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By Tom Sloper

September 17, 2006
Column #284

American Mah-Jongg (2006 NMJL card). You can see that a player's hand is dead. Do you call her dead? Or don't you? That is the question.

Esther threw R, and Nora called it. "I want that." She exposed a pung.

Nora discarded. "North." Sophia bent over her card, studying it furiously. Wesley, flying on autopilot, picked from the wall, but before he could discard, Sophia spoke to Nora. "Aren't you dead?"

Nora replied, "Are you calling me dead? Because if you are, you're going to owe me a quarter." But by this time, of course, Esther and Wesley were looking at Nora's exposure and at the card. Wesley told Nora, "I'm calling you dead." Esther added, "Deader than a doornail."

Nora objected, "But she didn't call me dead - she only asked if I was dead!"

Wesley said, "Doesn't matter. Your hand is dead, and that's a fact."

Nora asked, "Why? What are you talking about?"

Esther explained, "Look at the card. The hand you're making has to be concealed."

Nora, befuddled, looked at the card and slumped. "Oh, darn."

In this little story, we see a couple of things. One: Sophia should have made her challenge as a statement, not a question. Two: regardless, stating the death challenge as a question still accomplishes the same thing: a spotlight shines on the challenged hand. Asking someone if she's dead is exactly the same thing as calling her dead. Nora's rejoinder about the quarter would have been correct... but only if Nora's hand was not dead. But, of course, it was.

Most of the time, when you see that someone's hand is dead, it makes sense to call her dead. Why? Because that gives you increased odds of picking a tile that you need (assuming it's in the wall).

When would you not call someone dead? Let's look at a hypothetical situation. The wall is short, and Esther is showing pungs of sixes and eights.

Wesley observes that there are three 5B's dead on the discard floor; Esther's hand is dead. But Wesley's own hand has no jokers - nothing but hot tiles wanted by Sophia and Nora. He doesn't want more picks; the sooner the game ends, the less likely he'll throw a tile to Sophia or Nora. He remains silent about Esther's hand.


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© 2006 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.