By Tom Sloper

August 10, 2003

Column #110

American mah-jongg (2003 NMJL card). This week we look in on some novice players who are all learning the game together. Eleanor's hand had no jokers to start, and she kvetched about that with her friends. The two players who didn't kvetch in return had just one joker each. ("Only one joker" is worth a small kvetch, but "I only have one joker" just doesn't compare with "Where have all the jokers gone" -- especially when sung to the old Peter, Paul, & Mary tune, so... um, but I digress.)

Eleanor decided to go for 12345 or one of the other run hands. After the Charleston, she was solidly on Plan A.

A few turns later, she faced a small quandary. She had to commit to one hand and sacrifice the other.

It wasn't much of a quandary. She had to sacrifice the fallback hand and go for the main hand. She discarded 3B. Then Suzanne threw 5C. But Eleanor couldn't call it! Then (wouldn't you know) she picked a joker. If only Suzanne had thrown that 5C one turn later...

But thankfully, Suzanne did throw 5C again a few turns later. This time Eleanor could call it. And shortly after that, she had a chance to call 3C. Throwing 4D, she was now ready to maj on 2C.

That's when things got interesting.

Nonnie discarded 5C. Immediately, Suzanne shouted, "Call!" She grabbed the 5C and exchanged it for one of Eleanor's jokers, putting the joker into her own rack. As she contemplated what to discard, Eleanor said, "You can't do that."

"Why not?"

Wilma replied, "Because that's the rule."

Suzanne looked at Nonnie, but Nonnie was busy smacking her forehead for missing the joker. "That can't be right. The joker would be wasted!"

Eleanor grabbed the NMJL booklet and flipped to page 19. "Here it is, joker rule #5. Down is down."

Suzanne reached for the booklet. "Lemme see that." She read the rule then tossed the book back at Eleanor. "It's a stupid rule!" She got up from the table to freshen her coffee and get a snack.

Nonnie stopped slapping her forehead long enough to ask, "I don't suppose I can take it back?"

Suzanne read from page 18. "No. Rule 7. Down is down." She handed the book to Nonnie. Nonnie read it, then smacked her forehead with it.

Eleanor took the book back.

Wilma called to the kitchen, "Come on, Suzanne! Let's finish the hand."

Suzanne came back, muttering, "Stupid game."

By the way, Eleanor won the hand (she got the 2C when Nonnie discarded it -- but at least this time Nonnie only groaned).

Isn't it a good thing that Eleanor had a copy of the official rules at hand? Don't you think everyone should?

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Copyright 2003 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.