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By Tom Sloper
September 20, 2009

Column #424

American Mah Jongg (2009 NMJL card). There are general principles for successfully dancing the Charleston, but sometimes success can be achieved by tossing the principles out the window.

And sometimes, despite your use of the best principles, the dance can go awry; sometimes the tiles just aren't with you.

Let's follow a couple of Charlestons that had differing outcomes.

Here's the initial deal for our first one.

Dang, no jokers! But the two pairs, E and 8, suggested W-D #4. As a fallback, the best thing would be 2468. So I passed odds: 3C 7C 9B.

Got 2C 4C W. Passed 0 1D 3B, got 6C 5B G. Passed 5B G N. "First left." Got N F 1B.

Nobody stopped the Charleston. I try not to pass flowers if I can avoid it. 4D was too distant from the 8D pair, so I passed it with 1B and N.

I got 9B 0 R, passed them across. Got 1C 3C G, passed them right. Got F 4D N (4D and N had come back again).

I offered 4D N across; got 3B 9B.

Well, that dance wasn't much fun; it didn't leave me with a nice clear hand. Let's do another.

Oh good, jokers this time. But no pairs; nothing definite that I could hang my hat on. I figured maybe I could go for NEWS with dragons (W-D #5), and pass evens (odds are better odds anyway, right?). I passed 2b 6b 6d; got 8C 8C G.

Now I was liking NEWS even more. Passed 8C 5D and (flipping a coin) 9C across. Got R 9D 1D in return. Not wanting to pass the second 8C lest it find its sibling in someone's hand, I passed 1D 9D 7C left. Got 1B 2B 6B, passed them left. "Second left."

Got R S 8C.

Passed 8C 8C S across; I don't like to pass a pair, but that's all I had to pass! And it looked like nobody wanted 8C anyway. I got 9C 3B 5B, passed them right. Got E 6B 9C, offered 9C 6B across. Got 4C 1B.

I'd call that a successful Charleston.

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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.

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). Linda Fisher's website is the only website that describes American rules:

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.