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By Tom Sloper
August 12, 2012

Column #532

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.

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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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