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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The National Mah Jongg League RULES.

Saying goodbye to the 2016 card...

The League will shortly give the word for the new 2017 card to go out.  This is a time of great anticipation among the membership as we eagerly await the new configuration of the hands.  But it is not only the hands that we receive, it is the Rules, which are printed on the back of the card and demarcates the National Mah Jongg League as the rulemaking body for National Mah Jongg League mah jongg.  

I receive e-mails during the course of the year containing questions about rules and I have noticed some confusion regarding whether rules are "official" or not.  It can be disruptive to a game when there are disputes as to rules, which does happen from time to time.  This stems from the fact there are really three sets of rules.  They are:
  • Official National Mah Jongg League rules
  • Tournament rules
  • Table rules
The rules set forth by the National Mah Jongg League provide the basis for all games played with the National Mah Jongg League card.  These rules can be found on the back of the card and in the rule book "Mahjongg Made Easy (2013)," which is sold by the League.  There are also rule books that have been published and available online, most notably Tom Sloper's "The Red Dragon and the West Wind."  The League sends a newsletter to members in early January containing answers to questions about rules.  The newsletter also contains rule updates, so it is a good idea to read the Q/A section, as some rules may change.  If you do decide to buy a rule book, note its publication date - some rules may have changed since it was written.  

Tournaments are played around the country and while they use the NMJL card and play by the official rules, tournament directors have the discretion to add rules that are unique to tournaments.  These rules are implemented as a way of calculating points, or in an effort to eliminate cheating.  Some notable tournament rules are:  -10 points if you look at a blind pass; +10 points for a wall game; minus points if you throw to a second exposure and minus even more if you throw to a third exposure.  Most tournaments now have adopted the rule that you must place a called tile on top of the rack and not in the rack.  Because these rules vary from the official rules and they vary from tournament to tournament, they are usually spelled out in a rules sheet provided to each player.  Any disputes are mediated by the tournament director and not the National Mah Jongg League.

And then there are table rules.  I get many e-mails from players who are told by "experienced" players that they must pay for the table if they throw to three exposures.  Some players learned that tapping a tile on the rack is the equivalent of racking.  Some players have never stopped playing with 14 tiles.  And while there is nothing so terrible about playing this way, it should be understood by all who play that these are not official rules, but rules agreed upon by the house, or by the table.  Table rules should also be spelled out clearly before the game starts, so as to avoid disputes.  But in order to know whether you are playing with a table rule, you need to know which rules are the "real" rules promulgated by the National Mah Jongg League as the standard by which to play.

As many of you will know, the League suffered a great loss in 2015 with the passing of president Ruth Unger and treasurer Marilyn Starr, beloved women who formed the core of the association.  In the last year-and-a-half, Larry and David Unger have worked tirelessly to uphold the standards that we have come to know.  This meant finding members to serve on the rules committee, write the new card and issue rulings both over the phone and by mail; not an easy task by any means.  

In the next few weeks, the card will come and we'll all hunker down and learn it using the rules of the League.   The League stands ready to answer your questions and work to ensure that for the next 365 days we get our $8 or $9 worth of enjoyment and comaraderie playing the game we love.  Bring it on!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Annual Meeting of the National Mah Jongg League

Larry and David Unger (left/right in suits) joined by colleagues and members at NMJL headquarters
Today I had the privilege of attending the annual meeting of the National Mah Jongg League, to mark the beginning of its 80th year.  The annual meeting is held on the first Monday in February and all members are welcome to attend.  I understand that back in the day, the League would rent a meeting room in a hotel, as the office couldn't handle the crowds.  Attendance has been sparse in the last few years, but this year's meeting showed an uptick in interested aficionados.

Those who attended represented many the many sides of mahjongg.  There were tournament directors, teachers, tournament goers, organizers and just plain players.
The theme of the meeting, as put so eloquently by Larry Unger,  President, was "Friendship and Charity," and the many ways the League has provided opportunity for just that - through its donation program and by giving so many of us the chance to take the card and run with it, so to speak, and create spaces, virtual and concrete, that allow us to connect with others of like mind.

An interesting discussion ensued about issues that have been brought to the forefront in online forums, rec rooms and classrooms.  One such topic was the distinction between tournament rules, "official" rules, and what the League considers "recommendations," i.e., good practices that are not enforced.  An example of a recommendation is that you not look at a blind pass.  There is no penalty if you do, but it is good practice not to.  After all, you may see a tile that you need, but must give away, and that is penalty enough.  However, in tournament play, directors are unanimous that looking when you "steal," is a mandatory 10 point deduction.

A question came up about demographics and it quickly became apparent that the exact number of players is difficult to determine.  The League keeps records of those who order online or by mail - indeed, to be considered a member, you need to purchase your card from the League.  If you buy through an organization, in order to register as a member the organization should provide a list of each person buying.  The League keeps a database of registered members, but as there are many retail outlets (both online and brick and mortar) it is impossible to say for sure how many players are out there.  A few things we know for sure:  Mahjongg is spreading into more towns and cities than ever, particularly in the south - Texas and Tennessee were two states that came up.  And, of course, as more people retire and move to communities across the country, this trend will continue.  There are even expat retirement communities in places like Ecuador that are seeing an influx of players.

The League has a busy, very structured year, as the boxes all over the office could attest to.  (Sadly, we were not treated to a sneak preview of the new card).  Orders are coming in and it's time to ramp up to get ready to mail!  The League is every bit as excited to send the card to us as we are to receive it - and they look forward to our reaction.  We know they will not disappoint.