Excerpted from the introduction to this book:

MAH-JONGG up-to-date

by Milton C. Work



For years, some say for centuries, a game played with attractively designed domino-like pieces which we call "tiles," has been popular in China. For considerably more than a year it has been generally played in the United States under the name of "Mah-Jongg."

Concerning the birth of this game, we have been favored with many theories. Romanticism may incline to the fantastic Chinese legends which tell us that Chinese royalty, for countless generations, played in secret with these beautiful tiles, keeping all knowledge of them from the common people and even from the nobility. The more prosaic may find it easier to accept the story of a Chinese General who invented the game to amuse his soldiers during a long drawn out siege; or that of the Chinese sailors who played Mah-Jongg to ward off seasickness. Those of severely practical temperament will perhaps content themselves with the established fact that this tile game has been popular in China for at least four decades and that it possesses features and attractions which appeal to the Occidental as well as to the Oriental mind.

The exact manner in which we should spell and pronounce an Anglicization of the name given to the game by the Chinese, and even what the name


really is by which the Chinese themselves call it, have occasioned considerable discussion: but all we are interested in knowing is that a game called "Mah-Jongg" was introduced to American players by Mr. Joseph P. Babcock; that subsequently a game called "Ma Chiang" was fathered by a committee composed of American ladies and Chinese gentlemen who held a christening bee in New York; a game called "Ma Cheuk" was graphically described by a very able writer; a game called "Pung Chow" was extensively advertised by an American manufacturing company, and several other "games," called by other more or less similar names, were brought to the attention of the American public; and that all of these variously-named games are fundamentally the same Chinese tile game.

The American public has accepted Mr. Babcock as the father of the game in this country, has fancied the name "Mah-Jongg" which he originated, or translated from the Chinese for American consumption (Footnote: Mah-Jongg is a registered title, originated by Mr. Joseph P. Babcock, as a special name for his form and development of the game), and having found that name to its liking, has naturally and wisely insisted upon adopting it as the American name for the Chinese game, regardless of all historical, philological or orthographical considerations. We have had numerous incorrect variations in the spelling of Mr. Babcock's registered title, such as "Mah


Jong" and "Ma-Jong," but in every case it has been the same game, and these differences in name have not in any way interfered with its popularity. In fact, none of the differences and discussions above referred to have had any material effect upon the game's welfare.

There have, however, been radical and vital differences in the method of playing the game, which have been so numerous as to result in dire confusion; they have transformed the start of many a Mah-Jongg game into a debating society, have created discord and robbed the Chinese pastime of much of its amazing initial popularity. During the winter of 1923-24 it became evident that Mah-Jongg would soon be little more than a memory of clashing Dragons, howling Winds and faded Flowers unless some method of standariza-tion could be found which would prove acceptable to the American public.

Numerous text books appeared, each telling the American people how to play the game; but none obtained a general following because they all expressed the views of some individual who was attempting to force a method of play that he or she favored. In February 1924, when the American public was crying for standardization, with no sign of its approach appearing on the Mah-Jongg horizon, I was contributing to the columns of the New York Herald Tribune a series of articles upon the game. It occurred to me that a popular referendum might indicate the desires


of American players and might produce some satisfactory result.

This referendum was initiated and attracted a great deal of attention because it revealed marked desires along certain lines; and the Auction Bridge and Mah-Jongg Magazine, the only magazine in the country devoted to the interests of the game, seized upon the situation as being opportune for standardization. It followed up the Herald Tribune referendum with another (so as to check the results of the first) and then appointed a Committee of writers and experts to formulate an American Code which should be based upon the desires of the American public as indicated by the two referendums, the results of which-tabulated and reduced to a percentage basis-furnished the first and only authoritative index of the American demand.

This Committee, as constituted in August 1924, consisted of Mr. Joseph P. Babcock, author of "Mah-Jongg;" Mr. Robert F. Foster, author of "Foster on Mah Jong;" Mr. Lee F. Hartman, author of "Standardized Mah Jong;" Mr. John H. Smith, publisher of the Auction Bridge and Mah-Jongg Magazine; and Mr. Milton C. Work, Editor of the Mah-Jongg Department of the Herald-Tribune, and author of "Mah-Jongg Up-to-Date."

The Committee found that the outstanding fact revealed by the two referendums was that the Mah-Jongg players of America were about equally divided in their allegiance to three forms of the game; (1) the Mixed-Hand Game, (2) the


One-Double Game, and (3) the Cleared-Hand Game. It at once became evident to the Committee that a code of laws which recognized any one of these three styles of game, to the exclusion of the other two, would antagonize practically two-thirds of the Mah-Jongg playing public and must consequently fail to produce the desired standardization. The Committee, therefore, formulated a single code under which all three styles might be played, and the Laws were so drafted as to enable each form of game to retain its individuality and its distinctive character. The American Code was offerd [sic] to the Mah-Jongg players of the country in July, 1924. It was cordially received and generally acclaimed as having accomplished what all had desired-namely standardization.

Parker Brothers, Inc., who held, by assignment from Joseph P. Babcock, the right to the trade-marked name "Mah-Jongg," immediately approved the new Laws and made them the official American Code of Mah-Jongg.

In this book the American Code is given literally; and in all discussions, it is followed without the least variation.

If any reader finds in the following pages anything which conflicts with his preconceived notions, or is at variance with the practice of his acquaintances, or out of harmony with the teachings of his favorite author, he may feel assured that by following this book and by accepting the American Laws he will be playing in accordance


with the ideas which have been shown to be popular and which have received the stamp of approval from the best expert opinion available.

The author assumes that the readers of this book may be divided into three general classes.

First. Beginners who have been looking for a text book from which they can readily learn the game, and who wish to so learn it that they will have nothing to "unlearn" afterward.

Second. Those who are familiar with the game and with some or all of the various conflicting methods that have been in vogue, and who wish to find out as quickly as possible what the framers of the American Code had to choose from and what they selected.

Third. Those who are not particularly interested in the controversies of the past, but who want to learn and follow the Laws of the standard game.

Part I has been written with the hope that it will furnish information which will satisfy all the beginner's needs. In the preparation of this part, unusual care has been taken to explain the Laws and describe the play in such way that everything connected with the somewhat intricate game should be fully and easily understood. Part II will meet the needs of the readers of the second class, as it fully explains the various plans that have been tried, and tells the reader why the accepted plan in each case was adopted. For the readers of the third class, the complete


Laws and the Chapter on Limit Hands are given as Parts III and IV of this book.

Due acknowledgment is made of the courtesy of Parker Bros., Inc., in permitting the use in this book of their trade-mark name, Mah-Jongg, and of the Official Laws of the game.

Foster was one of the experts who worked together to create "The American Official Laws of Mah-Jongg"

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