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By Tom Sloper
October 29, 2017

Column #691

American Mah Jongg (NMJL rules). The moment of declaring mah-jongg comes with a heady rush of excitement, and when that moment goes awry, excitement can instantly turn to frustration, anger, and arguments. Two illustrative controversies appeared in the last nine days on the Q&A Bulletin Board.

Oct. 20 post: Joan and Carla were in a casual home game, and Joan declared mah-jongg. Unfortunately, she picked up the wrong tile from the discard floor. It would have been easy to simply let Joan take the correct tile for the win, but her opponents called Joan dead. Carla argued their reasoning: "It is a rule that you must play with the tile you picked up. ...if you let rules slide, then pretty soon you won't have rules." I agree with the latter, but find fault with the former. There is no written rule that specifically says that a player who picks up a wrong tile in the course of mah-jongg cannot rectify the error. I imagine Carla was inferring the "play with the tile you picked up" principle from the League's printed rules regarding picking from the wall, calling a discard, or discarding a tile. It is not illogical to infer principles, but there is another principle apropos to this instance: "mah-jongg trumps everything." This principle is also not written per se, but consider that you can never call for a single or pair except for mah-jongg, that you can never call on a concealed hand except for mah-jongg, and then there is also Judy R's case (below)...

Oct. 27 post: Judy R was in a tournament when a player misnamed a discard, saying "white" although the discard was actually a flower. A player said "mahj" for the white, but then it was discovered that the discard was a flower, and another player said "mahj" for the flower. The judges ruled that the player who wanted white got the win, and a major brouhaha erupted. On the back of the card, it says (colors added by me): "MISCALLED TILE: A tile cannot be claimed until correctly named. Correctly named tile may then be called for an Exposure or Mah Jongg. HOWEVER, if Mah Jongg is called with the incorrectly named tile, the game ceases. Miscaller pays claimant four times the value of the hand. Others do not pay." Let's examine two situations, following this color scheme:

I am waiting for a flower to complete my hand. Another player discards a flower (I can see that it's a flower) but she says "white." I cannot call it, so I tell her: "That's not a white dragon." When she says "flower," then I can say "mah-jongg."

I am waiting for a white dragon to complete my hand. Another player discards a flower and names it "white," but I am not looking - only listening. I say "mah-jongg!" The discarder made a big mistake; I win, and she pays for everyone.

In Judy's tournament, both cases existed at the same time. The (green) sentences beginning with "HOWEVER" take precedence over the preceding (blue) sentences. In essence, "a tile cannot be claimed until correctly named, except for mah-jongg." The judges ruled correctly.

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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 every player should have a copy of Mah Jongg Made Easy, the official rulebook of the National Mah Jongg League (see FAQ 3 for info on mah-jongg books).

Where to order the yearly NMJL card: Read FAQ 7i.

© 2017 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.