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By Tom Sloper
December 25, 2011

Column #500

American Mah Jongg (2011 NMJL card). Column #500! Top Seven myths about mah-jongg, debunked.

Myth #7: You can play without ever having to look up from your own tiles, because all game actions are spoken.
Myth debunked: You really need to keep your eyes on the whole game. People err, misspeak, speak too quietly, or misname tiles. And people say "same," meaning it might be a joker. Gotta watch the table!

Myth #6: "2011" is a kong.
Myth debunked: The word "kong" refers only to identical tiles. 2222 is a kong; 0000 is a kong. 2011 is not a kong. 2012 will not and cannot be a kong.

Myth #5: The reason dice are rolled is so that the hot wall will be of random length, adding variety to the game.
Myth debunked: The reason dice are rolled is to prevent cheating. Without rolling dice to randomly break the wall, it's easy for the next dealer to plant jokers. Also see the next myth...

Myth #4: The short wall left over after rolling dice is called "the hot wall."
Myth debunked: The short wall left after the dice roll is only called "the hot wall" if all players at the table have agreed to use a customized "hot wall" table rule, whose particulars must be worked out by agreement.

Myth #3: You must never stop the Charleston unless you have fewer than three tiles to pass second left.
Myth debunked: That's strategy, not a rule. The rules say that the second Charleston is optional. The rules do not specify any prerequisite conditions for stopping it. But if the other players somehow discover that you had three tiles to pass, they might get angry just because they wanted to continue the Charleston. You are free to stop it, but you should be discreet.

Myth #2: Anything that people tell you that you have to do, or should not do, must be official rules.
Myth debunked: People can tell you stuff, but if it isn't in the written rules, it isn't a "rule." Some stuff that people tell you that you have to do is just table etiquette. Some is strategy. Some things people tell you that you have to do are table rules, not official rules. You should adhere to etiquette. But strategies are not rules. You can throw a hot tile if you want to risk it, when your hand is strong. There is no rule against it, and there is no penalty for it, unless you're at a tournament or a custom table rule is in effect.

Myth #1: Mah-jongg originated thousands of years ago. It was designed by Confucius.
Myth debunked: Hogwash! Mah-jongg originated in the mid-nineteenth century, about the same time as Rummy. It was designed by Ningbo's Chen Yumen.

Click the entries in the header frame, above, to read other columns.

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.

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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.