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By Tom Sloper
April 5, 2009

Column #400

American Mah-Jongg (2009 NMJL card). It's my 400th column! Cause for celebration! Okay, enough of that. The new NMJL card is out. Let's have a look-see.

Everybody's all atwitter about the fact that there are two typos on the regular-size card. The bottom left corner ought to be titled "Eleven Hands" but instead it says "Seven Hands," an obvious hangover from last year's card. And the last hand in 369 is a concealed hand. The C is in red instead of blue. Big deal.

No Sextets
The flower sextet is dead. At least for this year, anyway. On balance, the flowers are more widely used this year than last year. Since there eight flowers, it's a relief that we can use them again.

Faux Sextets
There are three hands that require two identical pungs. 2009 #4 requires six soaps (two pungs of them), and Winds - Dragons #s 3 and 4 require two identical pungs of number tiles.

Quints #1
Except for 2007, every year since 2005, we've had that 1123 11111 11111 hand in Quints. It's been a source of unending confusion and questions. But apparently the League agrees with the marketing adage that there's no such thing as bad controversy. We have the hand yet again this year, but now the parenthetical is a bit clearer. The unnecessary phrase "Any 3 Suits" is gone, and now "Pr. Any No." has been expanded to "Pr. Any No. in Run."

Two Pungs & Two Kongs
The 2-pung/2-kong hands, perennially the easiest and most flexible hands on the card, are still present, but the 2468 and 13579 versions are out of place. The 2P/2K hands have historically been listed 2nd, and that's precisely where you'll find them in Consecutive Run and 369. But the 2468 2P/2K hand is at #5, and there isn't one at all this year in 13579.

Four Pungs & a Pair
The easiest kind of hand to make is four pungs and a pair. So the way the NMJL handles these is to force them to be concealed. Concealment increases the difficulty enough that their value is also increased. Don't ignore the bottom hands in 2468, 369, and Consecutive Runs.

Year of the Dragon
Last year's card didn't make much use of dragons. When you get dragons, you want options, and this year's card gives you plenty, thank goodness.

Singles are twice as easy to get as pairs. 2009 #1 and 13579 #8 are hands to watch this year.

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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 2009 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

© 2009 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.