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By Tom Sloper
August 31, 2008

Column #379

American Mah-Jongg (2008 NMJL card). This week, I was asked a most interesting question on my Q&A bulletin board. It wasn't the first time somebody asked me this, but it's not frequently asked, either. The question:

"What do we do if everybody needs to blind pass?"

So. Out of four people, not one has three tiles she's willing to pass. Not a problem. Really! (But it is going to be an interesting hand.) There are numerous possible combinations under this situation, such as:

1. All players have two tiles to pass;
2. All players have one tile to pass;
3. No players have any tiles to pass;
4. Different players have different numbers of passable tiles.

Let's consider case 1 first. Player A passes two tiles to player B and says, "I owe you one more. Wait a moment until I get it." Player B can easily pass three tiles, player C can easily pass three tiles, and player D can easily pass three tiles. And now player A can give one last tile to player B... and everything's copacetic.

Now let's consider case 2. Player A passes one tile to player B and says, "I owe you two more. Wait a moment until I get them." Player B passes two tiles to player C and says, "I owe you one more. Wait a moment until I get it." Player C has received two tiles, and had one she could pass, so she now can pass three tiles to player D, who can easily pass three tiles to player A, who now has the two tiles she owed player B, who now has the tile she owed player C. And everybody's good to go.

Let's skip case 3 for the moment, and go to case 4. We'll come back to case 3.

So in case 4, let's say everybody has different numbers of passable tiles, so someone (let's say player A) has two tiles to pass. She can give two tiles to player B and say, "I owe you one. Wait and I'll give it to you." Let's say player B had one tile she could pass. Now, though, she has three she can pass. So she passes three to player C, who can pass three to player D, who can pass three to player A, who can now give the owed single tile to player B and everything's just hunky-dory.

We're not quite done with case 4, though. What if just one player had just one tile she was willing to pass, and no other player had any they could pass? She could give that one tile to the player at her right, and it could go around the table three times until it came back again to the player who passed it in the first place. All of a sudden, it should be very clear - this is really just an exercise in silliness. And it shows a way to handle case 3.

If everybody said they had no tiles to pass, I owe you 3, and you owe her 3 and she owes him 3, and he owes me 3, isn't that even? Just call it even and start to play! The official rules don't cover every possible eventuality. Sometimes you have to get a little creative.


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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).

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.