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By Tom Sloper
August 2, 2015

Column #641

American Mah Jongg (NMJL rules). The question of when a tile is "racked" continues to confound players of the National Mah Jongg League rules. The definition is important because racking closes the window of opportunity to call a discard. Rule 11 on page 18 of the official rulebook, Mah Jongg Made Easy, says:

This ought to be straightforward, but a lot of players have different ideas of what "racking" is. It should be self-evident that the tile would have to be in physical contact with a rack to qualify as being "racked." But that still leaves room for disagreement. See this image, created for a July 17, 2015 post on the Mah-Jongg Q&A Bulletin Board.

There are some players who say that when a tile is at position A, it's racked. There are a lot of people (this writer included) who disagree.

The tile at position B or C has touched the rack, presumably on its way to position D; there are some who would say that this closes the window of opportunity. And there is considerable room for disagreement with that opinion. So that's a problem.

No players would dispute that a tile at position D is racked. In this writer's opinion, the simple fact that nobody would dispute this should seal it; a tile is racked, closing the window of opportunity on the current discard, when the tile arrives at position D.

This is important because the window of opportunity is important. Some players pickandrack (quickly take a tile from the rack and shoot it onto the rack) because they want to keep the game moving quickly, or because if the picked tile is a joker, they understandably want to keep it, or because that's the way they were taught. Pickandrack is aggressive and unkind to other players; to give other players a chance, a player should pause just a beat before picking. I like the official Chinese 3-second rule; a player has 3 seconds from the time a tile is discarded to claim it. And I like it when players observe with their eyes, and not only their ears. I know: I'm a broken record...!

For more on this, see column 481, "More Pickiness." (The "more" in the title refers to column 480, "Picky, Picky, Picky!" Both columns appeared in March, 2011.) And see columns 458 and 639.

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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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