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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Like a Shakespearian tragedy - everybody died

I played with a new group last night and something pretty funny and unusual happened. At first everyone agreed to be sworn to secrecy because it was so embarrassing, but I thought it would make a cool blog story and agreed not to use any names, just initials.

So here's what went down.

G called for and exposed a kong of one bams. So far so good.
M called for a 9 bam. She took the nine from the table and exposed what at first glance appeared to be four nine bams, but one was a six bam. (She thought she could fool us by turning it upside down, but that didn't work.) So she said, well, never mind, I don't want the nine bam after all. DEAD! Rule: Once you've exposed, you can't take it back. She could have left three nine bams up and tried to change her hand, but she chose not to and she had no joker to make a kong. So her tiles went back in her rack, including the nine bam she called, as it was off the table.

So play continued with three hot and heavy. G declared Mahjongg and put out:

1133 113355 1111

So the other two players A and I, said "very nice" and proceeded to grouse about how we were set. Look, I said, exposing my entire hand. I only needed a 2 dot! And A showed her hand and said, oh, yeah? Look at this! One flower away from a singles and pairs! Boo hoo hoo!

Then M noticed something. Hey, wait a minute! Isn't that ---

And then G realized OMG, you're right! I'm dead!
And then A and I realized we were dead, too.

Now I read on a blog advice column that one way to attract comments is to ask people questions. So I know people are reading this because I have a counter.
So, you tell me, why were we all dead?

Saturday, December 25, 2010


Yesterday, Warren (yes, a man) showed this hand after we had played to a wall game:

222 DJJ 111 DJJ

He had been sitting, waiting for a flower that never came.
I, of course, in my patronizing way said - Why didn't you switch it to:

FJJ 111J 222J DD

Same tiles rearranged.  The first hand leaves you waiting for a pair, while the second hand is more flexible and either a 1, 2 or flower could give you mahjongg.
His answer, verbatim, was "Nothing personal, but the second is a more pedestrian (adj. commonplace, prosaic, dull) hand."
Well, I never.

It is true, though.  The second hand is worth less simply because it is a little boring, with only one pair.  A tried and true, steady and reliable hand. In fact, it is often on the card in consecutive runs.  But its structure makes it one of the "easy" hands, and the chances of making a mahjongg are greater.  However, Warren, chose to push the hand of higher value,  more exciting because of its payoff and elegance of design.  This hand won't be back for awhile, unless they use it next year, but more than likely it would be something more like 222 000 111 111.

So when do we decide to make the switch?  Is this something that separates the men from the girls, so to speak?  I know in tournaments the push is always on and every point counts, but then, too, the moment must come to decide, can I make it this way?  Or should I switch it to this?  Were I Warren, I would have switched.  My personality is more the "play it safe" kind than the big kahuna kind.  I just can't take the pressure!  Although, I do see the value in sticking with a hand that even though the chances are eroding, the hand is so beautiful that you don't want to give it up.  I will confess that sometimes even if I know I am dead, I will keep playing the hand because it is so nice to look at - especially the singles and pairs.  Some may scoff and say well, what's the point of that?  You'll never win that way.  I know, I know.  But I like to think about what might have been, or, even more, what should have been, what would have been.  <sigh>

I guess my point is this:  When to switch is one of those individual things.  Suddenly the door swings open for another hand and you only have a second to make the decision.  Often times you make the decision and then start picking the tiles for the hand you left behind.  But sometimes you're going for the easier hand and the pairs hand becomes apparent.  It's tough to throw out a joker, but you do it anyway.  Then spend the rest of the game agonizing over your decision - until you get set and are on call, like Warren was, and your heart starts pumping a little faster.  Oh, the joy of mahjongg!  

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Cry and you buy

"Cry and you buy" is an old mahjongg expression.  It means if you are having a bad day, not getting jokers, not making your pairs, your tiles are going out left and right, if you start to whine the mahjongg gods will hear you and send you a joker.  Some people cry in a subtle way;  "Are there jokers in this set?" they say.  Others say "oy, vey, I'm not picking any jokers!"  Some make an open appeal:  "Please, please, send me a joker!"  Sometimes when you say these things the next tile you pick is a joker!  Sometimes, however, it isn't.
Last night it wasn't.  I was so cold last night I almost went pie with four players and a $7 purse.  Can you believe?  Just when I thought I was set up, the pairs would go out 8 bam, 8 bam, 8 bam, like people were reading my mind.  And I got the stupidest combinations - four 1 bams and 3 seven craks, for example.  Like, duh, what do you expect me to do with that?  That's almost as bad as 2's and 9's.

So I decided if I wasn't going to win, nobody was going to win.  Screw 'em!  I bluffed my head off.  I put up four seven craks with nothing to back them up.  ooooohhhh...people got scared!  Wouldn't throw a 7!  Wouldn't throw a flower!  Heck, I was crying but not buying, so why not? I kept every conceivable hot tile.    I wasn't going to make it, so I had nothing to lose.  She had four eight craks and four nine dots?  No seven bam for you!     We had quite a few wall games, and the sentiment was expressed that mahjongg is not about being nice to people.  Or to put it another way, "there are no friends in mahjongg."

Another way to think about it is even if your hand is lousy, you can still make a difference in the outcome, so never give up.  I've always been told mahjongg is not always about your hand, but the big picture, just like so many other things in life, right?

But here is something I've noticed and question:  How come the same tile will stick around all night?  I just couldn't get rid of those 1 bams no matter what I did.  I couldn't use them, but I kept picking them.  Maybe the mahjongg gods were telling me something?  Food for thought.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Hand of the Day

Ok,  so last night I ended the Charleston with this:

5 777 99 55799 JJ  (dots and craks)

I actually had the fourth 7 dot and passed it away on the second left, thinking I could call it if I needed to.
My first tile picked was a flower.  The seven dot went out.  Stupid me, I should have called it, right?  Then I could get rid of the fives and nines and only needed a flower and seven crak.  Well, I didn't call it and the hand sort of went to hell.  A five dot went out, a seven crak went out.  I called the nine craks, threw out a seven dot and then needed a flower and a five dot.  Six of one, half a dozen of the other, right?  Until flowers went out left and right and then the other two five dots fell.  Dead.

Rena said she would have opened it up and done 555 7777 777 9999.  I'm not so sure that would have worked, given that, yeah, I could have called the seven dots but was short on 7 craks.  How would I cover?
Decisions, decisions.  We all approach these things in our own way, I suppose.  One of the things I love about this game.


Sunday, December 5, 2010


Risk-taking counts for much in mahjongg.  How do you know when the odds are in your favor?  Do you take a chance and throw to an obvious hand? 
For example, last night, Brenda had exposed:  777 888 9999 in cracks.  Obvious hand, right?  But she needs two pairs, 55 and 66 to complete the hand.   One 5 crak was on the table and one 6 crak was on the table.
I, of course was sitting set when I picked a five crak.  Ack!  Rats!  Do I throw it and take a chance or do I break up my hand?  There isn't a lot of time to make a decision.  She could be set, she might not be set.  She did need two pairs, but which one?  Brenda, of course, was sitting like Buddha, not giving any indication of what the real story was, which is how it should be.
So I folded.  I kept the 5 crak and threw out a tile that I needed in my hand.  I did not want to take the risk, even though I was set.
I once played with a lady who yelled at you if you threw to an obvious hand.  "Were you set?  Were you set?" she would say.  If you weren't, heaven help you. 
Some games have a table rule where if you throw to an obvious hand and the player calls for mahjongg, you must pay for everyone at the table.  Others say you must pay for everyone at the table out of your own pocket, not your mahjongg purse.  The idea is that you must be punished for making a move that costs everyone, not just you.  At tournaments, throwing to a hand like that might cost you as much as 35 points.
But suppose you were set for a quint hand or a high-scoring jokerless hand, or a singles and pairs?  Would you take the risk?
Last night Rena took the risk.  After I picked and kept the 5 crak, Rena nonchalantly threw a 6 crak, slyly pretending that it was no big deal.  Arlene and I gasped.  How could she?!  But she did. Maybe she knew something that we didn't.  And Brenda didn't call for mahj.  So I concluded that she must need the 5 crak, and was glad I broke up my hand, until I picked ANOTHER 5 crak.  Hmm.  One on the table and two in my hand.  She could still be set.  I had already broken, so I held it.  The game ended as a wall game.  All right, better than losing.  At tournaments everyone gets 10 points for a wall game.
And Brenda, she wasn't set at all.  She needed a six AND a five.
And the lady who would yell at you if you threw to an obvious hand?  She would often take the risk.

Sometimes there are little "tells" that let you know if someone is set.  That is for another blog post.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A cool move

On Sunday at the country club, there was much controversy about a move I made.  Here's the setup:
In my hand I had:   FF 33669 DDD DDJ.
The 369 were in bams, with three red dragons, two soaps and a joker.
It was towards the end of the game.  No 9 bams had gone out, so there were still three out there somewhere.
A soap went out and I called it.  Then I threw the joker.
What an uproar!  "What did you do that for?  How could you call and then throw a joker?"
Well, people, why do you think?
Two picks later I picked the 9 bam and presented a jokerless hand.

Every game has its unusual moves.  I will be reporting on other ones as they come up.
Happy mahj!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Good Game

The game at the country club was successful.  My first hand out of the box netted me $5 - it was the singles and pairs 2468, so I felt redeemed.  Marcia made the big hand!  Yay!  Two other players tried it after opening strong with three soaps, but, alas, the elusive hand only wanted Marcia.  
Much talk about the famed Brian Semple - winner of three tournaments in a row and co-founder of Manhattan Mahjong.  Congratulations, Brian.  I have always wondered what it takes to play such a consistently good game.  I always see the same names up there on the tournament score sheets.  My score is always around the middle, although once in a while I have a lucky streak.  What are you guys doing that I'm not? 
Tournament in Bellemore, Long Island on Sunday, December 12.
For more info, check out:
Hope to see you there and see my name somewhere above gthe middle.   Look out, Brian! 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

So close yet so far...

Yesterday was so close to the "big hand" yet it all slipped away.  I opened with three soaps, two two dots, two one dots and NEW.  I picked the flowers but went dead on the South. Believe it or not, they all went out 1-2-3-4.  ARGH!  SO SAD!!!
Tomorrow I play with the "Country Club" set at my cousin's in New Jersey.  They play the "throw and pick" way and not the "pick and throw," so every tile I have to think:  Throw-pick-don't look, throw-pick-don't look.  They play an unlimited pie.  Last time I was there, I threw in to a singles and pairs hand, and unbeknownst to me, with their complicated table rules, I had to pay TEN DOLLARS for one hand.  I was in shock the rest of the day and swore I wouldn't be back, yet here I am going again tomorrow.  Glutton for mahjongg?  You bet!
Hello to my first follower!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Reason to love mahjongg I

Here is one reason why I find playing mahjongg so compelling.
Each hand is a compelling story.  When the tiles are dealt out and face down, my hand is an unopened book.  The story begins when the tiles are on the rack in front of me.  Sometimes I can see how the story going to go - there's enough there to show me the way.  Other times it's a book I have trouble getting into, requiring more effort and concentration.  As the passing occurs, a hand starts to emerge.  It can be strong and emphatic like a well-drawn character or just the muted beginnings of a pattern, like a mystery with many doors still closed.  Then the picking and throwing fills in the hand, but I am now subject to the vagaries of my opponents.  How will this story come out?  I know how I want the story to end, but my wishes mean nothing here.  I can only keep a sharp eye out for clues to the mystery, like who has my 2 dot.  I can make educated guesses about what will happen next, but I must keep turning the pages until a resolution comes one way or another.  And then it starts all over again.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Making a quint is so satisfying.  Today online I made:   FFFF 11111 22222
Never made that hand before.  I had two flowers, four two craks but only two one bams.  Thought I would do 1-2-3 but never got three dots.  Pulled in another flower, another 1 bam and two jokers and bingo- MAHJ!  Sometimes it's so easy and other times it's NOT.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Mahjongg Rules

Yes, Mahjongg does rule!  Here is a copy of the rules for Modern American Mahjongg as played according to the official National Mahjongg League rules.  You can print this out and use it for your group.  If you are going to post it on a website, please post appropriate credit or link your post to:
Thanks and happy Mahj!

Mahjongg Rules

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Building the wall

Thanks to the girls in my Friday game for letting me post these videos.  This one is on how to build the wall.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Testing the mahj blog

Hello, everyone.
Here I am testing out this new blog.  I am hoping that all you players out there will log in and say hello.  I get a lot of people accessing the rules for Modern American Mahjongg, also known as National Mah Jongg League mahjongg, and have been getting questions from people all over the country.  There are a lot of new players out there, and everyone loves the game.   I'd love to communicate with other players and share strategies and discuss the ins and outs of our beloved passtime.
Happy mahj!