoughtfully considered her line of play. How would you plan to score twelve tricks?

Some defenders like to underlead the king in dummy's suit against a slam, feigning a singleton and hoping that declarer will reject a winning finesse. However, this auction seems to scream for a trump or diamond lead. Dee drew the inference that Dasher's desperate lead of a spade was because he held the diamond king and no trumps. A successful cross-ruff would require all nine trumps to be scored separately. This would necessitate Vixen holding at least three hearts, not so likely in view of the presumed four-card holding in clubs. Instead, Dee decided to play to establish dummy's spade suit. For this to succeed the low diamonds in her hand were needed to force an entry with the Q, so Dee discarded a heart on the first trick. The second trick was a spade ruffed with her low club, both defenders contributing low spades. Declarer next led a low diamond towards the queen. Dasher rose with his expected king and continued the suit, but the defense was helpless. Dee ruffed a third round of spades (both opponents following), cashed the club honors in her hand, ruffed a heart and claimed with dummy's top trumps and good spades. If Dasher had forced dummy with a heart instead of continuing diamonds, the Q could have been used as an entry to dummy at the end. The slam had been made without winning a trick with the A!
South (Jack)
South (Dasher)


South (Vixen)
South (Dee)

Because of systemic difference the reindeer pair stopped in game at the other table. Declarer had to play well to bring in eleven tricks after a trump lead. The difference was enough to win the match for the elves. The reindeer appreciated the good play of their opponents and harmony has been restored in Santa land. However, if you notice on Christmas morning that a package seems to be dented here or there don't blame the post office. Reindeer hoofs are not designed for loading sleighs.

Merry Christmas 1998 from John and Nina

A Dentist's Tale

We had just settled down for our traditional holiday dinner when Sid, my brother-in-law, volunteered that he had performed a double extraction the day before.

"Sid", Jill complained, "How can you talk about that now?"

"Well", Sid continued, "I held eight spades: queen, jack, ten, eight, seven, five, .."

Nina interrupted, "Let's talk about teeth".

"At least write out the hand, there's an eggnog factor here." This was a request from Ed, who much prefers bridge to teeth.

Turning over his party napkin - tradition does not require linen - Sid diagrammed the following:

West (dummy)
East (Sid)

West North East (Sid) South
1 Pass 4 Pass
6 Double All Pass

The club queen is led. How should a dentist play the hand?

It is frequently best to delay winning a top trick which you can ruff, but here you would be delighted to have North waste a trump on the club ace. With South holding club length there are safe club ruff entries to your hand and a discard isn't required because you have no side losers. There turns out to be another benefit.

North must have doubled holding the club king and the trump ace; he was no doubt rather disappointed when you discarded a heart on the club ace. But a little care is always a good idea. You should win the diamond ace before leading dummy's trump - you don't want to guess how to return to your hand. There is a surprise when the spade king is led. North discards! South allows the king to hold the trick and you must find an entry to your hand.

How do you play?

Because South started with all the missing spades you cannot afford to ruff to your hand with a high trump. You will lead to the heart queen. But not too quickly. Consider that South will win the next spade and put you back in dummy by lead a second round of hearts. How will you get to your hand a second time with these cards remaining?

West (dummy)
East (Sid)

Ruffing to your hand in either rounded suit could be fatal. Thus you must play to prevent South sticking you in dummy after he wins the trump ace. The odds favor his starting with two or more rather than one, so it is correct to win the heart ace before leading to the queen. When the queen holds the contract is cold, for dummy will win no more tricks.

"Nicely done Sid, you first extracted dummy's diamond and then you extracted South's hearts." I offered congratulations on a nicely played contract.

"Well," Sid admitted, "I didn't think about cashing the diamond ace before leading the spade king. But when North showed out it woke me up. I'm sure I would have gotten it right from there. But South won the king with the ace and returned a diamond so I didn't get a chance to prove it. South did hold a singleton club and a doubleton heart, so against best defense it is necessary to win dummy's red aces before using the heart queen. Now let me tell you about the two teeth I extracted yesterday."

Girl playing with cat

Merry Christmas & Happy Y2K from John and Nina

An Interesting Topic

We were at the table drinking coffee, having just finished the traditional family Christmas dinner. There was a momentary lull in the conversation.

"So you hold ace, king. queen. nine. deuce, ...", I was never at a loss for interesting topics.

"Oh, no". Nina voiced her opinion.

"I didn't complain during 36 straight days of watching the Florida recount."

"34," Nina corrected.

"Here, Sid and I played this hand on OK." I handed paper to Jill at one end of the table and to Jamie and Ed at the other, ignoring the interruption, "I have the problem written out."

None Vul, South Deals



South West North East
1 1 Dbl 2
3 Pass 3 Pass
5 All Pass

You lead the A, partner follows with the J and declarer the 3. How do you continue?

"Gore would have won if everyone in Florida knew how to read a ballot." Nina was conceding neither the election nor the topic of conversation.

"I lead the Q", Jill was, as usual, the quickest to answer.

"How do you know declarer has only one spade," I proded. "Wouldn't partner play the J with jack-ten tripleton?"

"He shouldn't." Ed entered the discussion. "In this situation a high card should be count. With three spades partner would play the lowest. Besides, it probably doesn't make any difference. A diamond discard will likely be as useful as a spade discard. I agree with Jill. If you continue spades declarer will ruff, pull trumps and duck a heart. The Q prevents a duck both now and later."

"Well then, turn the paper over and tell me how you would play the contract after the Q shift at trick two." This was a two-cup-of-coffee problem. "And don't assume the defender's cards are the same on this side of the paper."


"He had to concede to Bush though. The law is the law." Sid was evidently casting his lot with the Nina topic.

"You have to win the A, finesse the Q, pull trumps and hope diamonds split." Jill announced.

"Wait a second," Ed complained, "After winning the diamond finesse I want to lead a bunch of trumps."

"First off, LHO drops the 10 on the Q. On five trump leads LHO follows three times, then discards two spades. RHO discards three spades."

"Now I play the A," Ed took over the play, "What happens?"

"LHO plays the J and RHO drops the K." I wasn't going to make it easy. "You have to decide if there is a better chance that diamonds split or if RHO has both diamonds plus the ten and nine of hearts."

"Nobody defends that cleverly." It was Jamie. She was known to offer assistance to Ed when he was faced with difficult bridge problems. "Cash the other trump and squeeze RHO out of his fouth diamond, then you can win the J and toss him in with a diamond."

There was general agreement. "Just another stepping stone squeeze," Jill said, "How did the deal go when you and Sid played it on OK?"

Sid answered, "John opened one club, the next hand bid one spade, I doubled and fourth hand made a preemptive raise to three spades. John doubled responsively, I passed and we collected our 500."

"I think the best play is a low heart at trick two." I said, going back to the original problem. "Declarer will 'know' that a good defender would lead the queen if she had it. He would win the A, finesse the Q and hope for three-three diamonds."

"Won't this ever end," Nina was exasperated.

"Yes, Sweetie," I leaned over and kissed my wife, " Merry Christmas."

Christmas Greeting Postcard

Mystery Opponents

"Nice bidding." I suppose at Christmas dinner one would expect to hear 'Nice pudding' instead. But when the entire group plays bridge, admittedly some with more enthusiasm than others, such comments are commonplace.

Partner and I had played a session on the Internet Christmas Eve and I was showing one of the deals. Six diamonds was a great contract. After partner had shown diamond support and the heart void by jumping to four hearts the small slam was easy. The danger was getting to a grand slam - not that seven diamonds would have been an unreasonable contract.




North East South West
1 Pass 2 Pass
4 Pass 6 All Pass

"The lead was the 10. I ruffed and cashed the K, everyone following. What's the best line?"

Jill was distracted with hostess type duties giving Ed the first crack. "Two spades, five diamonds, three clubs, and two ruffs in dummy will be sufficient. Of course, there needs to be a trump in dummy when I take the club finesse."

"And there is the little matter of having two entries to your hand - one to ruff a heart and one to pull the last trump, assuming trump are three-one and they must be or this wouldn't be a problem." Jill had joined the analysis.

Jamie spotted the key play. "Give up a club immediately by leading the ten. This also provides the extra entry with the J."

The group approved of the play and offered Jamie congratulations. "It's not quite over," I interjected. "The 10 holds the trick."

"Who were you playing against?" Sid asked incredulously. I ignored the question, asking another. "So now how do you play?"

Ed was ready, "Cash two spades, ruff the third with the A, back to dummy with the Q and ruff another spade."

"That was my idea, but when I led the second spade towards the king, my left hand opponent discarded a heart. It seemed the defense didn't want to win any tricks. Are there any chances remaining?"

By this time Nina, at the bottom of the enthusiasm list, was giving me the look, so I didn't wait for a response. "I could have come to the A and let the J ride if the diamonds didn't split (they didn't) but instead ran all the trumps coming down to:




"LHO threw the nine and king of hearts while RHO threw two spades and two low hearts. The simple play is to win the top clubs hoping the Q will fall. I could also try to endplay either opponent; by leading the J to the ace and tossing RHO in with a spade, or by running the J and then leading a heart. But for either of those to win the opening leader must have underled both the ace and king of hearts on the go."

"So what happened?" Everyone was interested.

"I had taken a long, LONG time to play the hand. The opponents had already announced that this was the last hand - they had to go to work - but who has to go to work on Christmas Eve? They said good-night and closed the table. I never did find out what the layout was."

"Who were they?" Another group question.

"One had the moniker "Rudy" and the other "Nick". I had not seen them on OK before."

Silence, then 'Nice coffee' from Nina.

The Yellowknife Sectional

The Regional at Lethbridge had just finished and I was scheduled to fly to Penticton for their tournament the following week.  With nothing on my calendar I decided to travel to Yellowknife for the Sectional.  The capitol of the Northern Territories has always held a mysterious appeal for me.  Perhaps it is the name; perhaps the location.  Now there was the chance to discover if reality approached my imagination and in the process win a few masterpoints.

Lacking a partner I inquired of locals if there was someone who might provide an enjoyable game.  Soon thereafter I was being introduced to a fellow in unusual attire, a rough cut green outfit including a strange cap and pointed shoes.  My initial impression was that he was to be part of some post-game entertainment.  This notion was dispelled quickly.  His name was Alfred, or so I thought he said, an elf who had made the trek down from his residence at the North Pole. 

We had time to discuss a few conventions and the game got underway.  I did notice that on the entry partner wrote only one name - Ælfred - no more than what would be required of Madonna or Cher - well, that and an ACBL membership number.

Nothing unusual occurred on the first three rounds but I couldn't help feeling that would change as we moved to the next table where two reindeer were sitting.  It was obvious that Ælfred knew them.  The situation became clear as my left hand opponent was introduced as Vixen and Prancer on my right.  I couldn't say much about their appearance.  I know that antlers are supposed to be unique for each animal in the same manner that fingerprints can be used to identify humans.  But if I ever run across either again in a herd I won't be able to tell one from the other.

This was the first board.  Neither side vulnerable, North dealer:



Me (dummy)

Prancer started with 1.  Evidently opening bid requirements are inversely proportionally to latitude.  I doubled for takeout and Vixen redoubled, not having an immediate descriptive heart raise.  Ælfred found an unusual intervention, 3.  Prancer's hand, which heretofore had been of questionable defensive value, took on a new aura.  He doubled and all passed.  I would have been a bit nervous about Vixen's decision to pass.  Might partner not have doubled with a good three-card diamond holding? In any event the final contract was 3 doubled.

Prancer led his singleton spade.  Ælfred, having made a doubtful bid, redeemed himself by playing the cards cleverly.  He inserted the Q from dummy and followed with the 9 when Vixen won the king.  Vixen quickly, perhaps too quickly, led her top hearts.  After ruffing the second round, Ælfred led the 10.  Prancer discarded from his doubleton club, the A winning.  Dummy's other heart was ruffed by Ælfred who proceeded to cash the K and lead a second club.  Prancer discarded a heart this time as dummy won the ace.  A third round of spades was ruffed by Prancer who exited with a heart.  Dummy and Vixen each discarded their last spade as declarer ruffed.  Now came declarer's last spade.  Prancer discarded his last heart and dummy ruffed with the ace.  Dummy led a club and Prancer, down to the KJ10 of trumps had to concede a trick to the Q.  Instead of discarding, if Prancer had ruffed with the 10, dummy would discard and again, declarer would score the Q.  The result of -100 was about average, although no one else achieved the score in a 3 contract.  Can you find a better defense for Prancer?

Ælfred wasted no time in explaining to Prancer that he should have ruffed the third spade with the 10.  Then, when the fourth round of spades was led he could ruff with the 4 allowing partner to overruff with the 7 if dummy discarded.

The afternoon proved to be a very enjoyable session of bridge with the side benefit of learning some interesting facts about elves.  Ælfred scoffed at the notion that elves bake cookies in the hollow of a tree although he admitted that a threesome do have a consulting contract with Kellogg's concerning the marketing of Rice Crispies.  I asked if he or the reindeer ever went to other tournaments.  He said this was the only one, that there were no airports close to home and when they did try to fly there had been some ugly experiences with homeland security.  I pressed the issue asking why Prancer, Vixen, and the other reindeer didn't simply fly themselves.   Ælfred replied, "The jolly fat guy is the only one who has the magic and he seems to think one day a year of travel is enough." They make do with home team games and Bridge Base Online.

And what about the mystery of Yellowknife? You'll just have to make the trip yourself.

Yellowknife from Pilot Hill

Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere

Having researched and reported various Christmas related events at the North Pole in the past it seemed worthwhile to investigate the Yuletide situation at the South Pole. The first question that came to mind is why Santa Claus would choose North over South in the first place. After all, there is solid ground down South; only frozen water up North. A continued global warming trend would be a significant problem to the entire Claus operations.

I was unable to resolve this question. No one with relevant information was available for comment and the literature is strangely silent on the subject. One is left to speculate. It is well known that penguins do not fly. Perhaps reindeer and other workers such as elves were simply not available to support the complex Santa Claus enterprise at the South Pole. Having struck out in my inquiry I switched to a less difficult, if no less interesting question for us northern hemisphere residents: How is Christmas celebrated in Australia? There is no winter wonderland - it can be downright hot during an Australian December.

Many facets of Christmas celebration are the same in Australia: carols by candlelight, greeting cards, exchange of gifts, Christmas trees (maybe a Christmas bush or just a branch), and lots of delicious food. There might be quandong pie, riberry jam, muntrie berries, and Victoria River plums. There is no consensus on Santa's dress or mode of travel. Some claim that when Santa crosses the equator he stops at Christmas Island to shed his heavy coat. He is said to switch out his sled for a cart with wheels (after all, there is no snow on which to make rooftop landings) and the reindeer give way to eight kangaroos. There is no direct evidence of these changes. And there are at least three different Christmas Islands.

I did come across a tale of a holiday time bridge tournament. It seems there was a controversial occurrence at the 1934 Launceston Congress. The last round of the Swiss team event saw first prize being contested by two all-marsupial teams. At the table of interest Claude, a long-nosed potoroo was North, partnered by Whitey, a white-footed dunnart. West was a Tasmanian devil whose name has faded away over the decades. He was paired with Theo Lacine, an older, irascible Tasmanian tiger. It wasn't clear if the disposition trait was the result of age or simply the nature of the beast. After a few relatively quiet deals a challenge arose for both declarer and the defenders.

South deals, North-South game
Theo Lacine.
The T.D.


The T.D.
South West North East
Whitey The T.D. Claude Theo
2Pass 3Pass
3NTAll Pass

The T.D. led the obvious J, won by declarer in hand. Whitey could see that the contract was cold if hearts split evenly, otherwise there was little chance; West's double of 2 had indicated that almost certainly the missing club honors were at his left. In any event another trick would be needed to go along with the three spades and hoped for five hearts. Accordingly, declarer led the Q which held, West giving count. There was no rush to try the main chance so declarer decided to try the effect of the K. This was won by the T.D.'s ace and a second spade was led, won in hand by declarer. Whitey decided to try a second club honor from his hand. This might squash the 10 in the West hand but the important consideration is that communication in the club suit between the defenders would be eliminated.

The T.D. won his Q but Theo did not produce the hoped for ten, instead giving count with his second low club. West exited a third spade. Whitey gave the situation careful consideration. If Theo began with 3-4-4-2 distribution including the A he could be forced on play with the fourth round of hearts and would have to concede two diamond tricks to dummy. If he began with 4-4-3-2 shape instead and held both the A and the J he could endplayed by leading dummy's K. Dunnart's are well known for great instinct with regards to both play of the hand and the location of edible spiders. Backing his judgment, Whitey led the K from dummy. East cashed his long spade but was then in a hopeless situation. Even leading the J to prevent the run of the suit would not help, for the 10 would be an entry to the good diamonds. The game contract was made on the nose.

Theo began railing against the T.D. almost immediately for his failure to cash his 10 before leading the third round of spades. The discussion was not long one-sided for the T.D. was soon responding to the insults being hurled at him. The tournament director had to be called to insure that the last board could be played, a meaningless 2 contract.

Although Theo and the T.D. did not exit the playing area together they somehow managed to meet again a short distance from the entrance and the confrontation began anew. Exactly what happened then is not clear. Bystanders were not forthcoming when the incident took on increasing importance a few months later. One reluctant witness stated that he heard Theo explain to the T.D. exactly where all devils belong. Another said that he had heard strange noises coming from the brush a short distance away. T he tournament was held at a resort near Turners Marsh and much of the area was undeveloped.

The T.D. did not bother to claim his second prize nor was he ever seen at another bridge congress. The dénouement for his partner is more striking. Not only was Theo Lacine never seen again, nor was any other Tasmanian tiger. The investigating committee at Hobart inquiry in June of 1935 made no judgment about the incident at Turners Marsh, but who is to say.

Australia Holiday Greetings

Last update: March 16, 2010