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By Tom Sloper
May 18, 2008

Column #364

American Mah-Jongg (2008 NMJL card). A most interesting rules question about conflicting claims, from the Mah-Jongg Q&A Bulletin Board this past week. It involves a rule that I said in my book that I disagree with. And this gives me even more reason to disagree with it.

Here's what happened: Player 1 threw F, whereupon players 2 and 3 both said "maj." Player 3 realized that her claim was trumped by player 2, because player 2 was sooner in order of play from the discarder, so player 3 relinquished her claim.

Player 2 took F, put it atop her rack, and put up the rest of her tiles. But the rest of her tiles included (let's say) an extraneous 2D. Player 4 has a 2D meld atop her rack, with a joker. Player 2 trades her 2D for player 4's joker, puts it with her hand, and says, "There. And because I finished by redeeming a joker, it's self-pick. Everybody pays me double."

And thereupon all hell broke loose. Okay, so not really all hell - just a rules disagreement, with three different camps of thought, all ranked in opposition to player 2 (each of them disagreeing with her play, but for different reasons).

Camp A (player 1) held that it was illegal for player 2 to declare "maj" - that player 2 should have declared "call" instead, since the flower was not the final tile needed for mah-jongg. Therefore it was a meld call versus a maj call, and player 3 should get the tile.

Camp B (player 4) held that the play was perfectly legal, but by golly, player 2 had called it on a discard, so she couldn't claim it was self-pick. The discarder was the only one who should pay double.

And of course camp C (player 3) said that since the flower didn't technically complete player 2's hand in and of itself, her own claim for the tile should have taken precedence. Essentially, her argument was that yes, both players could say "maj," but they were two different kinds of maj call, hers being the stronger.

So the NMJL was consulted, and the League upheld player 2's move. Player 2 rightly gets the tile, and, as was ruled in the January 2006 bulletin, it does constitute self-pick. A member of the group questioned the rightness of this, and emailed me for a second opinion. I said yes, player 2 should get the tile - and, per the cited rule, it's self-pick - but I think it's a bad rule.

When the player's last play is to redeem a freshly picked tile from the wall, that play is definitely self-pick. But to keep a redeemable tile in the hand to pounce on a discard and play the self-pick loophole is, in my view, a dirty trick. It's bound to cause a flap, and it's better if the rules promote harmony instead. Our play groups' internal politics are fragile creatures that can't withstand too much discord resulting from questionable rules.

The only time the redemption should earn self-pick is when the redeemable tile itself is a freshly picked tile. But that's just this one man's opinion.


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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 2008 NMJL card yet? Read FAQ 7i.

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.