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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!




33 comments:

  1. nice article
    I would love to see the league step up and be more reachable with a modern website, so all the "rules" things could be address in a day to day manner

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  2. Thought it was always a rule to place a called tile "on" the rack as opposed to "in" the rack. Didn't know there was an option.

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  3. We all want to know. Are you bringing NEWS back??

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  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  5. Can someone tell me if there is a rule regarding the discard of a tile and if someone is allowed to yell "wait" if the next person has already picked up a tile and about to rack it. It seems we have a lady who always wants to win and she holds up the game a lot.

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    1. A discard may be called up until the time the next player picks and racks or discards. Being "about to rack" is not racked. It must be fully in the rack. Any player can call for a tile but they are not obligated to take it until they either place it on their rack or expose tiles from their hand. Some people rack very quickly to avoid the problem you have described above. Good luck!

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  6. Thanks Linda for your clarification. But, I guess my real question is does the person picking up the tile have to hold from racking if someone yells "wait" and then she decides after a few minutes not to call for the tile but held the game up for her to think about it. This happens often and I know it is annoying to many playing at the table.

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    1. Yes, if someone says "wait," then the player who picked the tile should put the tile back in the wall she picked it from and not hold it in her hand. If the player who called says "never mind," or decides not to take the tile, then the next player picks and racks. There is no rule to prevent someone from saying "wait" and holding up the game while she thinks about it. It's a matter of courtesy to other players and if she is taking too long then you may want to speak to her about it, or create a table rule that you can only call if you are sure you want the tile. But unfortunately, the rules are in her favor.

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  7. Someone in my group just noticed that under Like Numbers, unlike on the 2016 card, it does not say "any like number". It only speaks to suits, not to numbers. This would seem to mean that 1 is the only number that may be used. Is this the intent, or have you heard if there was an error in leaving the words "any like number" off of the 2017 card?

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    1. The National Mah Jongg League has clarified this hand on their website. It is intended to be ANY like numbers, as in prior years. See:

      https://www.nationalmahjonggleague.org/faq.html#loaded

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  8. Most frequent infraction: discarding then being allowed to start over and pick first. We are a small (3-7 tables) game in a senior center, no money. Do you think I should stop insisting the discarder is dead? I don't want to lose players, but want to respect the game.

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    Replies
    1. I understand your dilemma. My advice would be to discuss it with the whole group and come to a consensus on how to deal with it; either the player is called dead or make a table rule that it is overlooked. You may also come up with a table rule that if it happens more than once in a game the first time is overlooked but not the second. Let the majority decide and that way the outcome is supported. Good luck!

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  9. This has never come up in our games before but a player discarded a tile that could have been used to take a Joker from another player's exposed Kong. The player with the Kong picked up the tile and replaced her own Joker. I challenged the move as once a player determines to not replace another player's exposed Joker, no one else can pick up that tile. Am I nuts?

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    1. No, you are not nuts. When a tile is discarded, it may only be claimed to complete a new exposure or to declare mahjongg. You cannot take a tile from the table to replace a joker. Jokers may only be exchanged with a tile that is either picked from the wall or already in a player's hand, when it is that player's turn. So consider yourself sane.

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  10. Should East distribute the tiles to each player when the walls are opened at the beginning of the game. I was taught you should never touch another players tiles, that each player picks their own tiles. Your early reply would be appreciated.

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    Replies
    1. The back of the cards states: "Each player picks 4 tiles for 3 rounds," so East should not distribute.

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  11. I have a question. Is it permissible to replace a joker on another player's rack yourself? Or do I need to request the exchange?

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    Replies
    1. As long as it is your turn (i.e., you have picked a tile) you may replace the joker. It's not necessary to ask, but usually players will verbalize the exchange by saying "exchanging" or "replacing". Some tournaments are now requiring you ask, but it is not a National Mah Jongg League rule.

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  12. If I make mah jongg by exchanging a joker with another player who pays me double?

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    1. That's considered a self-picked mahjongg and all players pay double vague.

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    2. That should read "double value"

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  13. at a tournament what do we do if 2 players both have the same high score for either 1st , 2nd, or 3rd place?

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    1. It is not the best solution, but when I have seen it happen. Players who are tied split the money. Alternatively, you can give players who are tied for 1st place half each of the prize money designated for first and second place and bump the second place winner to third place. If someone is tied for 2nd place, have them split the money designated for second and third place. As I said, it's not the best solution, but that is how I have seen it done.

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  14. We had the situation where everyone wanted to "steal" so there were no tiles out to start the last pass. What is the rule for this situation?

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  15. This happens occasionally and it is a situation that is worked out by the table. It depends on whether everyone wants to blind pass the same number of tiles. If all want to "steal" one tile, then you can begin by East passing two and the player to her right stealing one from the two and then the next player has one to steal, as does the third player until the tiles eventually come back to East, who chooses two.
    If everyone wants to steal three, well, then, you are probably better off just having East discard the first tile, since no one would be able to option either. There is no "official" rule, so having the group come to agreement is the way to go.

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  16. Is racking a National Mah Jongg rule or is it something is decided amongst the players whether to rack or not?
    I know I read somewhere that it is not necessary that you must rack. I prefer to rack but some of my friends that I play with do not.

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    1. It is not required that a player rack a tile. You may pick a tile and discard without placing it in your rack. The benefit of racking, however, is to prevent a player from calling the prior discard, so some people consider it a defensive move. Please note that racking means the tile is fully IN the rack, not just "tapped" on top of the rack.

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  17. I understand #one player can exchange up to 3 tile with jokers. two questions: can #1 exchange jokers within multiple suits in the same hand? Second Question: Can a player exchange with multiple players in the same turn?

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    1. Yes, you may exchange for as many jokers as you have the natural tile for. You may take from different exposures on one player's rack, or more than one player's rack. The rule is to pick first or call and complete your exposure, then make the exchange or exchanges, then discard.

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  18. This week, someone called for a tile that had been discarded, picked it up, and then said she didn't want it. We were at odds about how to handle this. Could you give us the answer?

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    1. According to the current newsletter you are committed to taking a discard if you have placed the called tile on top of your rack or exposed tiles from your hand. If you have simply picked it up you can still change your mind.

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  19. In the top line of the quints, it shows the dragons being a different suit from the numbers, but in the parentheses, it states any no. in any suit and any dragon. So, could the dragons be green and the numbers be bams?

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    1. Yes, the dragons and numbers can be in the same suit (bams, craks or dots). "ANY" means they can be the same suit OR different suits.

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