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By Tom Sloper
April 6, 2014

Column #599

American Mah Jongg (2014 NMJL card). As I mentioned last week, a thing that jumped out at me from a quick glance at the new card was an inconsistency in structure (a deviation from a tradition of consistent structures). What I mean by "structure" is the pattern of group sizes that make up a hand, without regard to the numbers or designs on the tile faces. Consider Consec. #1. It traditionally alternates between a 2-3-4-3-2 structure and a 2-2-3-3-4 structure:

This year is no exception. Consec. #1 is the alternate structure this year (2-2-3-3-4). But then consider Consec. #2. This hand traditionally alternates between a 3-4-3-4 structure and a 3-3-4-4 structure:

This year, Consec. #2 retains the same structure it had last year. But an even bigger difference is that this structure (departing from tradition) is not consistently echoed across other sections of the card. Normally, when Consec #2 is a 3-4-3-4 structure, that structure is also found in 2468 and 13579 and 369. This year, though, there's a 3-3-4-4 hand in 2468 and 369, so that the 3-4-3-4 structure is used in only Consec. and 13579. There are both 3-4-3-4 and 3-3-4-4 structures on this card, and this has a profound impact on defensive strategy.

When Consec. #2 is 3-4-3-4, and there is also a 3-4-3-4 hand in 2468 and 13579, there is opportunity for misleading two-set exposures, making for a distinct advantage for the exposed player. This year, an opponent can mistake an Odds #2 hand for a Consec. #2 hand, but an Evens #4 hand can never be misread as a Consec. #2 hand, since their structures are dissimilar.

This two-pung exposure can be read two ways:

But this one cannot:

This one, however, can still mislead, despite the structural inconsistency:

This subtle change in the card may have a profound effect on a player's ability to decipher an opponent's exposures. And it may also cause mixups and erroneous exposures for players trying to switch hands. We'll have to play it and see!

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Question or comment about this column? I often, um... intentionally... "miss" something; maybe you'll be the first one to spot it! Email and the discussion will be posted on the Mah-Jongg Q&A Bulletin Board.

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