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By Tom Sloper
April 14, 2019

Column #717

American Mah Jongg (2019 NMJL card). Did you look at the back of the 2019 card yet? The left pane has been made over. The scoring information has moved from the top to the bottom, and gotten a label: SCORING. This section has been completely rewritten, and no longer includes red text. This movement of scoring to the bottom makes tremendous good sense; the left pane is now organized per the order of events during play! Starting at the top with the "key to the other side of this card" stuff is particularly useful for new players. Applause!

Let's return to the front of the card. A reader wrote me this week about the use of fives, so let's get into that now. The 2019 card makes intense use of kongs of fives, in Addition and in Odds (13579). At the bottom of the left pane, a kong of fives is required in all three of the Addition variations (5+6=11, 5+7=12, 5+8=13). Now shift right to Odds; the first three hands all require kongs of fives. And the heavy use of fives extends beyond those examples. Reader Margaret T noted that in all, kongs of fives "could (or must) be part of 24 different hands."

Then there's the matter of pairs of fives, which are required by Consec #1, Odds #5, Odds #6, and S&P #4. (Did I get them all? Can you spot more?) If one player is making a kong-of-fives hand and another player is making a same-suit pair-of-fives hand, somebody's in trouble. Strategy tip: don't go for a pair-of-fives hand unless you have the pair of fives in the Charleston.

Fives have always been a useful number to have, since five is in the exact center of the 1-9 range. Fives can be used in all sections except 2019, 2468, and 369. This year's extra heavy demand on fives suggested a strategy tip from reader Linda Z: "I'm thinking maybe I should avoid passing them in the Charleston except when absolutely necessary. (Like I avoid passing flowers.)" I think that's a pretty good idea.

I learned a great tip from a champion Japanese player at an international MCR tournament. Statistically, opportunities for runs are most numerous in the middle of the 1-9 range.

Accordingly, when choosing which tiles to dump, work from the ends (the terminals) inward.

That Asian strategic principle applies to Consecutive Run hands in American mah-jongg. But this year the 2019 card may cause fives to be harder to get. So opportunities for runs may cluster in the 1-4 range and the 6-9 range (below and above 5).

So when deciding what tiles to dump, assuming you don't already have your fives, work in either high runs or low runs.

In Consec this year, there are two 4-number runs (#2 and #4), two 3-number runs (#3 and #7), and two 2-number runs (#5 and #6). The 2-number and 3-number runs can fit easily into the 1-4 range and the 6-9 range, with wiggle room (which comes in handy when changing hands).

...Then again, sevens were in extra demand on the 2015 card; anyone recall a shortage of sevens that year?

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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.

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

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.

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