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By Tom Sloper
September 19, 2010

Column #467

American (NMJL). A couple of exposed-joker issues came up this week, and they're worth delving into. Player A called a discard (let's say it's Red), and exposed a kong with one joker.

Shortly after, I picked Red from the wall. I didn't need Red, and I didn't need a joker, because I was playing a Singles & Pairs hand and it was nearing completion. Some novice players would redeem the joker, just because jokers are generally desirable and you don't want to pass up a chance to get one. But, not needing the joker, you'd just have to discard it anyway, which makes the whole exercise moot and additionally makes someone else jokerless.

I recalled a similar situation when I was a new player. I hadn't needed the joker, so discarded the redeemable tile. A lady at the table assumed I had goofed. She hollered, "Hello!?" so loudly that it made me jump. Another player at the table, more observant, quietly pointed out to Hollering Lady that it was remotely possible that I'd intentionally passed on the chance to get the joker--that it isn't always a mistake when someone discards a redeemable tile.

Of course, everybody goofs once in a while, myself included. I have on occasion erroneously discarded a redeemable tile before belatedly realizing the fact. When that happens and a player raises an eyebrow at me, I just give her an inscrutable smile.

But back to my situation this week. I didn't want to call attention to the fact that I was nearing completion with an S&P hand, but I had no choice. I discarded, saying "Red" as nonchalantly as I could.

Player B, a fairly new player, spoke up. "You didn't need that joker?" It was Hollering Lady all over again, only without the hollering. The cat was now most assuredly no longer in the bag. I replied, "Since you asked: No. I didn't need that joker. Thanks for calling attention to the fact." Then we experienced players had to explain to the novice the strategic advantage of keeping information to oneself.

On a related note, Lynn asked on the Q&A board this week about what should happen to that now-dead exposed joker. Should it be turned over?

It would seem logical to do that, since now it's not possible for anyone to get that joker. But there's good reason for not doing so, which should be evident from the foregoing discussion.

The act of flipping the now-dead joker gives information to players who are not paying attention. Players are supposed to pay attention! Just like players who listen but never look, if you aren't paying attention, you're doing a disservice to yourself. And sometimes (often) to the other players as well.

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

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