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Monday, July 11, 2011

Shh...don't tell.

Everyone gasped when Alex threw a 9 dot.  After all, Bonnie had 7777 888 exposed.  It was late in the game and only one 9 dot was on the table.  There was only one hand she could be playing.  Why did he take the risk? She could have been set!  Inquiring minds want to know.

An observant player would not be surprised by this move.  Players will often unknowingly, and to their detriment, telegraph the status of their hand.  Rigorous self-examination is required to rid yourself of the oft-fatal "tells".   Do not expect other players to clue you in - remember, there are no friends in Mah Jongg!

Read on and see if you recognize yourself.
  • Do you:  Separate your tiles so that everyone can see that you have two of this, three of that, one of this, three of this and one of this - and three on the side to discard?  
  • Do you:  Keep your finger on the card near the hand you're playing?
  • Do you:  Play without thinking ahead so that you hesitate when a tile goes out?  
  • Do you: Moan and groan when your tiles get discarded or exposed by another player? 
  • Do you: Physically count how many you have for hand A and how many for hand B?
  • Do you: Say "Oh crud!" or worse, when you pick a tile you know someone else needs - and then you keep it?
  • Do you:  Constantly arrange and rearrange your hand, letting everyone know that your hand is slipping away?
  • Do you:  Kvetch about how many jokers you could use right about now?
All of these behaviors tell your opponents "Go ahead, throw my tile.  I'm not even close!"  Learning to control your reaction to surprising events will keep them guessing.  When Hilda throws the 7th flower, and your chances of making a pair are gone forever, does everyone have to know?   Does it help your game to slap your forehead and say, "Oh, no, I made a mistake!"  Better to set out to remedy your mistake than ask for sympathy.  While your opponents may say, "aw, boo-hoo, too bad," they are thinking, "well, she's no threat now. I can discard that 4 bam and move closer to mahj."  Do you really want everyone to know that your hand is a mess?  NO!  But - if you act as if you are one tile away from the greatest mahjongg hand on the face of the earth your opponents will act accordingly.

How do you know when someone is set?  Body language plays a big part.  When I'm set, I lean forward, intent and ready to pounce the moment I hear the name of my winning tile.  My heart beats more quickly and I am less patient with people.  Let's go, I think, throw my tile already.   But when I play in tournaments I try to curb my enthusiasm and become one of the quiet ones, emulating those players who silently go about the business of making a hand and seeing it through with control.  No matter how weak their hand may be, they give nothing away, calmly focusing on the circumstances around them and weighing their odds.

So how did Alex know that Bonnie wasn't set?   He remembered earlier in the game she called for a six dot, then said, "No, wait, I can't" and let it go.  As the play continued, he picked a six dot himself and held onto it, hoping to use it for joker bait.  He also observed that when she did pick and keep a tile, it went on the right end of her wall, making it more likely to be a nine than a six. So he felt comfortable throwing what might have seemed to have been a hot tile.

So a restrained attitude of watchful waiting, coupled with attention to little details will go a long way towards improving your game.  If nothing else, remember this:  You schmooze, you lose.
Happy mahj!


  1. Love this post! What great advice. I'm going to remember all of it and not tell a soul that I play with! I'm having my third annual Mah jongg marathon next week--three straight days of playing while my husband is out-of-yown!

  2. How about my friend in yesterday's game who picked a tile and put it at the end of her rack and said: "well, I'm certainly not throwing that tile!"....I had FFFF and 66666 exposed for a quints hand. I guess she picked a wind! And Donna...what fun. Three days of Mah Jongg.

  3. This is great advice! I played earlier this week and was getting close to maj. Had 2 exposures and then noticed the rest of my hand in the rack showed precisely which tile I needed. It seems so obvious now but I didn't realize what I was doing until you pointed it out!

    Hope the Maj Marathon was a blast, Donna .. I'm jealous!