An observant player would not be surprised by this move. Players will often unknowingly, and to their detriment, telegraph the status of their hand. Rigorous self-examination is required to rid yourself of the oft-fatal "tells". Do not expect other players to clue you in - remember, there are no friends in Mah Jongg!
Read on and see if you recognize yourself.
- Do you: Separate your tiles so that everyone can see that you have two of this, three of that, one of this, three of this and one of this - and three on the side to discard?
- Do you: Keep your finger on the card near the hand you're playing?
- Do you: Play without thinking ahead so that you hesitate when a tile goes out?
- Do you: Moan and groan when your tiles get discarded or exposed by another player?
- Do you: Physically count how many you have for hand A and how many for hand B?
- Do you: Say "Oh crud!" or worse, when you pick a tile you know someone else needs - and then you keep it?
- Do you: Constantly arrange and rearrange your hand, letting everyone know that your hand is slipping away?
- Do you: Kvetch about how many jokers you could use right about now?
How do you know when someone is set? Body language plays a big part. When I'm set, I lean forward, intent and ready to pounce the moment I hear the name of my winning tile. My heart beats more quickly and I am less patient with people. Let's go, I think, throw my tile already. But when I play in tournaments I try to curb my enthusiasm and become one of the quiet ones, emulating those players who silently go about the business of making a hand and seeing it through with control. No matter how weak their hand may be, they give nothing away, calmly focusing on the circumstances around them and weighing their odds.
So how did Alex know that Bonnie wasn't set? He remembered earlier in the game she called for a six dot, then said, "No, wait, I can't" and let it go. As the play continued, he picked a six dot himself and held onto it, hoping to use it for joker bait. He also observed that when she did pick and keep a tile, it went on the right end of her wall, making it more likely to be a nine than a six. So he felt comfortable throwing what might have seemed to have been a hot tile.
So a restrained attitude of watchful waiting, coupled with attention to little details will go a long way towards improving your game. If nothing else, remember this: You schmooze, you lose.