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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!


  1. Linda,

    Glad you're back. I've missed this blog! You make me think -- A good thing!
    Thanks so much for posting your thoughts & hope you're spending lots of time with your new grandbaby.


  2. This is all very interesting.

    My late, dear online MJ friend Sonnie always said, "If you GIVE mah jongg, you don't GET mah jongg."

    Meaning, of course, that if you throw someone's winning tile, the game is over and it doesn't matter how close you were. It's really annoying when another player throws to an obvious exposure. Many times, the offender will say in her own defense, "I had to throw it or I would have broken up my hand!"

    I would not be annoyed if you were one away from The Big Hand .. but otherwise, Sonnie was right. Give MJ and you won't get MJ.

    Thanks, Linda for another excellent column. How about another photo of your beautiful granddaughter???

  3. i don't know where to write it to you. i just received the 2013 card and that's so nice ! i'm sure the guild sent me it so early beacause i'm living in France. i'm sure you will make a post about the new card as soon as you ll have it !