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By Tom Sloper
March 22, 2015

Column #630

American Mah Jongg.

In December 14th's column #624, I introduced my Four-Step Charleston strategy:

At that time, I illustrated the steps through their application in hand examples from the 2014 NMJL card. In about a week and a half, we'll all be using a new card. So this is a much-needed non-card-specific explanation of the Four Steps, in detail. Before I begin, a reminder. Beginners mistakenly think that the purpose of the Charleston is to identify "the one correct hand to go for." That's wrong. The purpose is to choose at least a vague direction, and then to eliminate tiles that don't fit. It's fruitless to spin your wheels trying to find "the one and only hand." The Charleston is about elimination. Before you can eliminate tiles, you need to determine what you have the most of. And that's what the Four Steps are for.

1. Pairs. Look to see what pairs you have gotten in the deal. Sometimes you get no pairs; most of the time you get just one; sometimes you get two pairs, or even three, or even a pung. In this step, all you do is identify pairs or pungs in your hand. Done. Move on.

2. Friends. In step one, you identified pairs -- or maybe you don't have any. If you have one pair, look at the rest of your tiles to see what other tiles in your hand can go together with your pair to make a hand. Tiles that can work with your pair are "friends" of the pair. If you have two pairs, determine if they are friends with one another. For example, twos can be friends with other even numbers, or other low numbers, or flowers, or dragons, or E-W. Are twos and nines friends? No; not unless the card includes a "2+9=11" hand. And I've never seen that combination yet.

Twos and jokers are also friends, but jokers do not give you useful information at this point; the only hint you can get from jokers is "consider Quints" and "forget Singles & Pairs" (if you have multiple jokers).

Pairs not friendly? If you have pairs that are not friends, see which pair has the most friends, and eliminate the other one (break it up).

No pairs? If you have no pairs, you can scan through the random tiles to see if there is any friendly pattern there. Don't overlook 369 and S&P.

If you have identified a hand by now, you don't need to do the remaining steps.

Continued in column 631...
Updated, revised version (2019): column 725.

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Need 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 included in the 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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