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Friday, July 6, 2018

Trending: Social Mahjongg

The fifth annual 4th of July Mahjongg Social at Bryant Park, NYC

Back in the late 1950s and '60s mahjongg was a weekly affair, held at the same time with the same players and the same pie.  Players took turns being hostess, which meant putting out the set, snacks and ashtrays.  Players played by League rules prevalent at the time, and it was not uncommon to see games that lasted 30 or 40 years.  (Some people are still playing by those rules...)

By the mid '80s, tournament play caught on, and lately the field has mushroomed.  From small fundraisers to transatlantic cruises, single-day, multi-day or mini-day tournaments have come to towns and cities all over the country.  Using National Mah Jongg League rules as a base, tournaments have developed their own structure and style, adding rules which enhance the competitive spirit at work in this milieu. 

Enter social mahjongg, a relatively new phenomenon fueled by waves of retirees looking for a way to meet people, have fun and exercise some brain power in the process.  With very little effort you will find social mahjongg in community centers, libraries, parks, senior centers and clubhouses; organized through Meetup or municipal recreational facilities or just wonderful folks who want to share their love of the game.  Social mahjongg has become my game of choice.

Social mahjongg is open to all; beginners and seasoned alike.  As the organizer of Bryant Park Mahjongg, I've developed some do's and don'ts of social mahjongg:

DO - Expect to play National Mah Jongg League rules - period, full stop.  Table rules may fly in home games, but the social aspect makes it likely that not all players at a table will agree to ____ (fill in the blank here; mush, hot wall, cold wall, put your tile on the rack, in the rack, etc., etc., etc.)

DO  - Abide by the rules of the venue.  If the library doesn't allow playing for money, DON'T pass your quarters under the table.  You may, however, keep score on paper and settle up later, or use chips like they did in the '50s and '60s (see above)

DO - Appreciate your facilitator!  Usually they are volunteers and some things are out of their control.   If the equipment is limited to X number of sets, DON'T whinge about having to rotate in.  Or better yet, bring a set!

DO - Tell your friends to come, but DON'T act like it's your weekly game and exclude people because you're "saving a seat" for someone who may or may not arrive.  The whole point of social mahjongg is to be ....(get ready for it).... SOCIAL!!

DO - Be kind to beginners.  You were there once yourself.  If someone is playing too slow for your taste, change tables! 

DO - Mix and mingle.  Meet and play with new people - even men!  Even young people!  Even Chinese people who know how to play Chinese mahjongg and are very interested in learning American style!  Let people sit next to you and watch and learn.  DON'T just play with people from your building, club or zip code. 

And, most of all, DO have fun!  As I've heard many, many, many a time - It's a GAME!!!!



Thursday, March 29, 2018

The NEWS is out! (SPOILER ALERT: New Card described in detail)


The new card is here and it does not disappoint!
There are some subtle changes and some major ones.
Something for everyone!
Here is a category-by-category description of the changes, so if you haven't gotten your card yet (they will arrive shortly) and you are clamoring for a taste, read along!
(Images of the new card are a no-no, so this is the next best thing.)

2018
There are still four hands in this category.
The first hand is now in ANY three suits, as opposed to two.
The second hand has been moved to the Winds, so instead of kongs of dragons with the year in the middle, it's now kongs of dragons with NEWS in the middle. 
The third hand has been changed so that the kongs can now be 1's, 2's or 8's.  Lots of room for switching, especially since the like numbers hands can also contain kongs of these or any other numbers!
To make up for the moved dragon hand, a four flower hand has been added; kongs of flowers, two's, zero's with a single 1 and a single 8.  ANY one suit, as the zero's are not dragons.  (Experienced players will know this, but many new players will not, even though it is still printed on top of the category in red).
The concealed hand is also a NEWS hand!  pair of 2's, pung of 0's, NEWS pung of 1's, pair of 8's.  Very elegant!

2468
There are still six hands in this category.
A single, interesting change to the first hand.  Instead of four flowers and one 2, it's now three flowers and a pair of 2's.  Three flowers is something new!  Now when a player exposes three flowers you cannot assume they need three more.  Very intriguing!  To add to this intrigue, another three flower hand shows up in the 369 category and also contains a pung of 6's.  Hmmm......
The second hand has been moved down the category and the pattern has changed.  Instead of pung/kong/pung/kong it's now pung/pung/kong/kong.  This changed pattern follows through in consecutive run, odds and 369. 
The third, fourth and fifth hands remain the same, though they have moved one slot down in the category to make room for the "dangling eights" hand - kong of 2's, pair of 4's, kong of 6's in one suit and two pairs of opposite eights.  A 30 cent open hand within 2468, which is a change.
The concealed hand, again at the bottom, is another old favorite and a slight variation - the pair of flowers at the beginning have been switched to a pair of dragons at the end; four pungs and a pair, all one suit.
So no four-flower hand in 2468, which is a departure from prior years.

ANY LIKE NUMBERS
Yes, the word "ANY" now appears in the category, since it caused a lot of consternation among new players as to whether they had to play the hand with all 1's.  Seasoned players knew it was any like number, but now there's no doubt.  And the two hands remain, but a third, closed hand has been added - like numbers with dragons, a welcome addition.  pair of number, pair of matching dragons; pung of number, pung of matching dragon; kong of number.  Simple! Just remember - it's CLOSED.

ADDITION HANDS
"Lucky 13" has been replaced by hands with numbers that add up to 12.  The pattern is the same; four flowers, kong, kong and single one, single two, in one suit or three.  What's interesting is the numbers are 3+9, 4+8 and 5+7. so three categories are represented in this category as well.

QUINTS
Four hands in the quint section.
First hand hasn't changed;  ANY wind, ANY quint, ANY dragon.  (I call this hand the "any" hand).
A new quint hand has been added - pair of flowers, quint of 3's, pair of 6's, quint of 9's.  Now, there is an open hand in 369 with three kongs, but if you should happen to have two jokers and two 6's, voila, you have a quint!
The like number hand in quints is now the old favorite - 1123 with kongs the same as any pair. 
The consecutive run hand in quints is now any one suit, four consecutive numbers:  quint, pair, pair, quint, so it can be 11111 22 33 44444 or 22222 33 44 55555 or 33333 44 55 66666 or... well, you get the idea.  This is great for tiles that don't normally go together; especially 1 and 4, 2 and 5, 4 and 7, 5 and 8.  Don't forget the pairs, though!

CONSECUTIVE RUN
Seven hands in this section.  The two classics, 1-5 and 5-9, have a pattern change - back to pair/pair/pung/kong.  The second classic run, any four consecutive numbers in any two suits also has a pattern change and is now pung/pung/kong/kong.
Flowers with numbers and dragons are still in one suit, changed to a pair of flowers, two consecutive kongs and a kong of matching dragons.  Goes nicely with like numbers, so you can expose a kong of dragons and a kong of a number and be playing either one!
Three consecutive numbers (pair of flowers/kong/kong/kong) can be played in one OR three suits.
Sad news!  1-2-1-2-3 has met its demise.  No more go-to consecutive.  And, <sigh> no more sandwich hand.  (At least not in consecutive run!  The sandwich makes its appearance in the Winds section).
The fourth slot is now filled by a three-pair, 30 cent hand in FIVE consecutive numbers (pair/pair/pair/kong in second suit/kong in third suit).  This one looks challenging!
The sixth slot is what's called a "knitted" hand, meaning the suits alternate. It's three consecutive numbers with matching dragons in a pattern of kong/pung/kong/pung.  The kongs are in one suit and the pungs in another.  The suit of the dragons must match the suit of the middle number.  This pattern is repeated in odds and 369.  Another place to have kongs of 5 and 7 or 7 and 9!
To substitute for the beloved 1-2-1-2-3 hand, the closed hand takes away the kong of threes and makes the two pairs two pungs with a pair of flowers to start.  Got the picture?  You will when you see it!

13579
What would a card be without the odd hands?  The classic first hand is pair/pair/pung/pung/kong, consistent with the first consecutive run hand.  Second classic hand is the choice; 1-3-3-5 or 5-7-7-9 with pattern of pung/pung/kong/kong, consistent with consecutive run again.  The block hand remains unchanged; pair of flowers and three kongs of either 1-3-5 or 5-7-9, all in one suit.
The odds and dragons hand has been inverted to make it consistent with the "knitted" dragon hand consecutive run - kong/pung/kong/pung with the dragons matching the pung of odds.
The sandwich hand in odds is gone, replaced by a hand in three suits, with pairs of 1-3-5 in one suit; 7s in a second suit and 9s in a third suit.  This follows the pattern in the three-pair consecutive run hand.  Very neat because you can be doing kongs of 7s and 9s in two suits in consecutive run  (7-8-9) or in the odds category.
And just when you thought they had disappeared - six flowers in odds - with 1s and 5s or 5s and 9s - same suit, those numbers only.  
The closed hand is also a one-suit hand; pair of flowers, pungs of 1-3-5 or 5-7-9, three matching dragons.

WINDS - DRAGONS
The winds have gotten a real overhaul.  I think I heard more complaints about the wind hands in 2017 than ever before.  Winds were the first tiles thrown, but that will all change for 2018!
There are seven hands in this section.  All the exposed hands use kongs of winds.
The first hand in 2017 has been moved to the third slot in winds.  Same block hand of 4N,4E,4W,2S
The first two slots are four-flower hands; 4N,4S with 2 reds only in the middle, and 4E,4S and 2 greens.  The suit of the dragon is specified in the parenthetical.
Then we have a pair of flowers with two dragon kongs (any dragons) with NEWS in the middle.  Yay, NEWS!  Who doesn't love NEWS?  Probably the most yearned-for combination.
Next two hands are sandwich hands; 4N,4S with any like odd pairs in the middle and 4E,4W with evens.
Closed hand is beautiful - two flowers with a pung of each wind.  Perfect ending for a perfect category.

369
The first hand is traditionally a one-suit dragon hand, and this year's is a little tricky!  It's three flowers (like the first 2468 hand) a pair of 3s, pung of 6s, pair of 9s and kong of dragons.  So the pattern is pung/pair/pung/pair/kong.  Not your typical pattern, but let's see how it plays!
Three hands are unchanged:  The 3-6-6-9 block (pattern now is pung/pung/kong/kong), the pairs of 369 with two kongs in opposite suits, either 3s, 6s or 9s, and the pair of flowers with three kongs is the same, either one suit or three.  This meshes nicely with the 3+9=12 hand if you have the 3s and 9s exposed.
The 3-6-3-6-9 pattern has been retired for now and replaced by the "knitted" hand of 3-6-9-D, with the pung of dragons matching the pung of 6s and the kong of 3s matching the kong of 9s.
Closed hand is a rerun from prior years:  pungs of 3s and 9s with a single 6 in the middle in 2 suits.

Singles And Pairs
Most of the hands in singles and pairs will be familiar to experienced players.  Every category is represented by a hand, so you always have an opportunity to switch out if you go dead.
The winds:  Pairs of winds with any three consecutive numbers.
Evens:  Pair of flowers, pairs of evens with a matching even in the other two suits.
Odds:  Pair of flowers; pairs of 1-3-5 and pairs of 5-7-9 in any two suits.  
Consecutive:  Pair of flowers, pairs of any five consecutive numbers with 2 matching dragons.
369:  Pairs of 369 and pairs of 369 in second suit.
And, what's this?  Our old friend 998-99887-998877 - a real go-to for when you have those 8s and 9s and nothing else!
2018:  Unchanged!  pairs of 2018 with pair of dragons, two suits, Bams and Craks only.  Still 60 cents!  Boo-hoo!  

So there you have it.  Enough of a change to be a challenge, but not so much to be overwhelming.  New players and experienced players alike should find something to love about this card!  

As it states in the 2016 newsletter:
     "Changes on our Mah Jongg card are never arbitrary.  We make changes because we wish to make the game more challenging and interesting.  All new rules and changes are tested and well thought out by a Committee.  We test the new card 3 days a week, 6 hours a day from the end of August thru the first week in November.  Any and all recommendations and suggestions are welcome."

So, you heard it here - send the League a note and let them know what you think or what you might like to see on the next card!  

Happy mahj!