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By Tom Sloper
October, 2011

Column #499

American Mah Jongg (2011 NMJL card). Occasionally in this game one encounters a player who seems to be constantly changing her mind. She passes in the Charleston, then takes it back. She calls for a discard, then changes her mind. She redeems a joker, then has second thoughts. She discards a tile, then has a change of heart and wants to take it back. What next? Would she take a bite from an apple and then want the grocer to take it back because it was the wrong variety? Would she make a right turn, then wave her hand out the window and expect all other drivers on the road to wait while she does a U-turn? "Do-over!"

Every mah-jongg player needs to understand that there are only a very few times when the rules say she is allowed to change her mind.

  • Picking from the wall: you may change your mind while reaching for the tile; you may change your mind after merely touching the tile. But once you've lifted it or moved it, you have committed to the action.

  • Calling a discard: you may change your mind after verbalizing the call; you may change your mind if you have touched or lifted or moved the called-for discard; and if it is a friendly home game, your group may permit you to change your mind if you have put the taken discard atop your rack. But once you exposed tiles from your hand, you have committed to the action; and if you're in a tournament, placing the taken discard atop your rack commits you to the action.

  • Discarding a tile: you may change your mind if you have not yet spoken the tile's name in full ; you may change your mind if the tile has not yet touched the table. But once you have done either of those things, you have committed to the action.

  • Declaring mah-jongg: you may change your mind if you have not yet exposed tiles from your hand, and if nobody has thrown in her tiles or destroyed the wall after hearing your declaration.

    A player should assume that, other than the specific instances above, she is not permitted to change her mind once she has acted. It's a four-player game. Each of us has a responsibility to be considerate of the other three players. Second-thinking should be an internal process; the second- and third-thinking of a decision should take place entirely inside the mind, before the player allows the decision to be spoken aloud or acted upon. It's only fair. It's only good etiquette.

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    Question or comment about this column? I often, um... intentionally... "miss" something; maybe you'll be the first one to spot it! Email and the discussion will be posted on the Mah-Jongg Q&A Bulletin Board. Like this...

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    October 2010 article on American mah jongg's rise in popularity, from the WALL STREET JOURNAL: ?mod=WSJ_hpp_RIGHTTopCarousel_2.
    There's a movie of the WSJ story too -- just click the Video tab on the above page, or go to ?mod=WSJ_hpp_RIGHTTopCarousel_2#articleTabs%3Dvideo.

    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:

    © 2011 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.