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By Tom Sloper
April 8, 2018

Column #700

American Mah Jongg (2018 NMJL card). In column #698, I wrote of pairs and pungs. Why? We all know that pairs are hard to make. If pairs are the hardest grouping, what's the easiest grouping? Pungs. The recurring pattern "four pungs and a pair" is the easiest pattern to make in American mah-jongg. "Four pungs and two singles" is actually a little easier, but it's basically the same as four pungs and a pair.

Because this pattern is so easy to make, when this pattern is present on the card, you'll find it at the bottom of a section, marked with a C for concealment. The four-pungs-and-a-pair hands would be too easy if exposable, so the League closes them and raises the value a nickel. These are all good hands to go for; don't be afraid of that dark blue C. Players who always avoid concealed hands win less overall.

In column #699, I wrote about flower pungs and dragon pungs. Why? Because these are crucial signals for the defensive player. The instant you see someone expose a dragon pung or a flower pung, you have a lot of information about what that player is doing.

When you see a dragon pung, you know the player can be making only Consec #6, Odds #4, or 369 #5. If the dragon pung is soaps, add 2018 #1 to that list. That one little exposure narrows the field down to a manageable defense.

If the player subsequently exposes a pung of threes or sevens, does that mean she's making the Odds hand? Not necessarily - remember, that Consec hand is flexible. I'll be examining dragon pung defense strategy in future columns.

When you see a flower pung, you know the player can be making only Evens #1, Any Like Nos. #2, Odds #5, or 369 #1. If that is the player's only exposure, you know instantly that flowers are dangerous to discard, since Any Like Nos. #2 and Odds #5 need two flower pungs. A lot of information is gained, by just that one little exposure.

Looking at the array above, one fact jumps out: a pung of flowers with a pung of sixes is still an ambiguous two-set exposure: you can't tell if the player is making Evens or 369. I'm getting a lot of ideas for future columns from just looking at that array.

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Dragon & The West Wind, is the most comprehensive book about the American game, including official rules not in the outdated official rulebook.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

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