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By Tom Sloper
June 1, 2014

Column #607

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American Mah Jongg (NMJL). Today I want to explain some phrases I use in my American defense strategy columns, so that I don't have to explain them repeatedly (either in-column, or on the Q&A bulletin board in response to reader queries). I've already written column 423 to explain the term "joker bait," and column 604 to explain "the most powerful hand on the card." Today I want to explain and illustrate the terms "key tile" and "dead on the table."

Let's consider a couple of examples.

1. On the 2014 card, this hand can only be Evens #1: 22 44 666 888 DDDD. The hot tiles are 2D 4D and soap. 2D and 4D are "key tiles," since both are pairs and therefore may not be made with jokers. Because jokers may not be used, the player cannot make the hand without two of each tile. Since you know that the player is constrained in this manner, you can look for information on the table. Let's say you see another player subsequently expose a pung or kong of 2D atop her rack, for instance.

This exposure gives you key information: you know that the player with exposed sixes and eights will never be able to make her hand. You can call her dead, and you do not have to defend against that player anymore. Same thing if you see three or more 4Ds visible anywhere on the table, such as among discards - when you see three or more key tiles visible among exposures or discards, that's what I call "dead on the table." Of course, if those three key tiles are in your own hand, you still have key information, but you can't call your opponent dead (since nobody else can see the proof).

2. On the 2014 card, this hand could be either Consec. #1 or #6: 11 22 333 444 5555 or 33 44 333 444 5555. And for the latter hand, there are two ways the hand could be completed (with bams as the pairs, or with dots as the pairs). Accordingly, there are six key tiles: 1C 2C 3B 3D 4B 4D. If any one of those pairs is "dead on the table" (you know now what that means), or is present in your own hand, you know one of her possible directions is blocked off. Let's say you see three 4Bs exposed.

This tells you that the player with the exposed threes and fours has only four key tiles left: 1C 2C 3D 4D. And then if, say, 1C also goes "dead on the table," you know only one hand remains possible for her to make.

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