By Tom Sloper

January 11, 2004

Column #144

American mah-jongg (2003 NMJL card). In American mah-jongg, the strategy is fairly straightforward in concept. If the tiles clearly suggest a particular hand, then of course you would just go for it. But it is usually the case that the tiles are not so clear as to what hand you might make. Normally, then, the strategy is to target multiple hands. At some point, your options usually dwindle down to two; then a decision must be made between those two hands. The most commonly-heard kvetch is "I should have gone the other way."

And of course, this all has to be done quickly, so the other players don't start tapping the table, clearing their throats, or (worse) humming the time's-running-out tune from a now-defunct TV game show.

Consider Wesley's hand:

He had nothing but a pair and one joker. His clear strategy at this point is to keep the pair, and keep any tiles that might work together with that pair to achieve a hand on the card. He passed 1C 3B G right, getting 367D from the left.

His most likely target hand now uses his two pairs for a multi-suit Run - either #2, #4, or #5. But he's missing tiles in each case.

The 23D will definitely go across - for the third tile he decides to get rid of 6C. In the first left, he gets rid of low numbers and the F.

Run #2 is looking more likely, but he has no soaps. He passes the tiles right of the joker, and gets nothing but a 5B in the second Charleston. By his fifth pick, he's obtained 67B, and now considers Run #1. He has a two-way hand: Nine tiles each towards Run #1 and Run #2.

Runs #4 and #5 were still possible, but no longer attractive. Eventually, he picked a joker. He chose to go for Run #2 because he could pung soap if one went out - but he couldn't kong 9B without more.

He called 7D and 6B, and soon was waiting for either a soap or a joker.

But Sophia was in his hair. Her exposed flower pung made soaps and winds dangerous, and nobody threw. Wall game.

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Copyright 2004 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.