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By Tom Sloper
July 30, 2017

Column #684

American Mah Jongg (2017 NMJL card). Today's topic: wall games and the 2017 card. Several readers have reported an unusual spike in the number of wall games. The mystery is, what is it about this card that might be causing people all over this big country to hit a brick wall?

  1. At first I suspected that a certain tile or type of tile might be too much in demand on the card.
  2. Second theory: in a 1997 newsletter, Ruth Unger opined that wall games are caused by players "dogging" (discarding needed tiles out of a conviction that another player was about to win) too early in the game. The more I think about that, the more I think this may be the key.
  3. As I collected my thoughts for this column, I came up with a third, less likely, theory: that my column has made so many people into better players, and they now play defensively. Yeah, sure.
  4. A fourth possibility occurred to me overnight: it might be that it's now too difficult to switch to another hand after your hand goes dead (after you see by exposures that you need to switch to another hand).

Other than theory #3, it could be a combination of all the above. Each player at the table surely fails to make a winning hand for circumstances that are unique to her tiles. Perhaps one player sees by another player's exposures that she herself is sadly holding (and cannot discard) a hot tile and cannot use it to form a hand (theory #2); perhaps another player is frustrated because a needed pair has gone dead, and she can't switch to another hand at this point in the game (theory #4), while a third player is nearing mah-jongg but her needed tile is being used by another player (theory #1).

What's needed is more data. If you are frustrated by wall games, you can help by keeping count of what's going on in your hand when the wall runs out, and send me your collected data. If enough people send in enough counts, we might be able to figure this out!

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Join Johni Levene's popular Facebook group, "Mah Jongg, That's It!" for lively conversations about American mah-jongg and all things mah-jongg.

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Red Dragon & The West Wind, is the most comprehensive book about the American game, including official rules not in the outdated official rulebook.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.

© 2017 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.