|By Tom Sloper
March 12, 2017
American Mah Jongg (2016 NMJL card). In about two weeks, American players will have a new card from the National Mah Jongg League, and I'll have something to write about in these columns again! In the meantime, it's time to settle an issue discussed incompletely in a previous column. I wrote in December 2010 (column #476), in response to an email from Judith O.:
'Suppose after arranging the tiles on the rack, before any passing, a dealer discovers that the self dealt hand is already a Mah Jongg??!!??!!! Does the "Mah Jongg trumps all" rule apply, or (gulp) must the hand be broken for the first *compulsory* Charleston...?'
This rare event is called "Heavenly Hand." Heavenly Hand is recognized and awarded maximum score in all the mah-jongg variants that I know of. But this special event wasn't mentioned in the 1984 rulebook, "Mah Jongg Made Easy." I knew that Heavenly Hand was recognized in the American game, though, because I got that information in a 2010 reply letter from Ruth Unger, the then president of the League. I only recently learned that the League revised the rulebook in 2013. The rule is on page 12. It states that the first right pass of the Charleston is mandatory, with the following "Exception: If East ... draws a Mah Jongg hand, the Charleston is waived." East wins instantly. That's Heavenly Hand. I usually get two questions about this...
1. How much should the winner be paid? Ruth Unger told me that Heavenly Hand is treated as self-pick (all other players pay the dealer double value).
2. But what if the hand was complete after the first right pass of the Charleston? It depends....
I think it's ironic that this "Heavenly Hand" column is column number 666! I swear that I didn't arrange it that way intentionally.
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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. Hit me with your best shot! ...
Who pays if dealer gets a complete hand in the first across?
>From: Jan M
>Sent: Saturday, August 12, 2017 4:42 PM
>Subject: column #666
>When East obtains Heavenly Hand after the first across, blind pass, refuses courtesy, does everyone still pay double or just the across since those were the tiles giving East the Heavenly Hand; same if the H.H. comes from the courtesy pass, who pays double? thank you for keeping us informed.
East does NOT have "heavenly hand" unless she gets a complete hand in the original deal. The hypotheticals in column #666 just say what options the dealer has IF her hand becomes complete in the next couple of passes. None of those scenarios is "heavenly hand" either. It's a misnomer to use the term "heavenly hand" in any scenario other than getting a complete hand in the initial deal.
You're asking about scenario 2.3. in that column: "If she has a complete mah-jongg hand after the across." Since the passes are mandatory, the dealer is NOT permitted to instantly stop the Charleston and declare mah-jongg. She is required to do what you said - blind pass three, and THEN stop the Charleston, then refuse the courtesy. Then she's permitted to declare mah-jongg. Does that indicate a clear-cut situation in which her across clearly gave her the winning tile(s)? Unclear.*
YOU asked the important question that Ruth Unger never answered (and that the official rules do not discuss): who pays what in such a situation?
I'm sorry, but I do not know. I am not the arbiter of the rules. Larry Unger is. He's the current president of the League. You would have to ask him. I recommend you send the question via snailmail (or email, if you know his address). I do NOT recommend asking via telephone, for the reasons stated in FAQ 19-BN. Answers should be gotten in writing.
And again I'm sorry, but I am not going to give you my guess, nor give you my opinion as to what I think should happen. Only Larry can say.
May the tiles be with you.
Creator of the Sloper On Mah-Jongg column and the Mah-Jongg FAQs -- donations appreciated.
Author of "The Red Dragon & The West Wind," the definitive book on Mah-Jongg East & West.
Los Angeles, California, USA
August 12, 2017
*Did she say anything when blind passing three? Did she clearly announce to the table, "I'm blind passing three tiles. And I'm stopping the Charleston. And I have no tiles for the courtesy, because I have mah-jongg at this moment"? If she did, then it's clear from whom she got the winning tiles. But if she didn't make the announcement at the moment, then she has to rely on convincing the others through memory and logic after the fact. I mean, what if nobody noticed she blind passed three? Consider that when someone wins by discard, she has to announce it at the moment.
Anyway, as I said, I'm not the rulemaker.
See Tom Sloper's 2014 interview at sinovision.net:
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 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).
Where to order the yearly NMJL card: Read FAQ 7i.
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