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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Breakin' up is hard to do

Oy - those earrings!  Remember them?  Anyway....

"I'll take that flower," says Susan (not you, the other Susan).
Why, I wonder.  There's only eight tiles left.  And she's putting it out with a joker? Sure enough, Frieda picks a tile, pulls a flower out of her hand, takes the joker and says, "Mahjongg!  Thanks, Susan, I thought I'd never make it."  Grrr....  The glares are going right over Susan's head.

Girls, fellas, whatever - there comes a time when you know it's over.  The last minute exposure will not help you one bit.  You blew it, you tried to go jokerless, three four craks went out, you tried to switch but you're way behind.   Or you're doing beautifully, just got set, only to see three three dots, four five dots and three seven dots on Terry's rack and you picked a one dot.  Eeeww.....

When is the right time to break up your hand?  When does the needle go from hopeful to hopeless and you know it isn't meant to be?  You've got to look at the table and count.  You don't need to be a math genius to know that the odds of your getting a pair of soaps diminish with every tile that goes out.  And as the walls get smaller and smaller your enthusiasm for your hand starts waning and leaking all over the table.  You can easily ascertain how many picks you have left by counting the tiles in the wall by groups of four.  Twelve tiles - three picks.  Do you think you're going to get two soaps in three picks?  You might.  But it isn't likely, is it?  So are you going to give Terry mahjongg for the sake of holding on to a dream?  Are you going to call that flower, expose it with a joker and hope you'll fill in the gaping hole at the end of your hand?  In three picks?  Or four?

Yes, breakin' up is hard to do, but oftentimes you must.  A realistic assessment may counsel for a switch from offensive to defensive play.  Giving up on your own hand gives you the freedom to see the bigger picture.  Are your tiles in that puny wall, or is someone saving them?  Who?  Why?  How should I react?

Look, it's not impossible that Brad Pitt will declare his undying love for you and acknowledge his mistake in marrying Angie.  But every day that passes makes that less likely to happen.  Far be it from me to tell you to  stop imagining the possibility.  But let's be honest, here.  Two soaps in three picks?  

Monday, September 19, 2011

Major League Mahjongg

(Your name here)
North American Mah Jongg Champion!
Something is afoot in the world of mahjongg.  I just received a very fancy flyer from the American Mah Jongg Association announcing their inaugural North American championship tournament in Atlantic City on November 28 - grand prize $2500 and coverage  in "multiple media outlets".    Mahjongg Madness is having their tournament on November 11-14 also in Atlantic City.  There's also a tournament at a Wisconsin Dells resort that same weekend.   On October 30th there are three - count 'em three -tournaments in the NY metropolitan area.  If you click on the tournament schedule link to the left you'll find a bunch of great cruises are coming up in December and January.   Sounds to me like mahjongg is getting hot.  Can the mahjongg channel be far behind?

All this mahjongg activity has given me an idea.  Why not have teams, like in Major League Baseball?  Now that everyone is back from vacation and the fall mahjongg season has started, this would be a great time to organize.  We've got about twelve people on the Forest Hills team raring to go, and I bet Century Village Pembroke Pines would make formidable opponents.

Here is how it would work:  The season would begin when the new card arrives.  Each team would have a uniform, of course; colorful T-shirts, jewelry made from tiles and other identifying paraphernalia such as mahjongg motif cat's-eye glasses or sneakers sponsored by Where the Winds Blow.  The team would notify a tournament operator that four people will be attending on behalf of the team.   The players would attend and play their darnndest, after which they would have their cumulative score certified by the tournament operator.   Sometime in March before the new card comes out, a World Series will be held with the highest scoring teams playing in competitive faceoffs.  The winning team will get to take possession of the Unger Award  and declare themselves World Champions for a year.  They will also appear in a commercial for Crunch N' Munch, and one lucky team will be the subject of a Ken Burns documentary.

I personally would be thrilled to go into the field and scout for talent, or better yet, create a training camp in Florida.  I could coach or even own a team!  Maybe create a mahjongg scholarship!  Next stop Madison Square Garden!  No, wait -Mahj Arena!   So come on Cleveland Crakheads and Boca Boomer Bammers, let's roll the dice and make this happen!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Elixer of Running

There is an unexplained phenomenon in mahjongg and its name is Running.  If you play long enough eventually you will know how it feels to be running.  It is unmistakable; there is nothing like it.

Last week I was kvetching about my little losing streak; breadcrumbs compared to other disasters that people lived through, but annoying enough to me. I broke it last week in an unorthodox way - I siphoned off the luck of someone who was running.  Don't look at me like that!  It's bizarre but true.  Let me tell you a little story:

A few years ago at the Mahjongg Madness tournament in Cypress Creek I was playing at the same table as the front runner.  She was the very definition of running; effortlessly winning hand after hand. She had an aura, an invisible current that surrounded her.  I wanted to see if it was tangible, so I facetiously asked, "Can I touch you?"  She said yes and I touched her wrist.  Let me tell you something, luck does rub off.  The next hand I picked five jokers.  I swear.

I've had a chance to be running myself.  It feels like Tinker Bell is on my shoulder picking tiles for me or as if I were a surfer carried on a big wave.  If you ask tournament winners they use this phrase:  "I could do no wrong."  Like Lola on her third run it all comes together by itself.

So last week I was not the one running, but I could see that Elayne was.  And I broke my losing streak by betting on her four times and she won for me.  It was so obvious that we joked about writing her name ten times in a row on the betting sheet. Other people had good starts, but, really, running trumps good hands, so why even bother to look?  

Elayne didn't notice, but as I was assessing her hand on my walk around the table,  I ever-so-slightly put my hand on her shoulder.  Guess who got her mojo back?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Hurricane Mahjongg

Life has certainly been interesting since my last post. An earthquake rolled under my feet on Tuesday.  On Friday I saw panic-induced fistfights at the local gas station. Then I spent a weekend huddled in my house as 300-mile-wide hurricane barrelled up I-95.  And I went pie twice.  Did you hear that?  I went pie not once but twice.  Going pie twice, oh my God, why me????

While my priorities may be called into question, events this week made clear the de minimus control I have over things more far reaching than what to wear to work. Earthquakes and hurricanes do not stop to listen to  my puny exhortations, and, alas, neither do the tiles.  I sat and suffered for two nights watching other players win hand after hand, unable to make an exposure, much less mahjongg.  This game, like Mother Nature herself, can be frustrating, unrewarding and cruel.  Sometimes I think do I even really know how to play? 

I like to pretend that I can prepare myself for the hodgepodge of tiles I sometimes see.  No pairs.  No jokers. No hand.  Make one, I think. Oh, I got a 2 in the passing.  I'll put it here and do 2468.  Oh, now I got a 5 bam, that makes two five bams.  I'll pass away the two and do 579.  No, wait....I'll collect winds!  By then it's too late, the Charleston is over.  Sometimes I think it's best to pick a random hand, regardless of whether or not I have any tiles for it.  At least I'll be an active participant instead of a passive spectator.  Hmm.. I have nothing that goes together, but I do have a West so I'll play winds.  Any winds that come I will keep.  Aggh...someone just exposed four Easts...well, I can keep her from winning.  Too bad there is no such thing as mahjongg insurance.  But that wouldn't work if everyone took out a policy at the same time.

Well, my strategies did not help me this week, but I was lucky all I lost was $14.  I did learn some things, though.  I learned who helps who out in an emergency and who runs out of the building to save their skin.  I learned to take a rain check and not play mahjongg during a major storm, and I learned that I have as much control over the tiles as I do over anything else in life, and it is a great gift simply to have the leisure time and wherewithal to play at all.  But I think I already knew that.  And I think my friends who are digging out, drying out and waiting for the power to come back on know that too.

Happy mahj!