|By Tom Sloper
August 12, 2012
American (NMJL). A Tale of Three Players. People are all the time asking me how their made-up rules are supposed to work. Like I should know! Take the case of three players. Please! American mah-jongg has this thing called the Charleston, and that's a problem when three people play. People are so accustomed to using the Charleston that they don't think they can do without it. And when there are four players, that's true -- it is necessary, then. But the official rule, that the Charleston be skipped when only three players are present, really does work.
So what does everybody do?
Something different. That's what they do.
One table deals tiles to all four players (one of which is the vacant seat), then the player who's supposed to receive a pass from that seat takes three of that seat's dealt tiles at random, including any jokers that might be there.
Another table deals tiles to only the three filled seats, and when the vacant seat is supposed to pass, the recipient takes three tiles from the wall on that side of the table. If she gets a joker, she's supposed to put it back. The table uses an honor system (she is supposed to honestly return the joker, even though nobody could possibly know, unless she has no poker face whatsoever, that she got one).
A third table does what the first table does as regards to the deal, but does what the second table does as regards to jokers. A fourth table does what the second table does as regards to the deal, but does what the first table does as regards to jokers.
There are surely many other three-player Charleston schemes out there. Some tables might deal to all four seats yet still exchange from the wall. And tables that deal to the vacant seat have to decide whether to leave that player's tiles out of play, or put them in the wall.
Since there are no mah-jongg police, players can set whatever table rules they want. But they can't expect me, or the League, to help them solve problems that arise out of their made-up rules. When you make up your rules, you have to figure out all the details. The official rule (no Charleston with three players) actually works just fine.
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. Like this, for instance...
Our 3P Charleston
>From: Cindi G
>Sent: Thursday, May 18, 2017 5:10 AM
>Subject: Three player
>Tom, in Florida I play a variation when there are three players. We build a 3x7 tier so that we can use that as another hand when we do the charleston. Our argument came up in Illinois when I suggested this. We allow person to keep the joker in the charleston. It just makes it a little more fun. Otherwise ,to me, playing with three and no charleston is no fun! What's wrong with this version? Popular in Florida ! Thank you for input . Cindi gober
Hi, Cindi! You asked:
What's wrong with this version?
It took me a while to figure out what you mean by "what's wrong with it?" Rereading your email, I surmise that you're having an argument about 3P Charleston methods, and you're looking to me to take sides in your argument. LOL!
I wrote about 3P Charleston methods in column 532, and I include several folks' 3P Charleston methods in FAQ 13A. The only unique feature of your method is the 21-tile short tall wall. Although the few times I've played 3P without a Charleston have been perfectly fine, the vast majority of times I've played 3P, the other players have adamantly insisted that we have a Charleston of some kind. In most kinds, jokers are a possibility.
Let's talk game design for a moment (that's my profession, after all). When 3 players decide that they want to make up a rule for having a 3P Charleston, they have to make decisions.
If the goal is "to increase the fun," then do whatever you think adds to the fun (like the bonus surprise of picking an extra joker).
If the goal is "to enhance a player's chance of building a hand in the Charleston," then do whatever you think accomplishes that goal.
If the goal is "to keep the playing field level, to increase fairness to all," then figure out what might accomplish that goal.
If the goal is "to right a wrong in the League's rules," then you'd probably have to come up with a rule requiring players to put jokers back.
Read FAQ 14; there's nothing "wrong" with table rules - table rules are normal. But you can't expect anybody to tell you how to do them "the right way," since they're your made-up rules. I don't take sides in arguments about table rules.May the tiles be with you.
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: http://sites.google.com/site/mahjrules/.
© 2012 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.