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By Tom Sloper

April 29, 2007
Column #316

American Mah-Jongg (2007 NMJL card). As soon as the new card came out, a spate of questions started rolling in to the Q&A bulletin board. But not questions about the hands on the card, so much as about the rules of the game. In particular, a lot of folks have difficulty with the doubling aspects of the scoring. I wrote about this in a previous column, but it's worth revisiting for new readers.

Some of the most basic and important rules are given on the back of the card. There isn't room for all the rules, but these particular rules can be found right there. Turn your card over. Look at the first sentence, where it says, "When a player Mah Jonggs on a discarded tile, DISCARDER pays the winner double value." The third sentence says, "When a player picks OWN Mah Jongg tile, all players pay double value." Then there's the fourth sentence (in all caps on the card): "Bonus: When a player declares Mah Jongg and NO JOKERS are part of the hand, a bonus is given: double value."

That's just three simple sentences. It's amazing how many people have difficulty with them. "So Player A made maj on Player B's discard. Player B has to pay double, we get that. But Player A's hand is jokerless, so we all have to pay double. But Player B is already paying double. She said she didn't have to pay double double. That'd be 25¢ doubled, 50¢, doubled again, a dollar. She said nobody ever has to pay that much, is she right?" Or this one: "I picked my own maj, and I didn't have any jokers. I told everybody to pay me a dollar, but they said that's just a table rule. We hadn't ever discussed doubling twice before, so I just lost out! Is that right?"

Part of the problem, I think, is that people are okay with playing for cents, but when we get into the realm of dollars, that's a whole new tile game.

Look at it this way: the first three sentences state one rule. The fourth sentence states another rule. Nowhere in either rule does it say, "this is the rule except when the other rule also applies." And it sure doesn't say, "this rule is void when the payment amount goes above 99¢."

It shouldn't have to be stated that if a rule doesn't have stated exceptions, then the rule applies without exception, regardless of the existence of other rules.

Let's look at a hypothetical hand to make clear how this should be handled. Esther discards 2B. Nora says, "That's it!" and shows her tiles.

Nora says, "Consecutive Run, 3rd hand, 25¢. Esther threw it, so she pays double. It's jokerless, so that's double again. A dollar." Then, pointing at Wesley and Sophia: "50¢ for you and you." That's the way it ought to be done.


Click the entries in the header frame, above, to read other columns.

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

Haven't ordered the 2007 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).

© 2007 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.