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By Tom Sloper
August 19, 2012

Column #533

American (NMJL). Trump's the game. Mastery of the game requires understanding not just the rules and strategies, but that some rules are trumped by other rules, and some strategies are trumped by other strategies. (It should go without saying that rules always trump strategies.) This is not a comprehensive list; just illustrating the principle.


Rules That Trump Other Rules

An example that came up recently on the bulletin board is the rule that it's the next player in line who gets the discard, when two players claim it (the rule that implies "it's not a race"). Well, that rule is trumped by the rule, "actions speak louder than words." If the next in line doesn't speak her claim until another player has already exposed, then she spoke too late.

Strategies That Trump Other Strategies

A strategy immediately obvious to all novice players is to always jump for jokers. But novices quickly learn that that strategy is trumped when what you really need is a single or pair, and when your hand is dead.

The basic strategy for the early moves of the Charleston is simple elimination. But that can be trumped when you have a clear hand

A strategy stated so strenuously by Sandberg that some readers took it to be a rule is, "never pass a pair." That strategy can be trumped if your hand changes during the Charleston.

The strategy that flowers should not be thrown late in the game can be trumped, if you have a flower you need to get rid of, and your reading of the other players tells you that they won't win on it.

The "joker bait" strategy is trumped when all you have to throw is the pair you were saving.

Normally you'd go for the higher-score hand, but that can be trumped if you don't have your pairs.

Normally, you'd go for the easier quicker win, but that can be trumped; when your two options are equal, sometimes it's wisest to go for the harder, higher-scoring hand. Especially when you're on a streak.

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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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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.