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By Tom Sloper
January 1, 2012

Column #501

American Mah Jongg (2011 NMJL card). To start off the new year: top eight tips for beginner American mah-jongg players.

Tip #1: Have a rulebook handy. Questions will come up, and sometimes the four of you won't agree on how a question should be resolved. A rulebook is a must. Have the NMJL's "Mah Jongg Made Easy" or my book, "The Red Dragon & The West Wind," or both.

Tip #2: Don't chicken out when the group needs to resolve some sort of conflict. Neutrality doesn't accomplish a clear resolution. Sometimes a resolution is determined from a rulebook; sometimes it has to be determined based on logic or based on what's fair. Take an active part in making that determination.

Tip #3: Know the difference between a rule and a strategy. Rules are enforceable; strategies are not. You don't have to explain or justify your strategic actions, and neither does anybody else.

Tip #4: Know the difference between a rule and principles of mah-jongg table etiquette. The way you were taught isn't necessarily the right way. Observe the group's table practices, and adopt them. You may have to keep your ideas about etiquette to yourself, if the others are happy enough with the way things are. If somebody's manners are out of line or causing a problem, though, maybe you should discuss.

Tip #5: Keep the game moving! The other players will lose patience if you constantly think too long before discarding or if you constantly call "wait" or "hold" while thinking about someone's discard.

Tip #6: Get with the program. Some groups get together mainly for the schmoozing and noshing. Some groups get together mainly for the game. Figure out where your group's focus is. Don't be a socializing chatterbox among serious players; don't insist that everybody shut up and play already, if they want to yak. With a new group, it's best to keep talk to a minimum until you get the tenor of the group.

Tip #7: Think before you act; don't act impulsively, then change your mind and request a do-over. When taking a tile from the wall, you can change your mind as long as you have not moved or lifted the wall tile. When calling a discard, you can cancel the call if you have not exposed tiles from your hand. When discarding a tile, you can take it back as long as you have not said the tile's name in full or touched it to the table. Other than those events, you should not subject the others to flighty, capricious changes of heart.

Tip #8: Keep your eyes open. It's all too easy to miss some important detail if you just play by ear. You've gotta pay attention!

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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.

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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:

© 2012 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.