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By Tom Sloper
December 30, 2018

Column #712

American Mah Jongg (2018 NMJL card). The calendar year 2018 is drawing to a close, and the 2019 newsletter has arrived in our mailboxes from the National Mah Jongg League. Don't misunderstand: the NMJL year 2018 still has another 3 months to go (the 2019 card will arrive in our mailboxes around April 1). But if you buy your card direct from the League, you get the newsletter in January. The newsletter (or bulletin) always includes rule clarifications. Sometimes those clarifications can backfire.

A rule from the 2007 and 2013 newsletters belatedly sparked a confused controversy on Facebook this week. As of this writing, there are 84 comments from Dec. 27 to Dec. 30 on this 2013 newsletter rule:

Facebookers only now, apparently, realized that this rule existed. They went on a Reddit-like rampage this weekend, decrying this "change" to the rules. Skye T. opined: "Someone made a big mistake by changing the next in turn rule. How can you make it a physical race? Stupid, stupid idea, sounds like a man did this." Okay, it's true that a man is now in charge at the League. But I am a man too, and I've been warning of the danger of "slam-exposing" for a year. Besides, it was a woman (former League president Ruth Unger) who set that rule, before she died. I understand her rationale for the rule (it's in keeping with the principle "making a move commits the player to the move"), but it does unintentionally do what Skye T. said - it makes it "a race" to claim a discard... in some circumstances.

What those Facebookers didn't seem to get is that this does not CHANGE the "next in turn" rule. The next player in turn still gets the tile... provided that she isn't too slow about it. There IS such a thing as being too late, even if claiming a discard is not a race.

The rule is meant to be a fair solution for a situation in which the next in turn doesn't announce her call for the tile until after another caller has already exposed her own tiles. The rule is fine at doing that, but my complaint has always been that the rule wording does not prevent "slam-exposing," by which I mean a not-next player acting so quickly that next-in-turn didn't even have a chance to call for the tile herself.

Conflicting claims for a discard can be highly charged, and a well-worded rule could break an impasse with minimal hurt feelings. As I mentioned in FAQ 9, it's inevitable when a conflict occurs that someone will be less happy. Feelings would likely be less hurt if there were clearly worded rules.

For more about this controversial rule, see Column 720.

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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).

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

© 2018 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.