By Tom Sloper

September 7, 2003

Column #122

American mah-jongg (2003 NMJL card). Here's another snapshot of a hand I played at the Marjorie Troum Mah Jongg Tournament West at the Flamingo Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas in late August. I was holding:

I was waiting for 3B for 2003 #4. My opposite player was showing:

I could see that she was in my hair. She was working on 369 #2, needing a pung of 3B. She could well be holding her three 3Bs already, waiting for F or 6B. My chances of obtaining the case 3B were poor. If anyone picked it, it would be held so as not to incur a penalty for throwing into two exposures. I only had two hopes: I might pick it myself or she might get all four and have to discard one. Both were as unlikely as someone else throwing it for me. So I changed my call at the earliest opportunity. I picked 3C and discarded 2B, now waiting for 2C instead of the low-probability 3B. There were two 2Cs on the floor, so it seemed likely that someone would discard one if she picked it.

Then... you're probably already ahead of me... I picked the unlikely case 3B.

It was deadly to throw, so I kept it, wishing (of course) that I hadn't done the smart thing by discarding 2B before. Now I had to wait and hope to pick another 2B. I never did. It was a wall game.

This past Thursday in my weekly game I was having a poor night. Over two hours into the evening, I hadn't won a single hand and I'd "gone pie." One of the players asked me, "So how did you do at the tournament?" I told her, "This is pretty much the way the tournament went." I was exaggerating for effect. I did win a number of hands at the tournament - I didn't bring home a top prize, but the experience wasn't nearly as dismal as Thursday night's game.

But back to the tournament. Let's look at another situation. South was showing:

There was no way of knowing if she was making 2003 #4 or Like Numbers #3 except by analyzing the discards and guessing. Seeing more than two soaps on the floor - or all four of any one wind - would mean that the player could only be making Like Numbers. But if she's making Like Numbers, then which number? It's challenging to analyze based on discards. North discarded and South "mahjed" on it.

In my role as East, I noted the score. "25 for South," I said, "and minus 10 for North." The tournament rules stipulated this penalty for throwing into two exposures.

North objected. First she denied that the penalty applied in this case. Then she questioned the reasonableness of the rule. "That isn't two exposures," she cried. "It's all flowers." The rest of us disagreed with her on that. Two pungs is two exposures, we insisted. "Well, how can anybody tell what's dangerous to throw based on that?" She objected. She gave up arguing the point before it became necessary to call a judge to the table to settle it.

As it turned out, I myself threw to two flower pungs later in the tournament. I had to dock myself ten points. When that happened, a different set of players was at the table - and nobody at the table raised any of the points that other North player had.

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 are at http://www.sloperama.com/mahjongg/vegas03.htm.

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 . Photos of Dragon's visit to Los Angeles are at http://www.sloperama.com/mahjongg/dragon.htm .

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Copyright 2003 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.