By Tom Sloper

September 21, 2003

Column #128

American mah-jongg (2003 NMJL card). Esther was dealt a "three-eight" hand, and she was none too happy about it. The hand was off to a bad start.

Three-eight hands were okay last year, when there were "Eleven hands," but this year's card has no such hands. The only hand in the 2003 card that uses threes and eights is in Singles & Pairs, and she didn't have enough bams to try for that hand.

So she had to pick a family. She could use either the threes or the eights - but not both.

With the eights she could do either Evens or high Runs. With the threes she could do Odds, 369, or low Runs. Five possibilities to consider in a very short time. She only had time to consider "families" (sections of the card), not specific hands. And it was pretty much a tossup. Eight is a lucky number to the Chinese, and Esther had a better feeling about the eights. She passed S-3B-1C to the right.

She got another 8C and another 6D from the left. She'd want to go for either Evens or Like Numbers (eights). She passed 1B-3B-9C across. With what she got from that pass, she had just four odd tiles, and would definitely have to go for an Evens hand.

On the remaining passes of the Charleston, Esther got rid of odd tiles and honors. For the courtesy, she offered two odd tiles. After the Charleston, she had mostly even-numbered tiles.

First discard - 5D. Next pick - 6B.

Esther now had no odd tiles whatsoever, and had to pick a hand so she could throw something. She had pairs of eights in two suits, and just one Evens hand uses eights in two suits - 2468 #7. Which meant that the 8D was expendable. Or she could throw 6C, keeping 2468 #2 open as another possible. That seemed the better plan.

Two 8Bs went out, but 2468 #7 is a Closed hand, and Esther couldn't call. Esther's next eventful pick was 4B. Now she started getting strategic on the 2468 #7 hand. For the twos and fours (especially the fours), bams were better for the low numbers - which meant she'd have a single eight (8D) to turn into a pung, and a disposable pair of eights (8B).

If she wanted to make 2468 #2, her twos and eights would be bams and her fours and sixes would be dots. Which meant she could discard 2C. So that's what she did.

Her next four picks were throwaways, then she got a joker and began to break up the 8B pair. 4B and 6B went out but she couldn't call.

Nora took the 6B, adding to the kong of 7D she'd exposed earlier. Looked like she was doing 56B 7D 8C, Runs #5. And she was in Earl's hair re the 8Cs.

A little later she got a second joker and threw the last 8B.

The next few picks were fruitless. Then Sophia declared maj by self-pick (Like Numbers, nines and dragons).

Esther hadn't had a lot of options at the deal. The "three-eight" deal was bad luck. She was doing the right things, but somebody else had the luck. Such is the way of mah-jongg.

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Copyright 2003 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.