Please click here if you do not see a Nav Frame at left and Header Frame above - you'll need them!


By Tom Sloper

January 20, 2008
Column #349

American Mah-Jongg (NMJL rules). I love it when a reader asks a question (on the Q&A BB) about a situation that's not covered in the rulebook. And such was the case on January 14. In the following, all names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Esther had named and discarded a tile. Let's say it was 1D. Nora paused a beat, to give her friends a chance to claim the discard, and then she reached for the wall and took a tile from there. Before racking it, she looked at it and saw that it was her maj tile. She inhaled and spoke. "Maj!" "I want that!"

In this limited medium of text, it can be difficult to tell what happened just then. Let's play the audio back.

"I" "Maj!" "want that!"

Need to hear it again? It was two voices speaking simultaneously. At precisely the exact same time that Nora was saying "maj," Sophia belatedly called for the 1D discarded by Esther. You know what happened next: a probably heated discussion in which conflicting opinions were aired but nothing resolved in a good way. Most groups don't have a copy of the NMJL rulebook (and several recent annual newsletters, which serve as appendices to the rulebook) (or my book, which contains up-to-date rules in one package) to decide conflicts like this. So they're left to decide these things on their own. And it doesn't always work.

But the way I outlined it above, it ought to be obvious who should get the play.

Although it's true that, as I've said before, it's not a race to see who gets to take a tile when two want it, this case involves more than just speed. And although Nora hadn't racked yet when Sophia claimed the 1D, this isn't a "window of opportunity" case. There are two reasons why Nora gets the play. One of them I gave you, early in the description of the incident. Before picking from the wall, Nora paused a beat after Esther discarded. That simple fact gives her an undeniable edge in this dispute. Sophia had plenty of time to act. The usual "window of opportunity" rule (that the window stays open until the next player racks or discards) doesn't give a player an infinite amount of time to act. Besides, Nora's saying "maj" also closes the window. The sticky thing is that it was said at the same time that another player called the discard, right?

Well... two things. One, as stated above, Sophia had plenty of time because Nora had paused a beat before picking. Two, and very importantly, a maj call trumps an exposure call. Every time. So when one person says "maj" precisely when someone else is saying "I want that," the maj call takes precedence.

Have you had something happen in your game that wasn't covered by the rules? Tell Tom all about it, at, and your story could be a future column.


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 2008 NMJL card yet? Read FAQ 7i.

Need rules for American mah-jongg? Tom Sloper's book, The Red Dragon & The West Wind, 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).

Jay Firestone of the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles has posted a nice video about a young man (himself) learning to play American mah-jongg. You can see it at

© 2008 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.