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By Tom Sloper

May 20, 2007
Column #319

American Mah-Jongg (2007 NMJL card). No matter how carefully a set of rules is written, situations inevitably arise that are not specifically covered. To have two such situations occur in one evening is exceedingly rare. Such an evening was May 4, 2007.

1. Conflicting claims when the priority claimant just wants to "think."

What happened: Player A discarded a tile that was wanted by both players B and D for exposure (neither was claiming it for mah-jongg). Player B called "wait." Player D said, "You're not sure if you want it or not. Well, I am sure. I'm taking it." And then he did. He exposed tiles from his hand, and added the taken discard to the meld.

There are strong arguments on both sides for whether or not he was right in this action.

When two players make a simultaneous claim. The rules are clear. Player B would have gotten the disputed tile, under normal circumstances.

When the claims are not exactly simultaneous. It's not a race to speak first. The NMJL ruled on this in the January 2006 newsletter. It becomes too late to claim a discard once the other player has exposed. Player B could have acted after player D made his intention clear, and before he exposed his tiles. "All right, I've decided already!" But she didn't do that.

And what about common courtesy? Yes, but courtesy is a two-way street. Player B had made a frequent habit of saying "wait," then thinking at length (sometimes for more than 20 seconds), then saying, "never mind, let it go." The others courteously gave her time to think once in a while, but she could have kept her ruminations short, to keep the game flowing smoothly. Player D's courteous patience ran out when it involved a tile that he wanted. In a sense, he'd helped her make her decision more quickly.

The questions: Did player D violate etiquette, or was it player B who did so, with her numerous indefinite-duration time-out requests? Worse, did player D violate the rules, should he have simply waited until player B decided?

2. Conflicting actions when a player has picked her maj tile simultaneous with another player calling for the current discard.

What happened: Player A discarded a tile wanted by player C, who did not speak up immediately. Player B reached for the wall, took, and looked at the taken tile. She said, "mah-..." at the exact instant that player C said, "call!"

Player B hadn't quite closed the window of opportunity before player C made her call. Nevertheless, the table concluded that player B had clearly been declaring mah-jongg, so her action was given priority over player C's simultaneous call.

The question: Do you agree with the table's conclusion? Would you have ruled any differently?


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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? Tom Sloper's book, The Red Dragon & The West Wind, is coming out in June from HarperCollins, and can be ordered through 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.