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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Eeek! I'm exposed!


If you want to call a tile, you must expose - that is the price you pay.  In the little war that is a mahjongg game, exposing one's self can lead to victory on the battlefield or sudden death.  Exposures reveal your position, your strength and your weakness.  Who here hasn't faced the humiliation of having three exposures and throwing out joker after joker because the pair just wouldn't come?  Other players are too polite to laugh out loud, but inwardly they are thinking you're not getting my flower, uh-uh, no sir!

What kind of exposer are you?  Are you the reckless kind, the kind that grabs the first tile thrown to make a pung that you could have waited for?  Are you the cautious kind, the kind that says Wait! and then thinks and thinks and hems and haws, weighing all the options, making other players drum their fingers on the table and sigh?  Why do we play with her?  She takes forever to make a decision...Now I've forgotten what I'm playing...  

A good general plans ahead, lines up her ducks so that when the first soldier falls she knows another one will come out.  She has plan B in her mind.  Seven and four is eleven.  I can call the fours and the flowers.  If the seven goes out I'll switch to all fours, since I have two fours in two other suits.  Yes, I'm ready.  Go ahead, throw it!

There are two ways to look at an exposure.  One is as a necessary reveal, an exposure in the literal sense.  It leaves you open to attack.  Indeed, how many times have you exposed four five dots only to hear: five bam, five crak, three dot, soap, one dot, etc. etc.  One by one other players are discarding your tiles, eroding your hand, hoping you don't call.  But an exposure can also in itself be an attack.  An ambiguous exposure like four flowers leaves other players guessing.  You have made a definitive statement about your hand.  I know what I'm playing but I'm not really telling you anything...This kind of exposure has less of a cost than the more obvious one.  So the trick is to expose without really exposing anything.

Sometimes even the best of plans go awry - that is when a certain tomfoolery comes into play.  Here is a good rule:  When you have nothing - expose something.  Something big and scary like five dragons.
Yes, a good bluff gets results.  You will hear the sucking in of breath and see the fear in their eyes.  Aha!  She picked a flower and is afraid to throw it.  Is she...yes! she's breaking up her hand!  MWAHAHAHAHAHAH......Only you know that the rest of your hand is vintage random tile generator.  Remember, in a wall game nobody wins, but you don't lose.

The beginner will look at an exposure and then at the card.  Four seven craks.  What hand is she playing?  Could be seven plus four is eleven, could be all sevens, could be five, six, seven, could be six, seven, eight, could be, could be, could be...and then her tile goes out and she doesn't hear it.  A more experienced player looks at the table.  Four sevens.  All the one craks are out, so it can't be that.  Laura has six craks exposed so that takes care of that.  Can't be, can't be, can't be....This elimination process can whittle down the possibilities rather than bloating them.  It is a matter of reading the discards, taking attention away from your own hand, your own little problems, and seeing what is out there in the whirlpool of tiles that have had their brief moment of glory when they were thrown but are now sucked into oblivion, fallen into disuse, that is until the next game.  Try it.  When Pearl exposes four soaps, check the table.  What's out?  What's not?  What's hot?  Then draw conclusions about what she is playing.  Of course, you could be dead wrong and go down in flames when you throw what you think is an innocuous 2 crak.  After all, three are on the table.  How were you to know she would have three jokers?  Ah, mahj, you cruel game...

The ideas in this post were inspired by R.F. Foster's Foster on Mah Jongg, 1924.  He stated, in part:
Skill [in mah jongg] depends on the powers of observations, judgment and inference, tempered by the individual's courage or timidity; his optimism or fear of disaster.  Exposures are a litmus test of these traits - to which do you subscribe?

L'shanah tovah