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Sunday, November 2, 2014

Throwing hot

"When a player Mah Jonggs on a discarded tile, DISCARDER pays the winner double value."

It's happened to you - the moment comes in your game when Sheila has four six bams and four seven bams exposed on her rack.  You are set for a beautiful pairs hand - there is an excellent chance that you will get that last North; either pick it yourself or some unsuspecting person will throw it, when BLAST IT!! you picked a ......GREEN!!!!!!!!  AAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHH....  WHAT DO I DOOOOO?????  Should I throw it?  Is it hot?  Should I break up my hand?  My beautiful hand?
You close your eyes, take a breath, discard the tile and say in a very low voice...."green?"
THAT'S IT!!!  I NEVER THOUGHT ANYONE WOULD THROW IT!!! HA HA!! MAHJ!!!  Sheila flips her hand onto her rack.  AND JOKERLESS, TOO!!  

As if that weren't bad enough, Rhoda turns to you and says: HOW COULD YOU?  THAT WAS AN OBVIOUS HAND!  YOU SHOULD PAY FOR THE TABLE!!  You only response is to hang your head and say, "But I was set...."

And then you think:  Is Rhoda right?  Should I pay for the table?  What is an obvious hand?  What is a hot tile and what do the rules say about throwing one?  We'll answer these in reverse order.

The rules say nothing about throwing a hot tile.  The rule is what is written above.  Discarder pays the winner double value.  That's it.  Doesn't matter how many exposures, how many flowers are on the table, how many greens are in your hand.  The truth is the National Mah Jongg League does not use the word "hot" anywhere in the official rules, and they are correct not to do so.  Because how does one determine when a tile is hot?

The definition of a hot tile is somewhat shifty.  A tile can be hot if none of its kind have been discarded.  Or it can be hot if it seems as though someone needs it to mahj.  The truth is that hotness is determined by probability and there is no way to know for certain if throwing that tile will cause a win.  An astute player can make an educated guess, but it is nothing more than that.  A hand may seem obvious, but it may not be what one expects.  For example, in the hand above, Sheila may have needed a one or two bam instead of the green.  She may not have had all her flowers.  Even if a person has three exposures out, and they have on their best Cheshire smile, they may not be set.

But some players put on their Wall Street hats and start hedging.  The thinking is:  Why should I, a defensive player, have to pay for the stupid mistake or risky behavior of another?  This is a valid concern, and one that the League does not address, so players have come up with creative techniques to protect their purses.  Some techniques are:
  • If a player has two exposures, no player can throw a tile the player may need.
  • If a player has three exposures, no player can throw a tile the player may need.
  • If a discard is made to two exposures and someone mahjes, discarder pays for all.
  • If a discard is made to three exposures and someone mahjes, discarder pays for all. 
  • If a discarder pays for all, they must pay from their own pocket, not their mahjongg purse.  In this way the discarder won't go pie and will have enough to pay for subsequent games.
  • When play is down to the last wall, no player can throw a tile unless at least two of those tiles are accounted for on the table.
  • When play is down to the last wall, no one can call for mahjongg, and must pick their own.
These are all table rules and must be understood by all players before play begins.  It is unfair to expect a player to abide by a rule that is not an official rule.  Mahjongg etiquette would require that table rules are understood by guest players and fill-ins so that there is no misunderstanding.  

In mahjongg, as in life, we sometimes need to take a chance.  Knowing the consequences will inform our decision.  For me, the risk-reward ratio would favor my throwing that green in the hopes of getting a pairs hand.  For even if I had to pay for all, assuming five players and the hand not bet on, I would pay $1,50, but if my pairs hand came in on a self-pick, I would reap $4. 
And hearing Rhoda screech about it?  Priceless.







Monday, October 13, 2014

Wall Breakers - a Casual Study


The rules state:  
EAST ROLLS DICE and total number thrown designates where East breaks wall.
We see this on the back of the card, but, in typical National Mah Jongg League fashion, information is scant. We know where to break the wall, yes, but do we know HOW to break the wall?????

I have done a study, at first covert, and learned that there are multiple ways to carry out East's important responsibility.  Though players never give it much thought, if you watch closely, especially at a tournament, a myriad of styles exist.  I have stepped out of undercover mode and filmed, with the gracious consent of the Friday night players, some of the possibilities.

There are common steps to breaking the wall, which include, but are not limited to:  count tiles, move rack back, move rack forward, take four tiles, hold back tiles, push tiles forward.  Some configurations are more efficient, others more creative.  The videos below show some variations.

All are correct - except one.

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1.  Count, move rack forward, hold back, take four.


2.  Count, move rack back, take four, move rack forward


3.  Count, move rack back, take four, push with hand.


4.  Count, push rack forward, pull rack back with tiles, take four.


5.  Pull back rack, count, take four, push tiles with hand



6.  Count, take four, move rack forward



7.  Count, move rack back, move rack forward, take four.


Whilst they may seem the same, there are subtle variations.  What kind of wall breaker are you?