By Tom Sloper

August 31, 2003

Column #119

American mah-jongg (2003 NMJL card). This past week I participated in the Marjorie Troum Mah Jongg Tournament West, at the Flamingo Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. I didn't take home a prize, but I did have a fun time and met some really nice people.

One player I met was Phyllis, who was a fan of a computer game I had designed and produced, Activision's Shanghai: Great Moments. "Wait 'til I tell my husband I met you!" she gushed. But that was before I killed her hand.

It was a little before halfway through the hand. Phyllis exposed a pung of flowers, with a joker.

There are only 2 hands on the 2003 card that she could have been playing. The bottom Like Numbers hand, or the 2003-NEWS hand (2003 #4). At this point there was no way to know which.

I was making progress developing my own hand - consecutive 3-number run with dragons (Runs #2).

But I had a problem. Both the 2B and the W were potentially dangerous to discard, if Phyllis was making the 2003-NEWS hand. My next pick was a safe discard, then Phyllis surprised me with her next move.

She picked a flower, redeemed it for her joker, and discarded the joker.

This told me what I needed to know about her hand - she was definitely not making Like Numbers. She was definitely making the 2003-NEWS hand, and she had all her flowers.

I looked again at my hand and realized (belatedly) that the W and the 2B were perfectly safe to throw after all. I knew which tile Phyllis needed. She needed soap. And it was perfectly safe to throw 2003-NEWS tiles (as far as Phyllis' hand was concerned). So I did. The other players at the table gasped when I threw W with a definite air of confidence (perhaps even with a touch of smugness, if you knew to look for it). I threw my 2B, and I also picked and threw the eighth flower (assuming six to be in Phyllis' hand).

Soon I'd picked in a 7D and another joker.

Now I just needed 6B or 8B. Neither tile was dead. 6B seemed a likely discard because there were two on the discard floor. But then, luck eluded me (as it tends to do with predictable regularity at tournaments). North picked her own winning tile.

I did my duties as East and recorded North's score (with 10 points added for self-pick), while Phyllis went into her postmortem. She wondered where the soaps were. I showed her. And I explained that this was why I had deemed twos, threes, winds, and flowers so harmless to throw her. "And I thought you were my friend!" Phyllis pouted. I hope I didn't ruin her liking for my computer game.

The Marjorie Troum Mah Jongg Tournament West was run by Steve and Roberta Last of Travel Wizard. Their website is http://www.travelwizardtravel.com/tourney.htm . The tournament was featured in a Las Vegas Sun article on August 26. The article is online at http://www.lasvegassun.com/sunbin/stories/leisure/2003/aug/26/515526290.html . Photos of the tournament will be found at http://www.sloperama.com/mahjongg/vegas03.htm , as soon as I can!

The tournament was also attended by Taiwanese mah-jongg author Dragon Chang, who was on a book promotion tour. His book is listed in FAQ 3 and is reviewed in full at http://www.mahjongnews.com/leestafelcontentframe_eng.htm?taiwanbook.htm~content . As soon as I get around to it, photos of Dragon will be at http://www.sloperama.com/mahjongg/dragon.htm .

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Copyright 2003 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.