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By Tom Sloper
April 20, 2008

Column #360

American Mah-Jongg (2008 NMJL card). Charleston exercises.

1. The two pairs scream "2468," so I put the nines aside right away. Not likely I'll want the 5D either, so that's my first right.

2. There's only one pair - W. There's also an E, which means maybe I should go for Winds-Dragons #5. Last year, the hard part would have been to get three same number pairs. But this year I need same number pungs and a kong. I'm keeping G for now (for a possible W-D #3), keeping the fours and the 6, and passing odds. Lots of odds to choose from: the 1, the 9, and either 7.

3. The sequential pair and pung scream "Consec. #2" - the old reliable. Every year, Consec. #2 is the easiest hand on the card, and that's what this is telling me to go for. My sixes and sevens can be in either suit (already got a 6 in each). I'd pass G, 1D, 2B. Possible fallbacks are the 369 or 2468 families.

4. 13579 for sure. Too bad that hand from last year isn't with us anymore - the dragons may have to go bye-bye. I'm not looking to choose a hand at this point, but I can pass 4C 4B 9C for now. They might return.

5. Consecutive pairs (5B, 6D) clearly cry out for a Consec. hand. The old reliable Consec. #2 again due to 7D. But I wouldn't pass my 6B or 5C just yet - there may be uses for those as well. I'd pass a wind, 1B, and R (not a good idea to pass multiple winds, if it can be avoided, for the first pass).

6. Just one pair: 8B. Only 3 other even tiles, but quite a good amount of neighboring high numbers. Aiming vaguely in the direction of Consec., I pass 2D, 1C, 3B. Might be able to use G for Consec. #3.

7. Two jokers and a buncha junk. So I count odds versus evens, and I count highs versus lows. The lows outnumber the highs, and the odds outnumber the evens. I'd pass 7B 6D 8D.

8. How can I use the 8B pair and the R pung both? 2468 #6 and Quints #3 are the only choices. I may have to sacrifice a Red, or the 8B pair, if some other dragon hand comes in. But for now I'd pass 4C 9C 9B.


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Need rules for American mah-jongg? Tom Sloper's book, The Red Dragon & The West Wind, is the most comprehensive book in existence about the American game. AND see FAQ 19 for fine points of the American rules (and commonly misunderstood rules). AND get the official rulebook 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.