What follows is a primer on betting. Since betting for money is illegal in some states, I will use the word "points" instead of "cents" but whether you use chips or matches or something else, the principles are the same, and I've heard tell that some folks will take the plunge and start betting when the new card comes.
We start with four players and a bettor. After a player is East, she becomes the bettor and the prior bettor sits in the seat East vacates. (At one time players bet with chips which were kept stacked on the posts at the end of the rack. A set came with five racks, and when the bettor got up, she took her rack with her.)
After the players have completed all passing (including optional) the bettor circles the table and makes a bet. How do you know who to bet on, your ask? As with every other facet of this lovely game, you will need to make a complicated decision in a brief time, and you must do it in silence. Every "hmmm" or "oy" is telling, so when you do the "bettor's walk" keep your opinions to yourself. Even saying "this is a hard bet" will influence the course of history. And players, there is no need to "show and tell". It's really to your disadvantage to be bet on, as you end up with less mon -- fewer points. Be aware that an observant player can gauge the strength or weakness of a hand by how the player reacts to the bettor's gaze.
So what to look for?
- Who's got the jokers?
- Who's got their pairs?
- Who's got whose tiles?
- Who's the only one playing winds?
- Who's been running hot?
- Who has a great hand but doesn't see it?
- Who has a calling hand? A closed hand?
Sometimes a bet is easy. A player is in position to call every pung or kong and no one else is playing their tiles. No guarantees, of course - we've all been undone by the errant flower. In a way, the bettor is a demigod. You have the big picture, although you can't see everything in the wall, and you can only make a decision based on what you see in front of you. This is where knowledge of the card comes in, because more often than not, the hand at the end is not the hand at the beginning so knowing the switching potential of a hand is important.
Sometimes a bet is hard, and oftentimes we make a decision based on the player, not the hand. A player with a proven track record of making a hand out of nothing is a surer bet than a cautious player who only feels comfortable with open 25
For those not used to betting, the payoffs can be confusing, so let me go through them. Assume player A is the winner and she was playing a 25
- She picked her mahj herself and was not bet on All players including bettor give 50. (Total to player A = 2.00)
- She was thrown her mahj tile and was not bet on. All players including bettor give 25, thrower gives 50. (Total to player A - 1.50)
- She picked her mahj herself and was bet on. All players give 50 to player A and 50 to bettor. Or, alternatively, all players give 1.00 to player A and she splits it with the bettor. (Total to player A = 1.50, bettor gets 1.50)
- She was thrown her mahj tile and was bet on. All players give 25 to player A and 25 to bettor. Thrower gives 50 to player A and 50 to bettor. Or, alternatively, all players give 50 to player A and thrower gives 1.00 to player A. Player A splits with bettor. (Total to player A = 1.25, total to bettor 1.25)
- If player A's hand has no jokers at the end (jokers can be taken from exposures) then all values are doubled again. E.g. she picked her own mahj, had no jokers at end, all pay 1.00
- If the thrower was bet on, the bettor pays whatever the thrower pays.