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By Tom Sloper
January 28, 2014

Column #628

American-style Mah-Jongg. This week I dissect and analyze the controversial question raised recently by Bill and Judi Nachenberg on the Mah-Jongg Q&A Bulletin Board. It was based on something that happened in one of their "Mah Jongg Fun L.A." tournaments. A player called a tile, used it to make an exposure with a joker, then immediately redeemed that joker and declared mah-jongg, calling the win self-pick. I don't know what exact hand was made (I wasn't there), so I'll illustrate it with a plausible example. In these illustrations, the top line of tiles shows the player's exposures, and the bottom line shows the player's racked (concealed) tiles.

The above is the player's first action. The 5B had been discarded by another person at the table. The player claimed the 5B, then exposed two other 5Bs, and one joker. Then, the player did this:

Redeeming the joker she'd just exposed, she declared mah-jongg, and put up the rest.

She said that because the last act was to redeem the joker, the hand was self-picked, and she should get the self-pick bonus. Ruth Unger, the League's president, later ruled that it wasn't self-pick, because the player already had all the tiles she needed, except the 5B. And I agree. The discarder gave mah-jongg.

Using the joker to expose it and then redeem it all in the same turn amounts to sleight of hand, taking advantage of loosely-worded rules. (The printed rules say only that redemption can happen "when it is player's turn.") If the player had previously exposed the 5B kong, and then, on a subsequent turn, picked 5B, that would legitimately have been self-pick.

It's unfortunate that the official rules are written so loosely. The League has a responsibility to its members to provide detailed and clearly-worded rules.

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Need detailed, clearly-written rules for American mah-jongg? Tom Sloper's book, The Red Dragon & The West Wind, is the most comprehensive book about the American game, including official rules not in the outdated official rulebook. 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).

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

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