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Monday, November 28, 2011

An Abbreviated Play-by-Play

So the Atlantic City tournament has come and gone and, boo-hoo, I didn't win.  I will confess - I came in 59th out of 160, not that I am counting.  But the scores are printed in cyberspace, as Arlene said, for all to see, for eternity.  You can see it by clicking here -->  Tournament Scores

I do not feel so badly, however.  It was the tightest tournament I have ever played in.  It is obvious to me that the bar has been raised.  The top score was Gail Zuckerman with 875 points.  Yes, you read right.  That is the highest score I have ever seen for a weekend tournament and I really tip my hat to this formidable player.  Certain people seemed to be on fire while the rest of us slugged it out for 59th place.

Some things that I noticed:  People are going to mahjongg school.  Many of the players in AC did not learn from their grandmother or peeking between the bannister and watching Aunt Tillie.  No, they shelled out for lessons or signed up in their communities for a structured program, and it showed.  There were numerous wall games, extremely defensive playing and a strict adherence to the rules.  Great to see, but oh, so hard to win!  I'm starting to tell the difference between those who graduated from Linda Feinstein's Manhattan Mahjong Club and those who learned at the 92nd Street Y.  And those Hadassah girls really stole the show.  A great first time showing for the gen-Ys.

Another thing:  The scoring made a difference.  At the Mahjongg Madness tournaments, you get a minus ten if you throw in to zero or one exposure, minus 20 for two or more.  In other tournaments I've played in you are not penalized for throwing in to zero or one, but get minus 20 for two and minus 30 for three. As a rule I play a less risky game in a tournament because every point counts, but of course if there are no exposures you don't know what tiles are risky.  It's always a surprise when someone mahjes early and you are minus 10.  You would think the scores would be lower because there would be more minuses, but from the high scores you can see that's not the case.  Some players griped about this rule, but there is always a penalty for throwing mahj, even when someone has no exposures you still have to pay them double.   That's another poll question:  Should a player be penalized for throwing to no exposures?

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving.  My SO has taken the cat, the birds and his cigars and fled to Florida, leaving me with an empty house to fill with mahj, and I plan to.

Happy mahj!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Mahjongg Parable

Once upon a time there was a mah jongg playing family called the Hills; Joanne, an inner-city teacher in her early 50s; Joan, her mother, a retired human resources administrator, and Jane, her daughter, a 28-year-old unemployed Iraq war vet.  They were thrilled to be invited to play in a lower Manhattan community center with some gals they had met at a tournament; Mavis Lehman and Leona Morgan.
  "We play a $20 pie," Mavis said.  A little steeper than the Hills were used to, but it was their chance to play with the big boys, and they accepted the challenge.
"League rules?" Joanne asked.
"League rules!" said Mavis and Leona.

So they trekked downtown on a cold Sunday and took their seats at the table.
"Oh, I forgot to tell you," said Leona.  "We add a zero to the value of the card.  So a 25 cent hand is 2.50.   And if you roll a double and you win it's double.  If it's a wall game we put $1 in the kitty and the next one to win gets it all."  It was a little late to back out now, and it was a $20 pie, so the game started.

The playing was tough.  Mavis won the first game, a self-picked quint hand that paid $8 all.  Then two wall games.  Then Mavis picked mahj on a 25 cent hand, which paid $5 all plus $10 from the kitty.  Then another wall game. Then Leona won one, a 25 cent consecutive run which paid $2.50 from the Hills, $5 from Mavis plus another $5 from the kitty.  The pie looked like this:

Suddenly Mavis got up, put on her coat and said, "It was nice playing with you gals.  I've got to go now."
"What?  You can't do that!  You won almost all our money." said G.I. Jane.
"I'm quitting while I'm ahead," Mavis said.  "There's no rule against it.  Call the League if you don't like it."  Whereupon she scooped up her coin-laden mah jongg purse, put on her chinchilla wrap, got into her little Maserati Quattroporte and drove away.
Leona was shocked, and said.  "My friend, Barbara Goldman, is a trustee at the League.  I'm going to call her and see how to handle this."
"Call the President," said Joan Hill.
"It's a Sunday, but Barbara has the President's ear."
She called her friend and explain the situation, then waited on hold.  After a few minutes Barbara Goldman returned and asked to be put on speakerphone.  The girls gathered around the phone.
"Here's what you do," she said.  Now, the Hills have $1.50 apiece, right?  Each of you must take a dollar and give it to Leona."
"What?  Why should we?  She already won some and has more than she started with, said Jo Hill.
Ms. Goldman paused, then said, "......blah, blah, blah.....we can't let her fail, and you will have the opportunity to win back your money several times over, just give it time. But no more playing ten times the card. And by the way, Leona, we haven't received your contribution yet."

So the four players returned to the table.  The Hills, always law-abiding citizens, did as they were told and gave $1 each to subsidize Leona.  They played a few lackluster games, with the same 50 cents going back and forth between Leona and Joanne, after which the gals called it quits and headed back to Main Street, vowing never to return.  The final division of the pie looked like this:

Happy Mahj for those of you who can still afford to play this Thanksgiving.
We are the 99%.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Throwing to a Third

A little dispute has popped up in my regular game. It was spurred by a letter from a reader, and it goes something like this:

We all know that if you throw someone mahjongg, you must pay them double. And the rule is clear, in fact, it is written on the back of the card:  Bettor pays or receives same as player bet on.  These are undisputed facts.   The League makes no distinction in regard to how many exposures a person has on their rack. Now, in certain tournaments if you throw a player mahjongg and they have no exposures, you are penalized 10 points.  The rationale is you do have to pay double regardless of the number of exposures.  And in these tournaments the penalty goes up as the number of exposures go up.  Other tournaments do not penalize you if you throw to no exposures or one exposure but you are penalized if you throw to two or, Heaven forfend, three.

I have always been known to play by the Rules, but, folks, throwing to three exposures is BAD, and, frankly,  you should be penalized for taking such a risk.  Even if you are set for the Big Hand, if you throw a Green to someone who has FFFF 1111 2222, other players will really resent the fact that they have to pay for your chutzpah.  But the League has set no other penalty other than paying double to the winner.  So in order to prevent a possible massacre, some of the games I play in have instituted a table rule called "paying for the table," meaning if you throw to a third (some say a second, some say "hot," but let's leave it at throwing to a third) you must pay for everyone at the table.  Some of us who are more authoritative insist the money come from your pocket and not your pie, but others think that is going too far.

Now for the dispute.  Follow me, please.
Lanie throws a Green. Alice had  FFFF 1111 2222 on her rack.  Alice yells "Mahjongg!"  Fanny and Carol say "You threw to three, Lanie.  You have to pay for the table."  Edna pipes up:  "I bet on Lanie."
Fanny and Carol say "You have to pay what Lanie pays.  It says so on the card." Edna says:  "I do not.  Lanie pays for the table and I'm part of the table."

Who is right?  It's a 25 cent hand.  If Lanie pays for the table without Edna, she pays .50 for herself, and .25 each for Fanny and Carol, for a total of $1.00.  Edna would also pay $1.00, for a total to Alice of $2.00
If Lanie pays for the table including Edna, she pays .50 for herself, .50 for Edna and .25 each for Fanny and Carol for a total of $1.50.

I wanted to include a poll in this post, but I'm not that technically adept.  I would appreciate comments, as I told the group I play in I would abide by the majority opinion of my readers.  I will put the question up on the Fans of the National Mahjongg League Facebook page, as it is easy to post a question there, so feel free to leave your feedback.

For now I am off to the Mahjongg Madness tournament in Atlantic City, where you are minus 10 if you throw to 0 or 1 exposure and minus 20 for two or more.  Putative, I know, but at least I won't have to pay for the 200 other players!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tournament strategy

Sunday's tournament in North Bellmore, NY was really a delight.  The turnout was greater than anticipated due to the unexpected cancellation of the fall Manhattan Mahjongg event.  Condolences to the family and please reserve my seat for the spring.

What made the tournament delightful was the pleasant atmosphere; the big, sunny room, the tasty and nutritious lunch and 16 tables of fine players.  Good job, Janice.

I made a respectable second place showing.  The first place winner, Linda Kenney, came in 100 points ahead of me, so I didn't feel so bad about the mistakes I made, as they did not cost me the win - although often it's just a matter of 10 points, and every move counts.

I came into the tournament psyched to win, and took all the steps to make it happen  I dressed in layers (tournament rooms are either too hot or too cold), brought a large iced coffee and a 100-calorie Vitamuffin - the coffee to keep me awake and the Vitamuffin to keep me from the strudel.   I brought a pillow to sit on, and since I'm East, I brought my set, table cover and bridge table corner cup holders.

This tournament was all about switching, or, as it seemed, stretching.  It often seemed that one tile was the tipping point between one hand and another.  For example:

  • 2222 46 W EEEE JJ  became EEEEJ FFFF 2222J after I picked two flowers and got rid of the other even numbers.  Two wests had already gone out so it seemed a better bet to go with the quint.
  • FFFF 55 7777 66 R morphed into FFFF 22JJ 55 7777 after three reds got exposed.
  • 998 99887 997GJ stretched out into 8899 888999 GJJG after I went dead on 8 bams and picked another joker.
The moral of this story is yes, you can win the day with pedestrian hands.  I won 11 games out of 32.  Only two were premium hands - one quint, one singles and pairs.  Five wall games.

I learned that little things make a big difference. Paying attention to the table and calling people dead gave me extra picks, sometimes resulting in a win.   Not throwing mahj boosted my score, as those games ended in wall games.  I relaxed over lunch, not too many carbs, and made some new friends and contacts.  I bought a pretty little box with a 9 crak on it, will use it for wall game money.

By the last round, however, I was tired.  My brain was working hard and I started to feel it.  I began making mistakes and even passed away tiles I needed.  The play slowed down and our table was the last one playing.  I had the identical quint, 2222J EEEEJ FFF and needed one tile to mahj, but I couldn't get it, so I only scored 10 points for a wall game that entire round.  But for 8 rounds I think I did OK and I'm looking forward to the Mahjongg Madness tournament on November 11 in Atlantic City - that one is 12 rounds over a weekend with plenty of time for recharging at the spa.  Come to think of it, my prize money is just enough for a sea salt Swedish massage...