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By Tom Sloper
July 12, 2009

Column #414

American Mah Jongg (2009 NMJL card). Esther, Nora, Wesley, and Sophia were playing with Betty as the fifth. Betty was acting as bettor. Nora made maj with this hand:

Betty, knowing that the bettor is not allowed to speak, had to pay a quarter to Nora (she'd bet on Wesley). After everyone had finished payment, Esther stood to give Betty her seat. Then Betty dropped the bomb. "You know, that hand was no good. It's supposed to be nines only."

Esther said, "Hmm? What hand was it?"

Wesley said, "It was a 369 hand."

Sophia said, "Right. Which one?"

Nora said, "The one on the bottom. What do you mean, nines only? It's 369. Threes and sixes and nines. Who ever heard of a hand that's nines only?"

Betty said, "No, the last two pungs in the other suits. They can only be nines."

Esther said, "What were they?" The hand had already been destroyed and thrown in, even before payment had been made.

Nora said, "They were nines, weren't they?"

Wesley said, "No, you won on Sophia's discard. A three bam."

Betty pointed at the hand on the card. "See? The last two pungs are shown as nines."

Nora said, "It doesn't say nines only."

Betty said, "It doesn't say 3, 6, or 9, either. So it's supposed to be as shown. Nines."

Sophia said, "She's right. So then, we should all get our money back." She held out her hand to Nora.

Nora said, "Nobody saw the problem before you paid me." She turned to Betty. "Why didn't you say something before?"

Betty said, "Because the bettor's not allowed to interfere with the game."

Wesley said, "Right. The bettor's not a player, and has to abide by the decisions made by the players."

Esther said, "But the hand was no good. We should get our money back."

This story is based on a question received this past week on the Mah Jongg Q&A Bulletin Board; although this is a fictional telling, similar events have surely occurred many times. What do you think could have been done to prevent all this brouhaha?

Everybody who was sitting at the table erred. Nora erred when she made the hand incorrectly. Esther, Wesley, and Sophia all erred when they acknowledged the hand as correct and paid Nora. The hand should have been verified with more care; the hand shouldn't have been destroyed so quickly.

As for giving the money back? No. Esther, Wesley, and Sophia committed themselves by paying; they don't get it back. Nora gets away with the loot.

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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.