|By Tom Sloper
April 5, 2018
American Mah Jongg (2018 NMJL card). The 2018 card is now with us. As I analyzed the card this year, I made some interesting observations. First, this card contains more hands than usual. The cards from 2008 to 2016 included 51 or 52 hands. Last year's card listed 53. And this new card lists 54 hands. It remains to be seen what impact there might be from having so many hands listed on the card. Last year there were rumblings about a high incidence of wall games; could be a connection?
Repeat Patterns vs. New Patterns
30% of the hands are repeats from last year, 50% are repeats from previous years, 9% are new patterns not present in cards in the previous 18 years (I didn't care to dig back farther than 2001).
The usual biannual alternating hand structures are present (Consec #1 and Odds #1 have alternated to low-end pairs instead of opposite-end pairs as usual, and Consec #2 has alternated from pung-kong-pung-kong to pung-pung-kong-kong, as discussed in column 698). Because this alternating structure is always reflected in Evens and 369 as well, the alternating-structure hands comprise 11% of the hands. Some may argue my counts, due to different ways to view hands with minor variations. For instance, 2018 #1 is just like 2017 #1 except now it's a 3-suit hand. Odds #5 was last seen in 2002, but it was a two-suit hand then.
The new-pattern hands are 2018 #4, Evens #1, Quints #2, Quints #4, and Consec #7. I don't think the Twelves are all that different conceptually from last year's Thirteens.
Flowers in General, and Flower Pungs
The past couple of years, flowers were sparse in the middle pane (Consec and Odds), but this year flowers are in bloom again. Especially noteworthy this year are the flower pung hands (Evens #1, Any Like Nos. #2, Odds #5, and 369 #1).
Exposable Dragon Pungs
Some years, the card has no exposable dragon pungs, but this year there are several. Aside from 2018 #1, see Consec #6, Odds #4, and 369 #5.
"Like Numbers" is now "Any Like Numbers." It remains to be seen if that will reduce questions.
I believe fives are going to be in very high demand this year. Everybody is going to be looking for fives. If you don't start with fives, don't try for fives.
A tip o' the Sloper hat to sharp-eyed reader D N!
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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! Like this...
>Sent: Wednesday, April 11, 2018 6:44 AM
>Subject: column 699
>I noted with interest your comment on the popularity of "5's" in this year's card. I counted the places that "9's" were used and I think 9's are going to be even more necessary than 5's this year. Or am I missing something? I enjoy your insights/observations.
I did go out on a limb with that one. But look at the 13579 family. Every hand that needs nines also needs fives, but there are also hands that need fives and don't need nines. Also, there is only ONE hand in 13579 that needs fewer than three fives (#6). If you just count the fives in 13579, there are 42! Count the nines - just 27. Of course, nines are needed for 369 (and fives are not). So you may be onto something there.
But we haven't talked about Consec yet. Consec #1 needs either four or two fives, depending on which one you do - and either zero or four nines. But each hand in Consec is a run of sequential numbers, and five occupies the central position in the overall scheme of things, so it's just statistically more likely that fives will be used a lot more than nines in Consec overall.
But this is all just guesswork and approximation on my part.
May the tiles be with you.
Creator of the weekly 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
April 11, 2018 9:20 AM
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