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SLOPER ON MAH-JONGG

By Tom Sloper
June 9, 2019

Column #725

American Mah Jongg. This is an update to my Four-Step strategy for the Charleston (Columns 630 and 631, March 2015). It's really five steps, but let's not quibble. The steps are as follows:

0. Jokers. How many jokers do you have? If you have no jokers, consider Singles & Pairs in your thinking. If you have one joker, you'd have to discard it if you go S&P (just sayin'). If you have two or more jokers, consider Quints in your thinking as you do the following steps.

1. Pairs. Organize your tiles and look for pairs received in the deal. You may have no pairs, one or more pairs, or even a pung. Also look for any singles groupings matching those on your card (groups of single tiles, like 2019, NEWS, 12, 13, etc.)*. Got those identified? Store the information in your brain and go to step 2.

2. Friends/Collaborators. Now that you've identified pairs (pairs, pungs, and grouped singles are all hereinafter referred to as simply "pairs"), look for hands on the card where you can make the best use of your pairs. If you have two pairs, look on the card for hands that can use both pairs. If you find a hand in which both of your pairs can collaborate, I like to say your two pairs are "friends" for that hand. If you have three pairs, you probably won't find a hand that uses all three, but if you can, you've got a hand! Look also to see what singles you have that are friends with your pairs (that collaborate with your pair(s) to form a hand on the card). If you have no pairs, look for a preponderance of unpaired singles of particular types (winds, dragons, 369, like numbers...). You might only have time to look at families, not individual hands; the Charleston needs to move quickly so that the players don't get lost in the complication of the dance. I wrote more about Friends in Column 630. If you are lucky enough to identify a hand or family in this step, you don't need to go on to steps 3 and 4.

3. High vs. Low. If you haven't made much headway with steps 1 and 2, focus on the numbered suit tiles, with a view towards Consecutive Runs. Count your low tiles (1-5) and count your high tiles (5-9). Note that fives are both high and low, since they're in the center of the suit. Also count your middle tiles (3-7). I wrote more about High vs. Low in Column 631. If you identify a hand in this step, you don't need to go on to step 4.

4. Odd vs. Even. Count how many of your numbered suit tiles are even, and count how many are odd. Note that while all Even hands use all four even numbers, many Odd hands use just three high or low odd numbers. If you have a clear winner, you know which way to go. If you still don't have a direction by this time, pass any three tiles you think best. Good luck!

* The sections in each yearly card's lower left corner differ from year to year. On the 2019 card, the "Addition Hands" family uses numbers that add up to 11 or 12 or 13. Note that "12" and "13" are not pairs; they are groupings made of two singles, just as NEWS and 2019 are groupings made of singles.



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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!

Join Johni Levene's popular Facebook group, "Mah Jongg, That's It!" for lively conversations about American mah-jongg and all things mah-jongg.

Where to order the yearly NMJL card: Read FAQ 7i.

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).

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