By Tom Sloper

November 1, 2003

Column #134

American mah-jongg (2003 NMJL card). Today I want to discuss the conflicts that inevitably arise when playing mah-jongg, and how to resolve them. Many conflicts are easy to resolve by simply referring to the official rulebook to find the ruling for the event under dispute. For American-style mah-jongg, there is only one official rulebook - it's called "Mah Jongg Made Easy," and it is available from the NMJL (also sold by some online mah-jongg merchandise sites listed in FAQ 4a).

For example, on my bulletin board I am often asked to resolve situations involving the redemption of jokers. The rules for joker redemption are clearly given in the rulebook. Here's an example in play.

East had exposed a kong of flowers, using two jokers.

The next player in turn picked from the wall and discarded an 8B. West exchanged a flower from East's rack, said "call," and made an exposure using the joker she'd just obtained.

East said, "you can't take the 8 bam. Once you exchanged the flower, the 8 bam was dead." A heated argument ensued.

In fact, both of them were wrong. When East posted her question on the bulletin board, I informed her that West was dead!

The rulebook clearly states that before you can redeem a joker, you must be holding 14 tiles in the hand. So if West didn't have an 8B and a joker when the 8B was discarded, she was SOL (that means, um, "so outta luck"). West's redemption of the joker before picking from the wall was a fatal error - any player could call her dead. I recommend that every player have a copy of the rulebook.

Another incident reported on the bulletin board recently was about the timing of conflicting claims for a tile for mah-jongg. The rulebook says that when two players want a tile for mah-jongg, the player whose turn would precede the other's (after the discarder) is the one who gets the win.

For example, let's say East discards 5B. The player to East's right and left both say "mah-jongg." The player to East's right would get the win.

But the question on the bulletin board was about a different case.

East discarded R. The player to East's left declared "maj," and exposed her hand. The players were handing over coins when the player to East's right slowly announced that the R was also her mah-jongg tile. And she claimed that it was she who should be getting paid.

The rulebook doesn't go into specifics as to the timing, so this isn't a case where having the rulebook would have helped. But the NMJL issues a yearly bulletin and the solution to this quandary has been hinted at in that bulletin. Players can write or call the NMJL (the NMJL prefers mail rather than phone queries).

When two people can both win on the same tile, it isn't a race to say who says "maj" first. But that doesn't mean that they shouldn't both speak up within a reasonably short interval. In the instance reported above, the second player didn't say anything until after the winner had exposed her hand and the others were making payment. That's clearly much too long. Assuming that a winner doesn't expose her hand inhumanly fast after the discard is announced, the other winner should speak up before the hand is exposed.

And let me close with a strange occurrence that happened in my regular weekly game just this past week. Did you ever have somebody tell you that you used an out-of-place word in a sentence, and you heatedly denied it? Or did you ever hear somebody use an out-of-place word, ask for clarification (telling the person that she'd used the wrong word), and she heatedly denied it? In such a case, the only way to convince the speaker would be to play back a recording of the conversation. But we don't always have tape recorders running all the time!

Just so, I am relaying this incident as I recall it (I did not have a tape recorder running at the time).

I was East. I discarded 7C. The player to my right picked and discarded, then my opposite picked and discarded, then the player to my left picked and discarded 8B.

The player to my right spoke up. "Call!" She took the 7C and made a kong.

I looked at the player to my left (she's a very observant player) with a querying look on my face. She said, "the current discard is 8 bam, not 7 crak."

Well. The player to my right was very defensive. She vehemently and forcefully argued that she was calling the tile I had just that moment discarded. The player at my left and I were adamant that the 7C was an old dead discard. We weren't yelling, but the player at my right was. The player opposite me shrugged and said, "I wasn't paying attention. Why don't you let her keep the tile."

We couldn't play back a tape recording of the incident to prove to the other two players that we were right. In the interest of harmony, I gave it up and convinced the player at my left to do the same.

Sometimes it's more important to be harmonious than to be right. This is also discussed in my FAQ 9. Click the nav frame at left to read more on this topic.

Today's column is longer than usual to make up for having missed a couple of weeks. If this column is ever syndicated, I promise to obey column length requirements!

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

Copyright 2003 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.