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By Tom Sloper
July 26, 2009

Column #416

American Mah Jongg (2009 NMJL card). Let's have another visit with Yelda. You may remember her: the fictional player I described in column 387 (November 16). She's an amalgam of players I've met, and of players I hear about in reader letters. A recent letter brought home to me one of the primary facets of Yelda's behavior. And that is that Yelda expects and demands explanations from everyone. When you play with Yelda, your decisions are not private. She expects you to justify and explain your reasoning for any action you take during the game, upon her demand.

On July 10, for example, we heard about a classic Yelda situation. The wall was running out, and Player A (let's call her Abigail) punged a discard--a tile she already had triplicated in her hand--then discarded the fourth of the same tile. Clearly a nonsense move, but there's nothing in the rules that prohibits it.

Now, the discard had been taken from the player at Abigail's right (Player B--let's call her Bobbi), so now Bobbi got to pick again. Effectively, Yelda and Player C got skipped. Well, Yelda was incensed. Her real motive, of course, was that she still had hopes of completing her hand, and here was this... miscreant... wasting one of Yelda's precious remaining picks from the wall. So what does Yelda do? She demands an explanation for the move. And no matter what answer she gets, she declares that such a move is "against the rules."

Of course, Yelda would never own or buy a rulebook. She's got all the rules in her head. And there's no such thing as "table rules" to Yelda. The rules that are in her head are the gospel, or so sayeth Yelda.

If you stop the Charleston, Yelda demands to know why. Normal folks just groan and kvetch when somebody stops the Charleston, but not Yelda.

"I'm stopping."

"What? Why?"

"I don't have to tell why."

"You can't stop the Charleston if you have multiple hands. Do you have just one hand?"

And just the same if Yelda is opposite you in the Charleston and you don't feel like giving her three tiles in the courtesy exchange. Yelda needs an explanation for that too, and her reasoning is the same.

"I've got two."

"It's against the rules to pass less than three if you have multiple hands. Do you have more than one hand?"

There two kinds of Yeldas. Yelda Type B is perhaps marginally nicer than Yelda Type A; Yelda B freely shares her own reasoning for her own plays (often without regard for whether or not you actually care to hear it). But Yelda A, while demanding explanations for others' plays, sees no need to justify or explain her own.

Me? I prefer to play with nice people.

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Where to order the yearly NMJL card: 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.