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By Tom Sloper
May 17, 2009

Column #406

American Mah Jongg (2009 NMJL card). It's the second across (an oft-tricky mandatory pass). What would you pass?

1. Count the possibilities. 2009 #3: 7 tiles (I never count the joker). 2468 #4: 5 tiles (two ways). Consec. #6: 7 tiles. So that leaves 8C out; still need a third tile to pass. So a decision has to be made between 2009 #3 and Consec. #6. Getting F and a 9D (or a matching 2 and 9) won't be as difficult as a concealed hand. It's a shame to have to kill two options at once, but sometimes there's little choice. Pass 8C 3D 4D.

2. Obviously, this is 369, and E will go. 369 #3: 6 tiles. 369 #4: 6 tiles; in order to use the two soaps, the 3B is used opposite 9C. 369 #6: 7 tiles. Pass E R 6D.

3. 2468 #5: 6 tiles. Consec. #1b: 7 tiles. Consec. #2: 6 tiles. 3D is not used by any option. I'd get rid of 2468. Pass 3D 2C 4C.

4. Elevens #2b: 7 tiles. 13579 #2: 6 tiles. 13579 #7: 7 tiles. Of those three options, the second is weakest in terms of tile count. But the third is weakest in terms of difficulty (only one of three pairs is in the hand). The second has a second weakness: its pair is also not present. 9B and R can go, but to get a third tile to pass necessitates killing another hand option. Focus on the Elevens hand and get rid of either 3B, 5B or 9C.

5. Consec. #6: 8 tiles. Consec. #2: 7 tiles (two ways). If you want to play it safe, go for Consec. #2, the perennial easiest hand on the card. Passing the two G's still leaves you with a problem; what 3rd tile to pass. I'd pass 8C, because as a general rule I favor the middle numbers.

6. 2468 #2: 6 tiles (got the pair). 2468 #3: 6 tiles (two pair mates needed). 2468 #5: 6 tiles (easy hand, no pairs). 2468 #7: 6 tiles (concealed hand, one pair mate needed). Kill 4D 6D. Of the four hands, two are stronger: 2468 #2 and #5. Focus there. That gives you four tiles to discard: 4D 6D 8D 8C. I wouldn't pass all dots, and I wouldn't pass both eights.

7. Not a difficult choice. 13579 #3. Pass 1B 5B 7B.

8. Consec. #6: 7 tiles (concealed hand, needs one pair mate). W-D #3: 7 tiles (need that last 9B). Forego the concealed Consec. hand and go for the W-D. Pass 7B 8B and either dragon.

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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.