|By Tom Sloper
October 29, 2017
American Mah Jongg (NMJL rules). The moment of declaring mah-jongg comes with a heady rush of excitement, and when that moment goes awry, excitement can instantly turn to frustration, anger, and arguments. Two illustrative controversies appeared in the last nine days on the Q&A Bulletin Board.
Oct. 20 post: Joan and Carla were in a casual home game, and Joan declared mah-jongg. Unfortunately, she picked up the wrong tile from the discard floor. It would have been easy to simply let Joan take the correct tile for the win, but her opponents called Joan dead. Carla argued their reasoning: "It is a rule that you must play with the tile you picked up. ...if you let rules slide, then pretty soon you won't have rules." I agree with the latter, but find fault with the former.
There is no written rule that specifically says that a player who picks up a wrong tile in the course of mah-jongg cannot rectify the error. I imagine Carla was inferring the "play with the tile you picked up" principle from the League's printed rules regarding picking from the wall, calling a discard, or discarding a tile. It is not illogical to infer principles, but there is another principle apropos to this instance: "mah-jongg trumps everything." This principle is also not written per se, but consider that you can never call for a single or pair except for mah-jongg, that you can never call on a concealed hand except for mah-jongg, and then there is also Judy R's case (below)...
Oct. 27 post: Judy R was in a tournament when a player misnamed a discard, saying "white" although the discard was actually a flower. A player said "mahj" for the white, but then it was discovered that the discard was a flower, and another player said "mahj" for the flower. The judges ruled that the player who wanted white got the win, and a major brouhaha erupted. On the back of the card, it says (colors added by me): "MISCALLED TILE: A tile cannot be claimed until correctly named. Correctly named tile may then be called for an Exposure or Mah Jongg. HOWEVER, if Mah Jongg is called with the incorrectly named tile, the game ceases. Miscaller pays claimant four times the value of the hand. Others do not pay." Let's examine two situations, following this color scheme:
I am waiting for a flower to complete my hand. Another player discards a flower (I can see that it's a flower) but she says "white." I cannot call it, so I tell her: "That's not a white dragon." When she says "flower," then I can say "mah-jongg."
I am waiting for a white dragon to complete my hand. Another player discards a flower and names it "white," but I am not looking - only listening. I say "mah-jongg!" The discarder made a big mistake; I win, and she pays for everyone.
In Judy's tournament, both cases existed at the same time. The (green) sentences beginning with "HOWEVER" take precedence over the preceding (blue) sentences. In essence, "a tile cannot be claimed until correctly named, except for mah-jongg." The judges ruled correctly.
To read more columns, Click the entries in the header frame, above. Can't see header frame because you're viewing this column in full screen? Tap this icon to see the list of columns with nav frames. Anytime you want to get rid of nav frames, you can just tap a mobile icon.
Question or comment about this column? I often, um... intentionally... "miss" something; maybe you'll be the first one to spot it! Email and the discussion will be posted on the Mah-Jongg Q&A Bulletin Board. If you want your full name to appear, let me know in a short sentence in the email (I'll omit that sentence when posting). Hit me with your best shot!
What if the winner picked up the wrong discard by mistake, part 4
This is a retraction. I'm revisiting what I said to Carla C on Oct. 24th, and what I wrote in [this] Oct. 29th column (#691). I rechecked my sources on the "change of heart" rule as it applies to picking up a discard. My original interpretation was based on this ruling from a National Mah Jongg League newsletter:
2007 (Ruth Unger):
Once a tile has been called for exposure and the exposure is put on top of the rack, player may add to the exposure or take away from the exposure as long as player has not discarded...but...PLAYER CANNOT DECIDE THAT SHE DID NOT WANT THE TILE SHE CALLED FOR EXPOSURE< (sic) PUT THE DISCARD BACK ON THE TABLE, AND THE OTHER TILES [back] INTO HER RACK...A CALL FOR A TILE IS JUST LIKE A PICK FROM THE WALL, ONCE TAKEN...IT CANNOT BE PUT BACK.
That ruling refers to "exposure" - one could also loosely interpret this to include mah-jongg, but Ms. Unger did not specifically include mah-jongg in her ruling. I checked the most recent newsletter and found this:
2017 (Larry Unger):
Q: When is a player committed to take a discarded tile from the table?
A: You are committed to a call when you have either exposed tiles from your hand, or placed the called tile on top of your rack.
This is a wider-ranging statement, since it does not limit the rule to simple exposure. I was mistaken when I told Carla: "Unless I am mistaken (and I often am), there is no written rule that specifically says that a player must 'play with the tile she picked up,' including a mah-jongg declaration play." In addition, I was wrong when I wrote in column #691: "There is no written rule that specifically says that a player who picks up a wrong tile in the course of mah-jongg cannot rectify the error." The 2017 newsletter rule does indeed say that (albeit broadly rather than specifically).
Thus I'm retroactively striking out my incorrect statements. Carla was not incorrect in calling Joan dead for picking up the wrong tile. It was a bit strict (and I still would let Joan have the win), but rules are rules.
May the tiles be with you.
Creator of the Sloper On Mah-Jongg column and the Mah-Jongg FAQs -- donations appreciated.
Author of "The Red Dragon & The West Wind," the definitive book on Mah-Jongg East & West.
Los Angeles, California, USA
October 29, 2017
Join Johni Levene's popular Facebook group, "Mah Jongg, That's It!" for lively conversations about American mah-jongg and all things mah-jongg.
Need rules for American mah-jongg? Tom Sloper's book, The Red Dragon & The West Wind, is the most comprehensive book about the American game, including official rules not in the outdated official rulebook. AND see FAQ 19 for fine points of the American rules (and commonly misunderstood rules). AND every player should have a copy of Mah Jongg Made Easy, the official rulebook of the National Mah Jongg League (see FAQ 3 for info on mah-jongg books).
Where to order the yearly NMJL card: Read FAQ 7i.
© 2017 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.