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By Tom Sloper
April 12, 2020

Column #736

American Mah Jongg (2020 NMJL card). I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy. Playing online is the way to go, unless your group lives in one dwelling and have been following the safety guidelines of your governor and mayor. I have a few more things to say about the new 2020 NMJL card. This week: offense. When choosing a hand to go for, consider recurring patterns and structures. For example, four-pungs-and-a-pair hands, two-pungs-and-two-kongs hands, and three-pair hands.

Four pungs and a pair. Pungs are obviously much easier to make than kongs, and there's only one pair in these hands. These hands would be "too easy" to make (creating a play imbalance), so the League always marks these hands with a big C, meaning you can't call a discard to expose a pung. But don't let that C cow you; these hands should not be struck off your list. This year there are only four: Evens #8, Consec #7, Consec #8, W-D #7.

Two pungs and two kongs. These hands contain no pairs, thus should be an important part of your offensive strategy.

*The above hands include the "#2 hands" - that is, the biannually alternating hands that usually appear in the second line of a section, as I mentioned in the previous two columns. The *marked hands work well together strategically, allowing a player to fool opponents into thinking she's making one of the others (as frequently described in these strategy columns). In particular, Consec #3, "the most powerful hand on the card." All these 2-pung/2-kong hands are important, because jokers may be used anywhere in the hand. This makes these hands very flexible and strategic. Don't pooh-pooh the easiness of these hands. Experienced players use every trick in their arsenals.

Three pairs. Any hand with three pairs is hard to make, so its value is raised to 30¢. But the League has valued the exposable 2020 hands at 25¢, even though each hand also requires a separate pair. Those hands are essentially three-pair hands. It remains to be seen if the 2020 hands will be harder to make than, say, a comparable 2019 hand. Check W-D #2 vs. 2020 #2, for instance.

It might seem logical that they be scored the same, but whereas NEWS is relatively easy (4 singles), 2020 is less so (equivalent to 2 pairs). Three-pair hands on this card (including the *2020 hands but not including any C hands) are:

When deciding whether or not to go for a three-pair hand, consider that pairs are hard to make, because they (1) can't be exposed and (2) can't include jokers.

Next week: defensive strategy tips for the 2020 card.

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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. Hit me with your best shot!

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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