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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".