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By Tom Sloper
April 5, 2020

Column #735

American Mah Jongg (2020 NMJL card). Continuing my analysis of the 2020 card. I count 54 hands (line items). 6 are holdovers from last year; 19 are repeats from a previous year; 8 are variations on previous hands; 5 are biannual alternators, and a whopping 16 are new. Note that I did not check cards from before 2000.

Note that six of the New hands are actually variations on previous hands, but I counted them as New if I thought the variation was novel. For example, Consec #4: 111 2222 333 DDDD, a 3-number run with a dragon kong tail. In all previous hands fitting that description since 2000, the hand was two suits, with the dragon matching the suit of the middle number, and usually the dragon and middle number were pungs (not kongs). 2016's Consec #4 was 111 2222 333 DDDD, a dragon kong variation in two suits. This is the first time the hand was one suit, so I counted it as New.

The biannual alternators are Evens #4*, Consec #1, Consec #3*, Odds #3*, and 369 #1*.

The hands marked with asterisks traditionally occupy the #2 spot in their respective sections, but they've all moved this year. In even years, these "#2 hands" are pung-pung, kong-kong hands (4-number run, 2 suits) and in odd years they are pung-kong, pung-kong. 111 222 3333 4444 versus 111 2222 333 4444, for example. I'll talk more about these "#2" biannual alternators in another column.

Odds #1 has traditionally alternated shape every other year, but this year I counted it as a variation, not a biannual alternator. Last year Odds #1 added a three suit version for the first time, and this year the hand alternates logically. 11 33 555 777 9999 (pair-pair, pung-pung, kong) is surely going to alternate with 11 333 5555 777 99 (pairs on the ends, kong in the middle) going forward, but the three-suit version is still new, this being the paradigm's second year.

2019 was the Year of the Pung (there were numerous flower pungs and exposable dragon pungs, which make them strategically significant). But this year: zero flower pungs. Zero exposable dragon pungs; only one dragon pung hand: Consec #7 (C). What's unique this year is the flower quint in two three hands (2020 #3, Any Like #3, Quints #1). So 2020 is the Year of the Flower Quints.

The only very minor problem I've encountered so far is the confusing parenthetical on S&P #3 ("Any 3 Consec. Pairs"), but the hand's symbolism is clear.

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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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