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By Tom Sloper
June 12, 2016

Column #654

Table Talk (American Mah Jongg) "Table talk." What does that even mean? Well, it can mean a number of things to different people, and in different contexts. It might mean chattering about things unrelated to the game, or it might mean talk about what's going on in the game. In regards to the latter, it might mean pertinent talk (as required by the rules, or as necessitated by etiquette), or it might mean what the Chinese refer to as "passing information." American mah-jongg is played mostly by women, and it's normal for some chitchat to occur. Some groups get together primarily for chitchat, with a little mah-jongg as a reason for getting together, and some groups are serious about mah-jongg, wanting minimal chitchat. The rules, and etiquette, call for a certain amount of verbalization. A player is required to "call" for a discard or for mah-jongg. Etiquette calls for speech when redeeming a joker, when reminding other players to serve a wall or to take a turn. But some players have an unfortunate habit of divulging information impulsively, inadvertently, and/or unadvisedly. And that is the primary topic of this column.

There are some players who, unfortunately, are unable to filter their thoughts before letting them escape out their mouths. A classic example was illustrated in an email from Lynn P this weekend. She described a situation in which a player had discarded a redeemable tile, upon which another player blurted out, "Didn't you want that joker?" We've all experienced that. When we were beginners, we may have even done that. When I'm teaching novices, I point it out. But when I'm playing, and someone discards a redeemable tile, I keep my mouth zipped shut. Perhaps the discarder did it intentionally, and doesn't want to draw attention to her action. Or perhaps it was an honest goof, in which case I don't want to embarrass her. And there may be players who aren't as observant as I, and I don't want to give them more information than they deserve.

Here's a situation I've been in more than once. I pick a tile and discard it, then realize that [doh!] I should have redeemed it. An opponent silently and subtly (without any head movements) shoots me a quizzical look. I maintain a fašade of implacable inscrutability, possibly with the slightest of smirks. Situation two: I pick a redeemable tile and mindlessly discard it, and then I'm startled out of my chair by a loud shout of "HELLO??" from an opponent who is simply astounded by my colossal screw-up.

Which of those two situations shows a sophisticated understanding of, and appreciation for, the finer points of strategy and etiquette on the part of the speaker?

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