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By Tom Sloper
January 24, 2010

Column #437

American Mah Jongg (NMJL). Juicy news from last week's tournament. A player was caught cheating and was booted out. I won't name names. I've discussed cheating before in this column (in columns 325, 403, and 412), and I'm doing it again todayŚnot so you know how to cheat, but so you know what to watch out for. I talked to players at three tables the cheater played at, and I talked to the tournament organizer, and I got numerous stories about what the cheater was seen to do. This being American mah jongg, the cheating involved jokers. Because it was a tournament, players were always rolling dice to break the wall. So you'd think that planting jokers in the right end of the wall wouldn't be a useful cheat. Well, this con had a variety of tricks that involved planted jokers.

Prior to Wall-Building
She had a couple of ways of obtaining jokers to plant. One way was to palm jokers before they were turned over and shuffled into the mix. Holding jokers in her palms, she would move her hands over the mixing floor to give the appearance of participating in the group smoosh. But her hand movements were not actually productive in the tile mixing.
Another thing she was seen to do was to check the face of tiles during the wall-building. She'd take some tiles from the mixed floor, and look at them before placing them in the wall. My friend K told me that she confronted the cheater about this, telling her not to look at tiles before putting them in the wall. The cheater denied that she had done so.

Subsequent to Wall-Building
I heard from a couple of people that the cheater was seen to switch tiles from one end of the wall to the other, in a two-handed maneuver. My friend K asked the cheater, "Did you just switch those tiles?" The cheater denied it.
Another time, she "accidentally" knocked some of her tiles off her rack, getting tiles from the end of her wall mixed in. Apparently when she replaced her tiles on her rack, some planted jokers were now among the tiles on her hand.

This lady con was a smooth talker and a skilled player. Her modus operandi was to get you to like her. She seemed nice; you wouldn't suspect she's cheating. Her sort of sleight of hand is hard to spot while you're busy playing. You have to keep your eyes open all the time. If you know how the cheaters try to pull the wool over your eyes, they can't take advantage of you.

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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.