By Tom Sloper

September 14, 2003

Column #125

American mah-jongg (2003 NMJL card). This column usually presents examples of good strategy, but sometimes a badly flubbed hand can be instructive as well. Earl made a classic flub in this week's hand. The Charleston had left him with tiles for a number of different hands. An early pick gave him a classic quandary - throwing any tile would kill one of his possibilities.

What were his possibilities?

Earl had six tiles toward the 2468 hand. It's a two-pair hand, and he had one pair but none of the tiles for the other one. The Consecutive Run hand didn't involve any pairs, and the pungs wouldn't be hard to make, but he had no tiles towards one of the kongs - not to mention that he had only five tiles toward this hand. He had seven tiles toward the 13579 hand, but it needed a pair of flowers, and everyone knows that when you need flowers you'll never get any. Let's ignore the fact that flowers are one of the two easiest tiles to get in mah-jongg, since there are eight of them in the set.

Inside Earl's Head
It might help to understand what he did next if you consider that in the several hands previous to this one, he'd tried unsuccessfully to make hands with dragons. Earl saw that the other players were not making 2468 hands. Nobody else was in his hair, so he could call what he needed if he went that way. He knew he would need to get two flowers in order to make the 13579 hand. He had to discard something. The others were waiting. He threw G, then examined his hand again.

Forehead-Slapping Moment
Very quickly he realized that he hadn't killed just the 13579 hand. He'd killed two hands with one discard. As he picked, he got some jokers, but, flustered by the blunder, he missed chances to call tiles. Then 4D went dead. He never did get any flowers, so, as it turned out, he wouldn't have been able to make the 13579 hand anyway.

Dice on the Table
Here's another tale from the Marjorie Troum Mah Jongg Tournament West in Las Vegas last month.

As East, one of my duties was to make sure that the game at my table ran smoothly. After North rolled the dice, North began counting tiles to break the wall, without first removing the dice from the middle of the table. West picked up the dice and put them at her right. I foresaw myself making a mistake if the dice weren't at her left, so I asked her to move the dice to her other side.

As the game progresses, the dice move around the table. First the dice sit at a player's left hand, then after the player rolls the dice, the dice sit at the player's right hand. By merely glancing around the table, anyone can tell who the current dealer is, by the location of the dice. I was worried that after the hand was completed, I would be confused as to who was to deal next, possibly resulting in a situation with the round. So now you understand why I asked her to move the dice.

She objected. "I'm left-handed!"

I didn't have time to explain to her why it mattered to me - and I didn't have time to ask her why her being left-handed meant that normal table protocols oughtn't apply. I just insisted.

She grudgingly complied, but halfway through the hand, I noticed that she had surreptitiously moved the dice to her other side. But having already made a big deal of it, I wasn't going to get confused about whose deal was next. So I didn't say anything more.

Click the entries in the header frame, above, to read other columns.

Copyright 2003 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.