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Sunday, January 16, 2011

It isn't easy being mean - or - There are no friends in Mahjongg

I have been getting a lot of e-mail from players all over the country and I love answering their questions and corresponding with them.  One question in particular caught my attention and I thought I would address it in my blog.  The writer gave me permission to publish it, but requested her name be withheld.  Here it is:

"Hi there.  I have just recently learned how to play mah jongg and have a lot to learn.  I was just playing this morning and called an opponents hand "dead" as she put up the wrong tiles for any hand to work. Another player at the table told me that was "mean" to call someone dead. Is there a rule on calling someone "dead" or is it mean to do it?  Thank you for your help."

Well, is it "mean" to call someone dead?
Firstly, we have to look at mahjongg as a strategy game.  In this sense, it is like a little war - think of checkers and chess.  The object of the game is to be the first to complete a hand, and if we are to accomplish that, we have to admit that we are competing against others, some of whom may be our close friends or relatives, and as with many other things in life, our gain may be their loss.  So we may feel a little queasy about calling them dead or letting them know that we have their tile and they're not getting it.
Now, in the instance above, another player tried to make the letter writer feel bad for declaring someone dead.  So this makes things more complicated.  What's the declarer to do?  Dead is dead, right?  Does the declarer cave in for the sake of keeping the peace, or does the declarer say, "I'm sorry, but the hand is dead.  Rules are rules."

An interesting thing is that a few days after I got this letter, the following scenario took place in my Friday game.  I was set with:           7777 888 999 DDJ     (7 dots were exposed and I was waiting for a 9 dot)
A 9 dot was discarded and I called mahjongg.  I picked up the tile from the table, exposed my hand and went to put the tile I picked up into my exposed hand when I realized I accidentally picked up an 8 dot from the table instead of the 9 dot that was thrown.  OMG!  I said "What's this 8 dot doing in my hand?  I didn't have an 8 dot!"  One player declared me dead, and I started stuttering - but-but-but was an ACCIDENT!  Another player wanted to give me the benefit of the doubt and said it was up to me whether I was dead or not.  Now, I could have taken the out, but friends, I knew I was dead.  Was it mean?  YES!  Did it hurt?  YES!  BUT - it was true.  In fact, it was so true that another player pointed out that in this year's Mah Jongg League newsletter they addressed this very issue.  It was an incorrect exposure.

So, let's get back to our topic.  When you jump a checker, are you being mean?  When you knock off a pawn in a chess game, are you being mean?  Mahjongg is war.  Your tiles are your little soldiers.  They fall.  Great armies fall because they make mistakes.  And we win because we take advantage of their mistakes.  And weaker players learn from their mistakes and when they are called dead, you can be assured they will not make that mistake again, so rather than being mean, you are really strengthening that player for the next battle.

Mahjongg is inherently schismatical in that we are not only playing with our friends, we are playing against our friends.  This often leads to an interesting group dynamic where personalities come into play and often can matter more than the tiles we have in our hand.  

As Sun Tzu says in "The Art of War" - 知彼知己,百戰不殆;不知彼而知己,一勝一負;不知彼,不知己,每戰必殆  - or - Know the other, know the self, hundred battles without danger; not knowing the other but knowing the self, one win one loss; not knowing the other, not knowing the self, every battle must be lost.

Till next time ... Happy mahj!


1 comment:

  1. Had to laugh reading this. I play with a group that formerly played Bonko together. When I first taught them to play Maj they made the same comment. "That's MEAN!" There is no teams, or partner support in Maj. They even thought the whole idea of holding someone else's tiles (once you know what they need) was 'mean'. LOL!

    Guess what? They eventually caught on! Now everyone is 'holding tiles' and pointing out "You're dead". You make an exposure with this group now and they are all over it. Just wait.