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Friday, August 12, 2011

Tile Handling Tips

"I'm such a klutz," said the woman next to me at the tournament as her wall collapsed when she was pushing it out.  "I'm always the last one to build my wall," said another.  A third watched in envy as East flipped her tiles onto her rack in one swift move.   Experienced players have techniques that make them appear smooth and confident at the table.  Confidence in tile-handling technique spills over into the play - she must be a great player is the message it sends.

There is no question that mahjongg has image issues.  The Chinese government banned it in the past and young Americans see it as their yenta grandma's game.  So what are we who love this game to do?  I say it's a matter of semantics.  In order for mahj to rise to hipness, we need to exalt it as though it were worthy of  Olympic stature.  One way to do this is to learn to recognize great form.  How long does it take a swimmer to perfect the butterfly stroke, or a skater a triple toe lutz?  How long does it take a player to learn to push the wall out without it breaking apart?

I've videoed tile handling techniques I've learned over the years and I've named them.  Chalk it up to whimsy, but maybe it will catch on.  (Click on the links to watch the videos)

  • "The Mason"
    • Or the bricklayer, if you prefer.  Adapted from Robert Foster's description in 1924's "Foster on Mahjongg."  Pull six tiles against the rack and then another six on top of them.  Then six more and six on top of them.  Another six and six will give you 18, so you only need two tiles on the end for efficient wall building.
  • "The Wallbreaker"
    • Taught to me by my dear Aunt Sally in 1961.  The dice are thrown.  Number of tiles are counted from the right.  Last tile counted is pressed down with right hand while next two stacks are extracted and put behind the rack, leaving a space between the first wall and the last wall.  With fingers firmly on bottom end tiles, first wall is pushed out.  Last wall is slid to center of rack.
  • "The Claw"
    • Refined by Aunt Sally's best friend Clara Goodman in 1959.  Rather than mundanely taking "1 and 3," fingers form a claw as both tiles are lifted at the same time.
  • "The Flip"
    • Originator unknown, but must have been set in motion as soon as the League issued the first card.  Mahjongg card is flat against rack but not under it.  13 (or 14 if East) tiles are laid face down on card.  Using end corners nearest you, flip tiles onto rack.  Voila.  She must be a great player!
  • The Flick
    • In Japanese mahj, players must line up their discards in front of them.  Why tell everyone what you're not playing?  Flick that tile as far as you can, as though it were a Skelly cap that had to reach the center of the board.  (For those not from the Bronx, click the link) 
  • "The Tail"
    • Invented by a klutz, to make the wall easier to push out.  As the wall to the right gets exhausted, the last two tiles of the next wall are placed behind it. Master this move before proceeding to "The Swing"
  • "The Swing"  (Three variations)  
    • Righty swing:  With the right hand, grasp the rack at the leftmost end and push the wall out with the elbow, concealing the tiles with the forearm. 
    •  Lefty swing:  Grasp the rightmost end with the left hand and push with the hand.
    • Card concealing swing:  Holding the card up to conceal the tiles, use the pinkie and ring finger of the right hand to exert pressure on the bottom tiles only when pushing the rack out.
  • "The Flourish"
    • Upon calling for mahjongg, pinch the top of the outermost tiles, exerting pressure towards the center.  (Good for biceps)  Lift your entire hand in one movement and display it on top of the rack.  Then crow like a rooster!
While these techniques won't actually improve your game or your luck, they will add to your confidence.  Your opponents will make assumptions about your experience and skill and act accordingly.  Happy mahj!

1 comment:

  1. How fun. I have "the flip" mastered most of the time. We all have pushers so don't have to worry about the swing techniques. They are very handy.
    The gals who purchased their sets at the swap meets get their thrown in free. I paid dearly for mine online a few years ago!