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By Tom Sloper

December 12, 2004

Column #192

American mah-jongg (2004 NMJL card). Although I'm usually pretty easy as far as table rules are concerned, I've known for some time that there were a couple of table rules that I couldn't condone. One is picking ahead, and the other is to play without dice.

I refuse to play with any group who picks ahead because I believe this way of playing generally leads to disagreement and conflict.

I disapprove of foregoing the rolling of dice because that is the very best way I know of to permit and encourage cheating. When dice are not rolled, each player knows that on her turn she'll be getting the first four tiles at the right end of her wall. It isn't difficult to plant jokers there.

I'm not crazy about "hot wall" and "cold wall" rules either, but that's just my personal taste.

I recently learned of another type of table rule that should be avoided. I'd been invited to speak to a group of players in a nearby city, Riverside. They were warm, hospitable, and enthusiastic about mah-jongg. They'd learned the game together, and had come up with a couple of novel rules, including one that especially made a unique problem for me.

My purpose for being there was to teach the group advanced strategy. But the group had a rule that permitted a player to add to an exposure (changing a pung to a kong or a kong to a quint) on a subsequent turn. This one rule made it impossible for me to help them improve their strategy. When a player's exposures do not truly reflect what hand she is making, then normal defensive strategies no longer hold.

The explanation for the rule made a lot of sense. Since they were learning together, the group wanted it to be easy to make hands without having to learn a lot of minutiae right from the beginning. I can't fault this logic. In fact, that's how I teach beginners myself.

I suggested that the group should now graduate to making non-expandable exposures only. That way they'd be better able to join tournaments... and they could get the full benefit of these columns!

One more thing to mention. Notice all the men in the photo? Let it not be said that American mah-jongg is just for women!

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Need rules for American mah-jongg? Go to AND see FAQ 19 for fine points of the American rules (and commonly misunderstood rules). AND get the booklet from the NMJL (see FAQ 3).

© 2004 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.