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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

How do you say Mahjongg?

The literal translation of "mahjongg" is "sparrow".  One translation is "sparrow tail," meaning that winning is as difficult as catching a sparrow by the tail.  Another interpretation is "chattering sparrows," associated with the sound of tiles colliding on the table.   The language of the game can also be likened to twittering birds. Subtle variations in nomenclature reflect a dialect of playing style.  Take note:

Much like spring robins engaged in nest building, players during passing chirp the mahjongg lament:
"This isn't a hand, it's a foot"
"What to do, what to do..."
"This is too beautiful to pass.."
"Are there jokers in this set?"
"Last Rites"
"If only I had two that went together..."

Occasionally the hostility of blue jays is expressed during the play; e.g.,
"Two crap"
"Seven bums"
"Six dot to go with the three other ones I threw"
"I HATE this game"
"I haven't picked one tile"

Like a baby bird being nudged out of the nest, a distracted player is told to pay attention.
"Curtsy, Nancy"
"Your wall, Nancy"
"Nancy's wall"
"Push, Nancy"
"Nancy, you're out"
or just
"Nancy" (accompanied by a forward thrust of the chin)

The pecking order comes to the fore when calling for a tile. Think pigeons running for bread in the park.
"Can I call that 4 dot?"
"I think I want that"
"Wait - um - OK"
"Call it"

And the glorious moment when it all comes together and the winner gets their peacock moment:
"Made it"
"That's it"
(Silent exposure of hand on rack with triumphant look)
"I don't believe it!"

Then the autopsy; the whining over carcasses of hands that might have been.
"But look at MY hand..."
"I was set!"
"Do you know how long I've been waiting?"
"I was going for jokerless!"

Time to fly away now - return the ashes of your hand into the swirling mix to begin again fresh and new, like spring.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Pie's the limit.

I was a little late to the game on Friday and as soon as I walked in the door I was greeted with, "We're playing $10 pie and we doubled the card.  Is that all right with you?" I'm a good sport, so I dug another $3 out of my bag and proceeded to play high-stakes mahjongg.  Now, despite my prattling on about being a gunslinger mahjongg maverick, the truth is I've only played once in an unlimited pie game, played a $5 pie for years and only recently upped it to $7.   $10 is a little rich for my blood, and double the card!  Well, let me tell you, it changed the whole tenor of the game.

The amount of pie varies from group to group.  It refers to the total amount of money that can be wagered in a game.  Each player brings their share of the pie to the table, usually in a decorative, fetishistic mahjongg purse.  For many years I used my aunt Sally's flowered change purse until it rotted away.  Now I use a tiny pink Asian snap-top stuffed with dimes and quarters.  It won't hold $10, unless it's two fives. 
In a game with a $10 pie with five players there's a constant of $50 floating from player to player.  In a game with a $3 pie, it's a constant $15.  Hmm...maybe they should call it "pi," and make it $3.14159265.

If you didn't notice, I used a word that hovers above the periphery of a modern American mahjongg game,  but is seldom spoken aloud.  The word was "wager," as in gambling - the big G.  Are we gambling when we play mahjongg?  Some players say "yes, yes, yes!" with great enthusiam as they double the card and blow the lid off the pie.  Others say "no, no, no" we play for fun, for amusement, the money has nothing to do with it.

For myself, I found the $10 pie double the card slightly out of my comfort zone.  I did win $1, mostly from making a couple of good bets since I didn't make too many mahjonggs.  But while I do like to play for some kind of reward other than just winning, the raised stakes made me feel as though I was inching closer to the Maginot line between the friendly, sociable game and the Chinese mahjongg parlor where I could lose my house in five minutes.  I expect the police have better things to do than to arrest the type of mahjongg players we are, but I need to examine my boundaries and be true to my non-gambling nature.  Would I play in that kind of game again?  Well, yes, if it weren't my regular game.  There's no moral high horse here - just my own internal compass.  For me the $7 pie works best.  It's high enough to make it rewarding and low enough to meet my definition of "nominal sum," which appears in many state statutes. Maybe if I lived in Vegas, it would be different.

So I tip my hat to the high rollers that spice up their game with a big pot, but it just isn't me.  I'm the one that brings $20 to the casino, plays the nickle slots and when my $20 is gone (in about 30 seconds) I look for free food.  Vive la difference!  And congrats to you, Arlene, for being the first one in our group to get the Big Hand this year - I was honored to pay you double.   

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Mahjongg Maverick

I love to think of myself as the Mahjongg Maverick.  According to maverick has three  definitions:  (a) an unbranded calf (b) a lone dissenter or (c) an electro-optically guided U.S. air-to-ground tactical missle.  Yep, that's me.  I graze in the field, play mahjongg where others fear to tread, and, with laser-pointed accuracy choose a hand and win, win, win!

Okay, so I don't look like James Garner.  And I did go pie on Friday night.  (Isn't "go pie" a strange expression?  Only a mahj player would know what it means.   Experiment:  Next time you buy a coffee and your server says "Have a nice day," say "I hope I don't go pie!"  Report what s/he says.)

Today I played mahjongg in the back room of a game store - the kind that could double as a tattoo parlor.  The store was decorated with figurines of aliens and wizards.  Groups of kids with striped hair and sneakers clustered around computer screens.  We played next door to a group of poker-playing Goth types, beneath photos of zombies.  It was strange, but I broke my losing streak.  Here's how:
I ended the charleston with FFF 222457J88G all bams.  What to do, what to do?  Seven-eight-green?  Two-five-seven?  Two-four-six-eight?  Two-eight-green?  Two-four-green-six-eight?  four-five-six-seven-eight-green?  What to do, what to do?  Things moved quickly - two five bams went out, I picked another seven, called the flower, threw the four then picked four jokers in a row.  I picked so many jokers that I threw out two 2s and  an 8 but ended up with FFFF 2JJJ 8JJ8 GFinally I picked the green when there were only three tiles left, but I got it.  Better than Friday night when I was sitting naked with FFFF 1111 5555 exposed, the lone 3 dot on my rack, watching everyone break up their hand rather than throw to me.  But, that's mahjongg.

We are all mavericks when we sit behind the rack.  We may not have guns in our holsters, but we wear our gambling cowboy hats and love that lady luck.  So we nosh a little - is that a crime?

This maverick will be on the move next month.  I'll be playing at the Mahjongg Madness tournament in Ft. Lauderdale the weekend of April 29.  I've added a tournament schedule to the site.  If you know of a tournament coming up, let me know and I will post it.  Meanwhile, I will be in the Hollywood, FL area the first two weeks in May.  If you are looking for a player, my card is below.  Have set, will travel.

Monday, April 4, 2011

000146 mahjblog < 100 games E=0.0

The card's been out a week, and so far I've played in only one game.  The head cold I had at the tournament a few weeks ago came roaring back, but I could not let it stop me.  Thank you, friends, for letting me honk and drip all over the tiles.  I know I was selfish and you took your life in your hands, but what else could you do?  We were only four and it was the new card, after all.  Hope I don't need to buy get well cards...

I was going to play yesterday, but the game fell apart.  Just as well, as I still wasn't up to par.  No get well cards there.  And since I was still suffering this morning, I stayed home from work today and took this perfect opportunity to get online and practice.

For those not familiar, National Mahjongg League runs an online site and right now for a very limited time all players are equal.  Players are ranked by percentile after playing 100 online games.  When a new card comes out all scores zero out and the playing field is leveled.  The field is somewhat more level off line as well, as experienced players must slow down to digest the new card, so new players grab the opportunity to play whenever you can.   

I began by playing in the "Social" room, which is unscored, and I played against the computer.  They've programmed the computer to act like other players, and it actually got snarky when I took too long to discard.  "All right, all right, I'm throwing," I told it.  It gave me a good push.

Once I felt ready, I moved into the Official 2011 room. The room is currently untimed and everyone is busy accumulating 100 games.  It takes a long time to play 100 games, but many have already done it.  If you average it out to 7 minutes a game, it would take 11.666666666666666666666666666667 hours. So far I have 39, and am playing as fast as I can.  BTW,  I've changed my screen name from LindaNY to mahjblog, so if you see me, say hello.

Some tips if you are new:  Make sure to create a screen name.  Leaving your name as MAJ-006274 is a sure sign of a newbie.  A registration number can reveal how long someone has been playing online.  My number is 000146, which means I was the 146th person to register.  There are well over 6,000 now, so respect us old timers.

The official 2011 won't be untimed for long.  When it becomes the 2011 Minutes room, the tables are labeled 7 minute room, 10 minute room, etc.  Don't jump into the 7 minute room unless you know you can keep up.  If a game goes over the time limit, all players are assessed a penalty.  The anxiety of not finishing on time can sometimes cause people to be extremely rude, and they will say things like CMON and GO.  Others are more polite and will say things like "Can we pick up the pace, please?" or "faster, please" or even a simple fp.  If you wait to long to click on a tile, your name will turn yellow with shame.  So use good judgment when deciding what room to go into.  Your screen name is displayed along with your rank, percent of finished games and number of times you make unauthorized exits.  Some people actually exit out when they don't like their hand.  But if you keep your rank and finished games as high as you can and your exits at 0, everyone will want to play with you.  It's a wonderful resource.  I'm just glad I don't have it at work, or I would have made my 100 games long ago.

But don't you love the new card?  I've been trying out all the hands and while I had a few moments of panic when I needed flowers with like numbers, I'm starting to get over it.  I'm afraid my old favorite dragon-like numbers hand  is going to be supplanted by the last hand in 2011.  I've made this hand a few times.  If you're going for the singles and pairs wind hand with the numbers 11 22 33, and you pick two jokers and a soap, you can easily dump the 3s and switch out.  Same with the 998877 singles and pairs hand.  There were two occasions when I started out playing this jokerless hand and started to pick jokers.  One time I turned it into the bookend hand, 7777 88 88 88 9999, and another time I had enough jokers for the quint hand, 7899 99999 99999.  How versa-tile is that?