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By Tom Sloper

July 16, 2006
Column #275

American mah-jongg (2006 NMJL card). Several people recently have asked me for clarification on the practice of saying "same" when discarding a joker. So today we'll examine it through a fictional story. No actual novices have been harmed in the writing of this column! And for heaven's sake, every table should have a copy of the rulebook.

Four players, let's call them Alice, Betty, Charlize, and Dorothy, were still getting to know one another through the game of mah-jongg. Alice is the most experienced player, having started playing many many years ago. Betty is still a beginner; Charlize is very competitive; Dorothy doesn't have all the answers. Betty was concentrating mightily on her tiles. They were most confusing!

She kept rearranging them into different patterns and trying to decide what she should call if the chance should arise. Dorothy discarded a tile and said, "three bam." Betty heard and couldn't decide if she wanted it or not. She didn't want to telegraph her hand, so she didn't ask the others to wait. She rearranged her hand again.

Now Betty mentally kicked herself for not having called the 3B, while Alice reached for the wall and picked. Betty didn't see the subtle change that occurred in Alice's face when Alice saw what she'd picked. Alice threw and said, "same."

Relieved at the second chance, Betty burst, "call!" With her hand over the discard floor, she scanned the tiles for a 3B. "Where is it?"

Charlize told her impatiently, "it was a joker." She pointed it out - right in front of Alice's rack. Betty, looking a little confused, started reaching for the joker but was stopped by Charlize. "You can't pick that up!"

Alice soothed, "you have to take the Three Bam. It's there." In front of Dorothy's rack. Speaking of Dorothy: Dorothy, too, was looking confused. "I never heard of that rule." Charlize was losing patience now. "That's an old rule. You can't take the joker, and you can't take the Three Bam, either. They're both dead." Alice said, "but we've always done it that way." Charlize huffed, "that used to be the rule, but not any more." Dorothy admitted, "I don't know."

From that point, things could get ugly. Or cooler heads could simply say to Betty, "you'd better not take it. You really ought to be paying better attention. And we need to buy a rulebook." Then she of the cooler head could add (for future reference), "let's write to the NMJL," or: "let's look it up on the mah-jongg Q&A website."


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Question about this column? See an error? Email and the discussion will be posted on the Mah-Jongg Q&A Bulletin Board.

Haven't ordered the 2006 NMJL card yet? Read FAQ 7i.

Need rules for American mah-jongg? Go to AND see FAQ 19 for fine points of the American rules (and commonly misunderstood rules). AND get the booklet from the NMJL (see FAQ 3).

© 2006 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.