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Monday, December 30, 2013

Knowing When to Stop

 I think I was texting when I decided to stop the passing...

This is sort of a sad story, but it turned out well in the end.  Every experienced player knows that there is occasionally a moment in mahjongg when you hope that you don't get your tile.  It is that moment when, after giving the matter some deliberation, you have decided not to stop the passing and to do a second left.  As soon as you have made the pass you realize with a sinking feeling that you have made a mistake.  Perhaps the story is best told in pictures.  (The hands have been recreated - in the heat of the game I wasn't thinking about Facebook...)

I was so happy - I picked up my tiles and there were three jokers!  After the first left I was in pretty good shape.  I should have stopped it there as there were some solid possibilities - the consecutive run with two dragons, the "sandwich hand" with pairs of fives in the middle, or maybe even a quint. 
But no, I HAD to pass.  My reasoning was that I might possibly get my hand in better shape.  So here is what I passed on the second left.

Looks good, right?  Only three away from being set?  Only as soon as I passed I whispered to myself, "Oh, crap, now I have to do a must across.  What if I get a tile I need?  Please don't pass me anything good..."
And here's what I got on my second left -
Yes, my neighbor passed me not one, but TWO tiles that I needed in the hand, leaving me with only ONE tile to pass on the second "must" across.  ARGH!!!  It was agonizing, but I decided to pass the two four craks and the eight dot.  Why?  Well, I thought I might get the five dot back or the six bam and then I could go for the sandwich hand.  While it didn't quite happen quite the way I wanted, I did get a six bam back, and this is how I started the game.
I knew I wasn't going to see those four craks again, so I just had to let them go.  {twang lonesome blues guitar}  And I never saw a five dot again, either, though I eagerly anticipated one at every pick.
But, I did get lucky.  I let the first six bam go by but picking another four bam allowed me to call and expose a quint of four bams.  Then I called the next five bam to go out, exchanged the soap for another joker, picked a six bam and then called for mahj.

So in spite of myself and with luck the hand worked out.  But looking back, I question whether continuing to pass was the correct thing to do.  I could have easily called the four bam and six bam and hoped to pick in a five bam and/or five dot to set me and not have had to sweat it out.  But, I suppose, that's the draw of the game - something always unexpected!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Hand Not Taken

I posted this photo on the Fans of the NMJL Facebook page with the caption "What would you do?"  The post received quite a bit of commentary.  The common consensus was to go with the closed hand; 444555 444555 DD.  Here is the story (with apologies to Robert Frost)

Two hands diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one player, long I stood
And looked at my card as long as I could
To where it said consecutive run with dragons

Then played the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was concealed and wanted pairs
Tough as for that the picking there
Had worn them really about the same.

Threw the joker, picked a 4 bam, threw the other joker

And both that game equally lay
In discards no throws had trodden back
Oh, I kept the flower for another play!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted the jokers should ever come back.

It wasn't long before I picked another flower; none had gone out.

I shall be posting this with a sigh
on Facebook ages and ages hence;
Two hands diverged in a game, and I --
I played the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

In all fairness, the hand would have come in the other way, as I picked and discarded a third five crack and a second green.  Thanks for playing along!

Saturday, December 14, 2013


"Nico comes in from the snow"

The National Mah Jongg League defines "dogging" as follows: defines "dogging" as follows:

Wikipedia defines "dogging" as follows:

We needn't concern ourselves with the last definition (although I was quite surprised when I Googled "dogging".  Google at your own risk on that one!)

I had heard of dogging in relation to mahjongg but wasn't sure what it meant.  I was of the idea that it referred to the dictionary definition.  I mean, haven't you been dogged by a certain tile?  I know I have.  A few weeks ago it was 4 DOT.  I could not get rid of 4 DOT.  I opened up with three 4 DOTS only to have nothing that matched.  Or I was playing a seven-eight-nine hand and kept picking 4 DOT, 4 DOT, 4 DOT. My head was ready to explode.  Finally, I said, all right, I give in, I'll play a hand with you, 4 DOT.  It was the last hand of the night.  I arranged things specifically to open myself to the will of 4 DOT.  I played the pairs hand, three-four, three-four, three-four.  I ended the night going pie and sitting set for a 4 DOT.

And then the last time I played I heard the term used in another way.  "Boy, you're really dogging that hand."  Yes, I was dogging a hand, the big hand.  Why?  Because I kept picking soaps and ones, twos and threes.  I tried every which way to make that hand because in my magical thinking the hand wanted me to make it.  So was I dogging it or was it dogging me?

But it turns out that "dogging" means something else entirely.  It means that a player takes a defensive position, sometimes at the expense of her own hand.  I have seen this when teaching mahjongg.  A player will see an exposure of, say, 4 DOTS.  It may be early in the game.  She may have a five dot in her hand which has no relationship to her hand at all, yet in fear that the player may need it, she won't throw it out and will instead discard a tile that might help her.  This type of dogging is to be discouraged.  Sometimes, however, a person is so competitive that keeping that five dot is a compulsive act.  I can't let her win, or she might need this so I'll keep it is the strategy.  I have seen people blow great hands out of fear.  And I have seen people get stuck with a hot tile late in the game because they did not throw it out soon enough.

There is, of course, a time for this type of dogging - when you are running out of picks and your chances of winning are getting smaller and smaller - then you start breaking up your hand rather than throw someone's tile, but this is a decision made by using the information that's out there on the table or on the racks.  No flowers out?  Don't throw one at the end of the game - this is MJ 101.  Throwing a joker is always safe, but only when you know you are doomed!

Magical thinking has no place in mahjongg.  We know the 4 DOTS aren't out to get us and keeping the green dragon if we're playing a seven hand won't break Doris' winning streak, but it's certainly easy to get caught up in it, especially if you're *this close* to the big hand.  But we must maintain our composure and play with logic and good judgment - otherwise our beloved game becomes one of "dog eat dog".

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Mahjongg Diplomacy

The Paris Peace Talks

So we know that the National Mah Jongg League rules are written out - we can look at the back of the card or call the League for an "official" ruling.  But what about the unwritten rules - the etiquette and the courtesies?  Much about our game is unwritten, which leads to misunderstandings and sometimes hurt feelings.  Common sense should dictate these courtesies but oftentimes notions of common sense differ.   When people play together regularly their courtesies become integral to the group, so much so that if a newcomer is invited, the customs and mannerisms of the group are not explained, and a newcomer can feel as if she has waltzed into a minefield.  The "regulars" bark at her ignorance, or, worse yet, sneer and snicker.  Below are some hints that I hope will give some guidance.

To the regulars - it's important to tell the invitee your table rules BEFORE she shows up at the game.
Table rules can be as minor as "The hostess is East first" or as major as "We play a cold wall meaning you must pick your own mahjongg tile."  Be sure she knows what the pie is and whether or not you double the card or give bonuses for certain hands, throwing double, etc.  What do you do when there's a wall game?  If you all put money in a puschke  what happens to that money?

I've gotten some mail recently that describes some behavior that is, well, shall we say unbecoming to mahjongg players?  Here are some (anonymous) samples:

"Some have questioned my practice of picking a tile from the wall, holding it in my hand (for a mere second or two) then deciding that I don't want it, calling the tile name  and placing it on the table, without racking it or touching it to my rack."

"An experienced player at our local game says it is up to the winner to claim double payment for a jokerless hand, to the extent that no one else at the table is allowed call attention to it."

"We messed up the Charleston and couldn't figure out what happened.  Three of us wanted to throw it in and start again but one of us refused because her hand was too good."

"I was invited to play in a game and when I showed up there were six players.  Had I known that, I would never have accepted."

"A player had three wests showing.  I threw a soap and was told I had to pay for the table because it was an obvious hand"

To invitees, I say this:  Make sure you know the answers to the following BEFORE you play with a new group:

  • Do they play League rules?  (13 tile game)
  • What's the pie?  What happens if someone goes pie (loses all her money)?
  • Is there betting?  (If you do not feel comfortable betting, let the hostess know)
  • How experienced are the players?  (Find out if you will fit the pace)
  • What are the table rules?
Now, some players are not aware that they are varying from the official rules.  "We don't have table rules," they say.  The answer is simple:  The official rules are listed on the back of the card.  If you do not see what you are doing on the back of the card then it is not an official rule.

Sometimes there are misunderstandings and misinterpretations regarding the official rules.  In that case it helps to have a rule book such as Tom Sloper's "The Red Dragon and the West Wind" which examines the rules in depth.  But, ladies, (and most of you are ladies) please, PLEASE, show courtesy, especially if a new player has been invited to the group.  Lay it all out ahead of time and give her the option of gracefully bowing out (as in, sorry, I can't play a $50 pie) or making a suggestion (such as I'm used to throwing and picking so please don't call me dead if I make a mistake).  So a little diplomacy will go far in terms of finding and keeping players for years to come.  After all, it's only a game - it ain't the Paris Peace Talks...

(pay for table with three wests showing)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

China Trip - Guest Post

Slow Boat to China

Dear Readers:  In case you haven't noticed, I do not have advertising on my blog or website.  I do however, like to bring to the attention of the mahjongg community products or experiences that they may find interesting or helpful. Karen contacted me about the mahjongg China trip and I thought it sounded awesome.  I've invited her to write a guest post about it.  Just reading about it takes you into another (mahjongg) world. How great would it be to take the trip?  I will be back shortly with another one of my fascinating blog posts.  In the meantime, enjoy your travels!  (Wasn’t Dean Martin one good-looking son-of-a-gun?

Aloha Linda -

Here is the guest blog I wrote.  I hope it will be an interesting read for your followers.

Just a very  . .  . short note about myself:  When I'm not playing Mahjong or traveling, I am working on my family's coffee farm on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Thanks so much again for letting me share this adventure,

The Winds and the Dragons:  A Luxury Mahjong Tour of China
April 6 - 23, 2014

There is something about the "clattering of sparrows" that has a special power to bring people together.  I learned to play Mahjong from my mother.  And then I taught my daughter and husband how to play.  From the moment the tiles land on the table, we are engaged in not only a game but a time for us to share stories and enjoy each other's company.  I find Mahjong both simple and complex at the same time.  You can learn the basics in minutes but it takes years to master the game.  I enjoy learning all the different styles of play.  Each one has its own magic.  Classical Chinese seduces you to the table with its simplicity, only to learn that there is more strategy than just saving Chows, Pungs and Kongs.  Hong Kong style adds a twist that requires players to save a more challenging collection of tiles than just whatever fits together.  When you play American style, you either win or lose.  No need to tally scores or points; you play for the Mahjong!

Mahjong, like the country of China itself, is rich in colorful tales and legends.  A romantic myth ties its origin to the great Chinese philosopher Confucius in 500 B.C.E. and the three dragon tiles to his three cardinal virtues of benevolence, sincerity, and piety.  It is said that Confucius loved birds, and thus the game's name: the Chinese word for "sparrow."  In my pre-farmer life, I was an historian, so I wanted to learn more about Mahjong's real history and how it connected to the cultural life in China.  I looked for tours that combined both the historical beauty of China and a love for the game.  I wanted something truly special that would allow me to be a traveler and not a tourist.  I wanted to see places that many visitors never get to see.  I couldn't find such a tour and so I decided to create my own.  Two years ago, I began working with a highly respected tour company, Marco Polo & Co., and together, we created an amazing, one-of-a-kind adventure.  

We will be traveling with experienced guides who share our love of Mahjong on this all inclusive, 5-Star experience.  Every detail has been considered leaving us the freedom to enjoy each destination.  With each part of the country we visit, we will explore new styles of play.  We will learn how Mahjong has evolved over the years and how the game differs from region to region.  Our own Classic Chinese Mahjong tournament will provide us the opportunity to learn how to play and to develop our strategy and win prizes.

 We will visit one of China's oldest cities, Ningbo, to explore the ancestral hall and birthplace of Mahjong.  Here we will learn the origins of the modern version, shifting from cards to using bamboo tiles.  In Beijing, we will experience the rumble of the tables as locals test their skill and luck in a real Mahjong parlor.  While there we will visit the Forbidden Palace and the Temple of Heaven.  We will stand on the exact same stone on which emperors have stood for millennia.  Shanghai will find us shopping along the Dong Tai Lu for treasures - maybe finding a wonderful antique Mahjong set to bring home.  We'll stroll along the Bund and enjoy the view of the city's famous architecture.  Evenings will be filled with sumptuous dinners and entertainment.  Imagine playing in upscale Mahjong parlors for exclusively designed prizes.  

Unrushed, unrestored, and uncrowded, we will enjoy our lunch on the Jinshanling portion of the Great Wall.  We will explore daily life as we travel along the Li River on our own private boat.  Limestone hills, water buffalo, rice terraces, and fishermen make up the beautiful scenery.  Terra Cotta Warriors, the Panda Breeding Center, and the Giant Leshan Buddha are all a part of this journey.  We'll see how Mahjong tiles are handcrafted and test our own skills in Macau, the "Monte Carlo of the Orient," where Mahjong is played in the casinos alongside Baccarat and Blackjack.

It is an opportunity to indulge in your love of Mahjong and the culture and beauty of China.  If you are interested in learning more, please visit for information and full itinerary.  To book a place on the tour, please contact MARCO POLO & CO. directly and toll free: 877-China77 (877-244-6277)

It is going to be a dream come true.

Karen J. Kriebl 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

What's the difference?

National Mah Jongg League Mahjongg
Classical Chinese Mahjongg
For the last few weeks I have been giving a mahjongg clinic in Bryant Park not far from Times Square in New York City.  Most of the players that have come have read the park's website and know that they will learn National Mah Jongg League mahjongg, but we did get a few looking to learn to play Chinese style, and one of our clinics turned into a Chinese mahjongg lesson as we all learned together.

We found a rules site on the internet and began to learn the basics.  We removed the jokers from our set and we put our cards away, ready to learn something new.  I've set forth some of the basic differences below.  If you are interested in learning Chinese style I would recommend Tom Sloper's book "The Red Dragon and the East Wind.  The rules for NMJL and Chinese mahjongg are set forth in greater detail - what follows is just my newbie's impression of a game that is the same yet totally different.

Okay so first we learned that there not only is an East but a North, West and South, and this means that if you pick wind tiles that are the same as your seat, you get more points.  Breaking the wall is somewhat more complicated than just throwing the dice and starting to deal.  I felt like a new player does when they do "right, across, left, left, across, right" for the first time.  Huh?  What?  In Chinese mahjongg there is no Charleston. What we might call the hot wall is called the dead wall. You get your tiles and start to play.  Flowers are called "bonus tiles" and are not used in the hand.  If you get dealt or pick flowers (or "season" tiles) they are put on the side and replaced with tiles picked from the dead wall.  You can get points for them at the end.

The basic premise of the game is similar to ours in that a winning mahjongg hand is 14 tiles.  Instead of hands on a card, a winning hand is made up of pungs, kongs or chows (which is a run like 123) topped off by a pair. There is no regard to suit, so a winning hand may look like this:  888 123 777 EEE RR.  Most of the hands on our card would not qualify as a winning hand, either because they have two pairs or no pairs or use flowers.  In fact, on this year's card I could only find two hands that would qualify:  111 222 111 222 DD and NNNN EEEE WWWW SS.

If someone throws a tile, they do not say the name!!  Saying "4 dot" will brand you as an American mahjongg player as surely as saying "cawfee" will brand you as a New Yorker.  You place your tile neatly in front of you - not making a mess so no one knows whose discard is whose.    When you want a tile you have to say "pung" or "kong" or "chow" instead of "take" or "call" or "gimme".  And you can only call for a chow if you are to the left of the person who discarded.  Anyone can call for a pung or kong and you must expose.  But if you expose a pong and then pick the fourth tile you may add it to your pong to make a kong.  Capiche?

When someone makes mahjongg the pungs, kongs and chows are given point values, so if you are East and you have a kong of Easts, that is worth more than a kong of 3 bams, say.  Certain tiles are worth more than others - 1's and 9's are called terminals and score higher.  A hand of all terminals is very high scoring.  Dragons and winds are called honors and are worth more.  You may also win with seven pairs of anything - what we call "atomic".

So there is no card but there is an endless variety of hands and combinations.  The trick is to get combinations that score high and that's where it gets complicated.  You need to know exactly how much everything is worth.  A hand with four concealed pungs is worth more than a hand with three exposed kongs.  There are special hands like all terminals or all honors; all bams (but no terminals or 5s) and hands composed of 4s, 5s and 6s.  We may look at those hands and think they are cockamamie, but that is exactly the reaction I have had from Asian players when they look at the NMJL card.

So Chinese mahjongg was interesting to learn and I applaud anyone who can play both styles well.  Because whether I taught "our" style or Chinese style, it was easy to teach the basics, but we all know how long it takes to play well - it's the easiest game you'll ever lose!  But that's why we love it no matter what version we adopt.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Road Not Taken - or Robert Frost Plays Mahjongg

A common refrain during a mahjongg game is: "Boy, did I go the wrong way."  We all know what this means.  A decision presents itself, as decisions do during this game.  You must narrow your options and discard.   Do you discard the two dot or the three bam?
"Sorry, sorry.  I gotta make a decision."
"Don't hold up the game, honey."  (Drumming fingers)
"Okay," you say. "Three bam."
What's the next tile you pick?  You got it - three bam.  You smack your forehead and rue the day you learned to play this fickle, cruel game.

But wait!  Can these "oy vey" moments be avoided?  Is going the "right way" really a matter of luck? Well, sometimes yes and sometimes no.  I played in a tournament last week and had three potential wrong way moments in three different games.  When I looked closer I saw that it wasn't a matter of luck but a matter of inattention.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth

In game one, it was time for the second "must" across.  I had in my hand:  NNEEWWSS67784F.  I had to pass three, but which three?  I passed the four bam, flower and an East.  My rational was that winds were going around and I would get it back.  SCHMUCK!!!  As soon as I let it go I knew I had done the wrong thing.  If I had been more alert I would have remembered that I had a third 7 dot that I passed away.  The East never came back but the 7 dot did.  The East fell right away, and the third one fell soon after and that was the end of me.  WRONG WAY!  My bad decision during the Charleston doomed me.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

In game two, I was set up very nicely with FFF33444455GG.  Somebody threw a flower and I called it.  Uh-oh.  Should I go FFFF33334444GG or FFFF44445555GG?  Gotta decide quick, but how?  A quick check of the table showed one 3 bam out and one 5 bam.  The game was half over, so how do I interpret this?  Could go either way, right?  Okay, I threw the 3 bam.  Bang, right away it was called as an exposed pung with a joker.  Lucky me, I'm set, I thought, as I picked a 1 dot, exchanged my other three bam for the joker and then threw the 1 dot.  Bang!  That got called too.  By the same person.  So she has three one dots and three three bams exposed.  DOH!  And I'm sitting set for a 5 bam. Now everyone knows that five bam is a hot tile and it doesn't get thrown. Wall game.  WRONG WAY!  But how was I to know?  I couldn't have known.  It's possible if I had thrown the five bam she wouldn't have had the jokers to cover it for a kong, but then I wouldn't have been able to exchange for the joker.  But logical thinking didn't stop me from kicking myself from going the "wrong way."

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day! 
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

The third game I wised up and used my noodle with good effect.  I was playing the pairs hand - 998 99887 998877  I had all my nines to start, which is the foundation for this hand, but towards the end of the game I found myself in this position  998 9987 998877 when I picked a seven dot.  So the hand looked like this:  9987 9987 998877.  I needed to get rid of a seven, but which one, and how do I decide which one?  If I had discarded the seven crak, it would make me set for an eight dot.  If I discarded the seven dot it would make me set for an eight crak.  Time to scan the table.  There were no eight craks out and two eight dots out, which made the decision easy to make.

If a tile isn't out by the middle of the third wall, it is safe to assume it is being used in someone's hand.  Two eight dots on the table made it a relatively safe discard for someone who was close to mahj - someone who might think twice about throwing a "hot" tile, an eight crak.  So I could throw the seven crak with confidence, and sure enough the last eight dot got thrown a few tiles later.  WAY TO GO!

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 

Happy Mahj!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Mah Jongg Playlist

Marlon Brando sings "Luck Be a Lady Tonight"

Has mah jongg ever made you feel like singing?  Somewhat to my embarrassment, it has for me.  It seems that at the most inopportune times I burst into song - and practically give my hand away.  I have a veritable playlist in my head during mahjongg games - it would make a great musical!

For example, when I open, a Motown classic comes to mind - It's Gonna Take a Miracle by the Marvelettes.  When you hear me singing that song, it means I have no jokers.  So many tiles - consecutive run?  But which one? 

Okay.  Flowers, one dot, two bam, three crak. But I don't have any flowers and I only have one three crak.  Time to sing that old Dusty Springfield favorite:

The passing ends, the play starts.  Time for Carol King - So Far Away, right?  The two bams start going out,aaaggghhh... So I try to change my hand to the 2013 hand.  I throw a 2 bam, then pick a joker.  

I still need a flower, there are none on the the table.  
Someone else must be playing them.  

I pick another two bam.  
I don't have my soap yet and suddenly the flowers start going after the other.  Someone calls and puts up four flowers.  Two are on the table, then three, then I pick the soap.

I throw out my discard and someone calls for mahj!  I say "very nice" but I'm really thinking......

Do you sing while you play?  Or does your unconscious mind give you away in a different way?  Tell us about it!

Sunday, May 5, 2013


Such a busy couple of months (is it May already?) and I have been a very lucky grandma.

  • March 17 I came in first at Janice's tournament in Bellmore.  I felt very lucky that morning and was on my game all day - making the Big Hand pushed me over the top!  Shout out to Janice Windwer, who runs a great fundraiser.
  • One week later the new card came!  Now I have to start all over again!
  • April 8 I went to Florida and, lucky me, I found the South Florida Mahjongg Club.  Even though I was an hour late because my GPS sent me to a different library, I was given a warm welcome and played with some wonderful ladies.  Shout out to Lynne Kaplan!  She is a patient teacher and really puts her heart into it. 
  • Playing on the new card has been interesting.  Even though it is an "easy" card, I find vestiges of the old card in my brain, and I'm making "rookie" mistakes, like exposing a closed hand (numbers and dragons) or playing a hand that isn't on the card anymore (NNNN 55 55 55 SSSS).  Won't be winning another tournament for awhile!  However....
  • On Friday, April 17, at our regular game, I was dealt another crappy hand and decided to keep winds.  One thing led to another and suddenly I, who was East, had mahj before a tile was even thrown!  How cool is that??  Shout out to Arlene Conboy who took my picture and captioned it (see above) as proof, and to Georgie Katz who passed me a N,E,6 bam to give me mahj!
More NEWS!!!!!
  • Last night we visited our friend, Joyce Sherman, who took a fall and needed surgery.  We played mahj in the rehab center until we tired her out (or was it the meds?)
And, last but not least....
  • I was recently contacted by the New York City Parks Department and asked if I wanted to develop a "mahjongg hangout" at Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan.  Are you kidding????  The park already has a number of games (see and is looking to attract players to learn and play.  Already my mind is turning - is this my Major League Mahjongg dream come true?  Queens v. Manhattan, World Series!!  Lessons start on May 30 - check back for more details.
Till next time - Happy mahj!!

Sunday, March 24, 2013


I haven't gotten my new card yet 
But my friend Luisa did, and she let me look!  Actually, I snatched the card away and ran to my room to compare it to last year's card.  And since I am down with a cold on this sunny Sunday I feel it is my duty to inform those who are patiently waiting of what is in store.  Some has changed and some remains the same, so take out your 2012 card and follow along:

The four hands in this section are substantially similar to 2012.  The values of the first two hands are x25 as opposed to x30.  This may be because instead of 2012, which requires a pair of 2's, 2013 are all singles and   the probabilities are greater.  The first hand changes from four norths and four souths to one north, two easts and three wests.  The second hand changes from four ones and four twos to four ones and four threes.  The third hand is the same except it's a 13 instead of a 12, so you no longer need the joker in the kong.  The value dropped from 35 to 30.  The last hand in 2012 is gone (sniff, sniff, I really liked that hand, it was a real challenge) It is replaced by FFFF DDD 2013 DDD.  This hand is easier than the 2012 hand, but it is still closed.  You can use jokers like crazy, and it's ANY dragons, which means its inherently swappable with FFFF DDDD DD DDDD which is still on the card, or FF DDDD NEWS DDDD.  This should be fun.

Second hand down is gone.  The third hand down and the fourth hand down are still on the card.  The pung/kong pattern of the fourth hand has changed.  Instead of 222 444 6666 8888 it is now 222 4444 666 8888, so it has gone from being a pung, pung, kong, kong to a pung/kong, pung/kong.  This change was also made in consecutive run (111 2222 333 4444), odds (1-3-3-5 and 5-7-7-9) and 3-6-9.  The first hand is gone, replaced by pair/pung/DDDD/pung/pair.  This also shows up in odds, but not 3-6-9.  2s and 8s with dragons is out, and the last hand has switched from a pair of dragons to a pair of flowers, giving us six 2468 hands instead of seven.

There are two hands in like numbers.  The flowers/numbers pattern has switched, instead of a kong of flowers and a pair of numbers, it's three kongs of numbers and a pair of flowers.  The 2011 dragons with like numbers is back - but, oh, no, it's CLOSED.  Hang on to those dragons!

Eleven hands have switched to seven hands with a twist - the pair is in the middle instead at the end.

Don't look for the 135 or 579 quints hand - they're out.  1-2-3 remains as does 1223 with quints matching pairs.  Flower Dragon Number is now Wind Dragon Number, which I always thought it was until I realized I was holding winds for nothing.  The value has gone up from 40 to 45, maybe because there are eight flowers and four winds?

The pattern has changed on the classic hand back to pair/pung/kong/pung/pair.  This change was made in odds as well.  (Translation:  This means you need a pair of ones and a pair of fives instead of a pair of ones and a pair of twos, etc.)  No more 1-2-1-2-3, sorry to say.  The last hand doesn't really make up for it; 111 222 111 222 DD, it's closed and worth 30.  Hands that are the same:  Flowers-1-2-Dragons and Flowers 1-2-3 in three suits.  1-2-3-4 is still there with a changed pattern as mentioned above; pung/kong/pung/kong.
Good news - the "sandwich" hand is back!  1111 22 22 22 3333 - The pairs are "sandwiched" between the kongs in a consecutive run.  Thanks, League!

I've always suspected the League favored odd numbers. They certainly give us more odd numbered hands than any other, although that could be because there are five odd numbers.  (I favor evens and 369s, so count on me to pass you a seven.)  The first two hands are there but with a different pattern (pair of ones and pair of nines; pung/kong/pung/kong)  Third hand changes from pair of flowers pair of dragons to four flowers no dragons.  There is a pair/pung/DDDD/pung/pair hand, which I like.  One and Nines with Dragons is out, replaced by a "sandwich" hand - a kong of ones and a kong of nines with pairs of 3, 5 and 7 in the middle in a second suit.  It's a tough hand, worth 30.  The five pairs and a kong hands (worth only 30!) remain, but the last hand has reverted back to 1-3-5/1-3-5 in two suits or 5-7-9/5-7-9 in two suits.

First hand the same.  The second two "sandwich" hands are out.  Hmmm...why did they seem so hard when the consecutive run sandwich hand seems much easier???  They are replaced by the old favorite:  Kongs of norths and souths with TWO PUNGS OF ODDS IN ONE SUIT.  Remember, folks, YOU NEED TWO JOKERS FOR THIS HAND BUT YOU CAN CALL THE PUNGS SEPARATELY.  And of course Kongs of East/West with two pungs of identical evens.  The Winds with kong of flowers in the middle has changed to a pair of flowers, kongs of north and south and pairs of east and west.  This seems HARD - three pairs, an open hand, worth thirty.  So why is a CLOSED HAND WITH FIVE PAIRS (see 1/3/5) also worth thirty????  Must defer to wisdom of the League........

Is it me or does it always seem like 3-6-9 hands get short shrift?  No matter.  First hand same; second hand changes pattern: pung/kong/pung/kong.  Third hand -- hey, something new!  333 666 9999 9999.  Okay, I'll take that.  (I like 9s.  My favorite tile is a 9 crak in case you want to know).  The third and fourth hand on the 2012 card are the same.  The last two hands are gone, replaced by, hey, A CLOSED HAND WITH FIVE PAIRS AND A KONG worth 30, same pattern as the 1-3-5 hand.

Winds and pairs the same.  Seven consecutive pairs changes to pair of flowers, five consecutive pairs with pair of matching dragons.  Odd numbered pairs hand is 1/3/5/7/9 pairs followed by pairs of any like odd.  We've seen that one before.  Even pairs hand is pair of flowers, pairs of evens followed by pairs of any like evens.  My all-time favorite, flowers with consecutive numbered pairs (FF 1122 1122 1122)!! Yay!  And, of course, the BIG HAND for 2013.

So there you have it, and if you haven't gotten your card yet, you soon will - hopefully this preview will whet your appetite.  Now I have to unlock the door before Luisa bangs it down...

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Taking a Chance

A risk assessment chart

Mahjongg is full of risks.  How long do you hold that flower?  Can I throw the 5 bam or will it give her mahjongg?  Should I play the open hand or the closed?  Because decisions need to be made quickly it is important to have a risk assessment strategy.  

You will first need to determine your risk tolerance.  To do so, imagine the following scenarios:
  1. Ann threw a five dot but called it a five bam.  Jane called for the five bam.  Ann said, "Sorry, it's a five dot, my mistake."  The play continues.  You pick a five bam.  Knowing Jane needs it, do you throw it?
  2. You are set to mahj and you pick a flower.  There are no flowers on the table.  There are two picks left and Arlene has four three craks and four four craks exposed.  Throw or break up your hand?
  3. You are two away from the big hand.  You pick a joker.  You decide to keep it and throw out a tile you don't need.  Then you pick another joker.  Do you switch or stay the course?
Fortunately we are not hedge fund managers dealing with billions of dollars.  Our stakes are small, but there are many factors to take into account within a short period of time, and the difference between winning and losing may be your willingness to take a risk.

The chart above depicts a strategy for weighing risk.  Ask yourself:  What is the likelihood (that I will pick what I need, that someone needs this tile, that no one will call this).  Then, what is the impact (if I throw in to two exposures, if I keep this tile, if I break up my hand).  The answers will guide you.

In the first scenario, the risk-averse player will hang on to that five bam.  There is a near certainty that Jane needs it. But this sort of thinking omits taking impact into consideration.  Yes, Jane needs it, but are you risking your own hand?  Get rid of it quick!  The impact of throwing the tile may be minimal if it is needed for exposure.  The likelihood of her needing it for mahj may be low.  An objective assessment must be made to overcome the fear of giving Jane the advantage.  While there cannot be certainty that she doesn't need it for mahj, a comfort zone can be established by making an objective evaluation.  How many tiles are left?  Did Jane put other tiles in her hand?  How strong is your hand? Was Jane really angry about the error or mildly upset?  This information will allow you to determine whether to take the chance.  Would I throw it?  Yes, especially if it's early on.  Even though there is a near certainty, there is a minimal impact.

The second scenario is a little more dangerous.  This year (2012) four three craks and four four craks can signify two hands - one with flowers and one without. We know Arlene didn't throw flowers because none are on the table.  She may need them, she may not.  What do the others have exposed?  No flowers on the table means that all flowers are in hands - can you assess who may be set for a flower?  Are the others holding flowers because they think YOU are playing flowers?  All of these considerations will race through your mind - but don't wait too long because you will get a reputation for holding up the game. In this situation you will need to assess your own odds. There is a high likelihood that someone needs the flower, but  someone may need it for exposure or someone for mahj.  There is also a possibility that no one will need it, or that someone will need it but be unable to call.  That's a lower likelihood, I think.   If there are only two picks left, the likelihood of it being needed is increased and the likelihood of you getting what you need is decreased.  However, you may cling to the belief that the last South is lingering in the wall. Maybe it is, but what is the likelihood if it being thrown, or of you picking it? Is it more likely that you will get your tile or that someone will mahj on the flower?  Human nature being what it is, some will keep the flower and some will throw it.   Some may throw it recklessly hoping no one needs it but others may throw it confidently based on information they have gleaned throughout the game, information that helps gauge the likelihood.  It may be that other exposures point to strong competition for flowers; certain players are complaining that their hand is crappy, someone has gone dead and would likely have flowers.  There are countless pieces of information that aid in this decision and allow one to make a more informed decision.  But to some, no flowers on the table screams HOT TILE!!!!!!!  The knee jerk reaction is to keep it and no one can say they are wrong or yell at them for throwing hot.

The last scenario is not for the faint of heart.  Being two away from the big hand is plenty awesome.  I've been there and I know.  My usual rule is if I'm playing a singles and pairs hand and I pick two jokers I switch.  BUT if there's even the slimmest, slightest possibility of achieving that blissful nirvana-like experience of winning the big one, I go for it, especially if one of the tiles I need is a flower, because we all know there are eight flowers and maybe, just maybe someone will take a risk and throw one after I get set.  The poker face comes in handy here - you don't want anyone to see how excited you are or it may add to their pool of information.  Mahj players are not mind readers but body language is another story.

So there you have mahjongg risk assessment in a nutshell.  If only the same rules applied to my 401(K)!

Happy mahj!
Counting down till the new card!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Grandma's playing mahjongg

How could you throw that tile???  Were you set???

I hope my devoted readers forgive me for not posting for awhile - I'M A GRANDMA!!!!!  (kvell, kvell, kvell!!!)  Simone Beth Barry came into the world 12/10/12 - a very auspicious date,I'm going to call her Big Hand Baby!  So now I am in the grandma club and I ask you other grandmas - when should I teach her to play?  I'm thinking it's too soon, but she looks so bright.  I'm sure she can pick it up in no time.  No?  Not yet?  Well, true, she doesn't fit into the onesie (see left) yet...

In other news:  The NMJL newsletter has come.  It's time to order your 2013 cards.  This always creates a dilemma for me - how many cards to buy.  I usually get around seven.  I invariably lose one or two, loan one or two and use a few to teach with.  It's January now and somehow I only have two left out of the seven I bought originally. Sometimes I find them two years later hidden away in a set I rarely use.  Then I wonder, how many large print, how many small?  Decisions, decisions.

There's a little controversy brewing about the tournament rule which requires you to place a called tile on your rack and not in your hand.  There is no NMJL rule that says you must do this, but tournaments have been implementing this rule to eliminate cheating.  Read about it on the Mahjongg Madness FB page and see what you think.  The rule was implemented to prevent tile palming; i.e., taking a six bam when you called a six dot and quickly popping it into your hand which had both six bams and six dots in it.  Who would ever do that?  You may be surprised.....

2012 brought a growing trend in mahjongg  - playing at restaurants and public places.  My group has been giving it a try.  It was a little bumpy last week when ten of us stormed in and overwhelmed the sole waitress. Sorry, Nicole!  We'll try again this week and maybe plan a little better.  Many people are using back rooms in diners, Chinese restaurants and Whole Foods cafes to eat a little lunch and play - easier than trying to accommodate everyone's dietary needs.  (I'm back on Weight Watchers, and nothing throws me off track more than having nosh around for "all the other girls"...)

So play like a demon because there's not a lot of time left on this card.  Have you made every hand yet?  I think I have but I'm not sure, so next year I will follow the lead of my friend, Myra, and put a dot next to a hand I've made and see when and if I make all of them.  Some groups make a contest out of it - whoever gets all the hands first wins....what?  Lunch sounds good to me!

Oh, and here's another question - do any of you grandmas out there babysit and play at the same time?  Someone really needs to write  Grandma's Book of Mahjongg...

Happy new year, all!