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By Tom Sloper
May 11, 2014

Column #604

American Mah Jongg (National Mah Jongg League rules). In recent columns, I referred to Consecutive Runs #2* as "the most powerful hand on the card." I'm told that an explanation is due! First, some background. As noted in a recent column, Consec. #2 alternates yearly between a 3-4-3-4 structure (pung, kong, pung, kong) and a 3-3-4-4 structure (pung, pung, kong, kong):

Other than that structural difference, the hand is always a two-suit four-number hand. It's almost always listed in second position (just below Consec. #1). In 2011 and 2012, it was at third position, but wherever it's listed, it's on the card every year.

Consec. #2's makeup makes it perennially the easiest hand on the card to make. Consider: the easiest section on the card is Consecutive Runs, for a simple reason: this section is based on consecutive numbers, and number tiles are the most numerous type of tile in the mah-jongg set. Consec. #2 is the easiest hand in Consecutive Runs, because it needs only two suits (two suits is easier than one suit, and is also easier than three suits), and it has no pairs (meaning you can use jokers in any grouping in the hand), and you can use any four consecutive numbers to make it. It's very flexible (meaning you can switch it, or switch to it, if necessary). There are six four-number runs possible, between 1-2-3-4 and 6-7-8-9.

And there are six possible suit combos, which means there are 36 ways the hand can be made! Note, though, that zeroes cannot be used, so these are not permissible:

I was once in a regular game with a man who would play only Consec. #2 (and never any other hand on the card). (Perhaps he found it too time-consuming and/or too much work to learn the rest of the card every year.) Anytime he made two exposures in two suits (or in one suit but with ones or nines), we could tell what his hot tiles were; although two exposures of Consec. #2 can often be ambiguous, we knew that he would not be making any other hand. He still won a fair percentage of the time, since he never needed a hard-to-get pair, and could pick or redeem a joker.

Although Consec. #2 is the most powerful hand, then, you should not rely on it to the exclusion of the rest of the card. Whenever you find yourself stuck on the horns of some kind of dilemma, though, you can consider switching to Consec. #2.

* Note: in 2014 and in most past years' cards, the "most powerful hand" was at the 2nd position in Consecutive Runs. In 2015 it was at the 5th position, and as noted above, in 2011 and 2012 it was at the 3rd position.

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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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Where to order the yearly NMJL card: Read FAQ 7i.

Need rules for American mah-jongg? Tom Sloper's book, The Red Dragon & The West Wind, is the most comprehensive book in existence about the American game. AND see FAQ 19 for fine points of the American rules (and commonly misunderstood rules). AND get the official rulebook from the NMJL (see FAQ 3). Linda Fisher's website is the only website that fully describes American rules:

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