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By Tom Sloper
January 10, 2010

Column #435

American Mah Jongg (2009 NMJL card). This past week, the January bulletin from the National Mah Jongg League appeared in hundreds of thousands of mailboxes across North America.

I hope you got your copy. If you didn't, you can fix that by the way you buy your card. If you buy the card from anybody else except the NMJL, you aren't on the NMJL mailing list. You want to be on their mailing list! This bulletin is very important to get, to read, and to archive. Why?

Because although the rules of the National Mah Jongg League are very specific and are by necessity governed by one central authority (the League), those rules are not all written down in one place (except for my book, The Red Dragon & The West Wind, that is). And when the League issues new rules, the place where they do that is... you guessed it... the annual bulletin. The "Official Publication," as they like to call it.

This year's case in point: It's been a rule for several years that there is a penalty for a player who discards while playing out of turn, resulting in a call for mahj. But this year, for the first time in the 14 years that I've been playing, a ruling was given as to a player who discards while playing out of turn, resulting in a call for exposure (not for mahj). The ruling: the call is honored, and game continues with no penalty to anyone.

The League often restates already extant rules (Frequently Asked Questions). This year the restatement of the death challenge rule unfortunately ends with a sentence that's open to misinterpretation. The erring party in a death challenge pays the non-erring party in the death challenge, and both parties also pay or receive for mahj as is normally done. But the way it's written in the 2010 bulletin, some readers might mistakenly think that payment for error in a death challenge is negated when someone makes mahj.

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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

© 2010 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.