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By Tom Sloper
August 3, 2008

Column #375

American Mah-Jongg (2008 NMJL card). When Sophia won the lottery and moved away, Esther, Wesley, and Nora held auditions of a sort to find a new fourth for their weekly game. A certain Ms. South was personable, pleasant, agreeable -- in short, nice. She was a little slow, but then she'd just learned the game. Surely her speed would improve once she became more comfortable with the game.

But nine months went by, and her speed had never improved. Sometimes Ms. South would think at length over the discard of the player at her left before finally picking. Then once she picked from the wall, she'd think extensively before finally deciding on something to discard. Or sometimes she'd be talking, enjoying the group, and would have to be reminded that it was her turn - then the extended thought process would occur anew.

On a few occasions, someone would say something to nudge Ms. South along. Most of the time she'd play the novice card, reminding them that she was new to the game. Of course, that excuse got old as time went on. Other times, she'd get defensive. "All right, all right! Just give me a chance to think!"

Eventually, a member of the group contacted me and asked for advice. "How can we get her to change?" Doctor Laura would tell you that you can't change someone against her will. If she's going to change, it'll have to be from within. You can point out to her the necessity for change, but only she can actually make the change. Here are my suggestions:

No guarantees that any of this will work. Some folks just aren't able to keep up with the rest of us. And don't tell me you can't talk to her about it. If you don't talk to her, she definitely won't change. There's no magic trick. You must talk honestly to her.

If despite everyone's efforts, she simply can't speed up her play, you will have to either accept her as she is, or replace her. There's no good third option.

Want more? For my crude analysis of The Psychology of Slow Players, see column 621.


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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).

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

© 2008 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.