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By Tom Sloper
May 3, 2009

Column #404

American Mah Jongg (NMJL). In a conflicting claim situation, it's not a race. But speed is nonetheless a factor. And now, it turns out, it's also important what you do first: take the discard or expose your tiles.

On April 25, bulletin board reader mstarr60 asked a question about a conflicting claim in which a player had exposed tiles from her hand before taking the discard, and the player next in line for the discard wanted it. Both wanted it for exposure, not mahj.

It's much quicker to put out your own tiles than it is to reach, pick up, and bring back the discard to your rack. But moving that fast increases the chance of conflict, if you're not the next in line from the discarder. Players need reasonable time to react.

Or what if it turns out that the discard had been misnamed? You should have been looking, not just listening. Now you've exposed your tiles. The rules say that this commits you to making the exposure and you cannot put your tiles back on the sloping front of your rack. Probably, that rule is invalidated, since the exposure cannot be completed. But the question of whether you're dead or not will have to be decided.

So it's better to take the discard first (rather than to expose first). Picking up the discard is rescindable without deadly consequences if another player rightly claims it before you've racked it.

Another recent interesting rule question involves a player who's waiting but holding a redeemable tile. That is to say, she needs just one more tile, and has to redeem her redeemable tile for a joker. This question revealed a flaw in my own understanding of the rules. I'd answered a question from Mary J. last January, and BB reader Ellen questioned my ruling. She phoned the League, then emailed me the correct rule on April 30.

Let's say you're waiting on 2468 #1, and someone has a kong of G with one joker:

And you're holding the fourth G. That joker will be yours, as long as nobody wins before you can redeem it. If you're waiting with that G and you have to complete a pair:

And someone throws 6D, you're stuck. You cannot say "mahj," expose your hand, take the 6D, then redeem the G for mah jongg. If that was the last 6D, your hand is dead, but only you know it. On the other hand, if all your pairs are complete:

And someone throws 2C or 8C, you can call it. You can't say "mahj" yet, though. Make the kong, then redeem the G, then say "mahj."

The redemption move constitutes self-pick, and everybody pays you double (not only the discarder).

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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.