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By Tom Sloper
Cinco de Mayo, 2019

Column #720

American Mah Jongg (2019 NMJL card). Let's talk more* about that "new" controversial NMJL rule: the one that says opposing claims for exposure should go to whoever exposes first. That's not really what it says, and it's not really a new rule. I have complained that this rule opens the door to "slam-exposing." Where did I get that idea? See the League's wording of the rule:

2007 NMJL newsletter:

2013 NMJL newsletter:

Mah Jongg Made Easy (2018 revision, page 19)

2019 NMJL FAQs:

An aggressive player can read any of those and interpret the rule to mean "First player to expose gets the tile." This is not the intent of the rule. The intent of the rule is to state an exception; claiming a discard is not a race, but if you speak up too slowly, somebody else can take the discard. An exception shouldn't be twisted into a strategy. But people do, and I wish the wording forbade aggression.

Why do I insist aggressive players will interpret the exception as a strategic ploy? Because of how so many players misinterpret another rule: the Window of Opportunity rule. The window for claiming a discard opens when the tile is "down," and it closes when the next player racks, discards, declares mah-jongg, or exchanges a joker. When beginners learn that racking closes the window, they often think it means that when their turn comes, they have to pickandrack quickly, to purposely shut out claims for the live discard. And many players falsely believe that a picked wall tile must be racked. Some players even adopt a table practice of "tapping" the picked wall tile on the rack's top, to shut out claimants faster. This aggressive style of play is not the intent of the rule. Yet aggressive play is not at all uncommon in mah-jongg circles. Aggressive players seek all opportunities to shut out other players' claims for discards.

Note that if next-in-turn has spoken, no other player should be taking actions. Also, the rulebook says: "it is preferable to place the called tile on top... before taking the tiles in your rack to make the exposure." This could give the next-in-turn a smidge more time to speak. And that's a good thing.

* I previously wrote about this controversial rule in Column 712.

P.S. May 9. [Added to FAQ 19-H3]
In most cases, when one person speaks and another one not only speaks but also takes action, the one who made the action holds sway. Just remember that next-in-line having spoken prior to the action invalidates the action (next-in-line has priority). So maybe I've been worrying too much about aggressive players using slam-exposing as a tactic.
- Tom

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Question or comment about this column? I often, um... intentionally... "miss" something; maybe you'll be the first one to spot it! Email and the discussion will be posted on the Mah-Jongg Q&A Bulletin Board. In fact, this column was inspired by the Q&A BB emails below.

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).

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