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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The 2018 Newsletter

The latest edition of the National Mah Jongg League newsletter has just arrived!  The newsletter details the activities of the League and keeps the membership informed of any updates. To receive the newsletter, you must be an active member of the League.  You become a member when you purchase a card either directly from the League (online or by mail) or you purchase your card from a Collector who submits your name and address to the League membership roster. 

The newsletter is informative, entertaining and performs several important functions.

  1. The President's report - Wherein Larry Unger, League President, reflects on the League's work for the year; card development, hurricane relief, and continuing contributions to worthy causes.
  2. The Mailbag - correspondence received by the League from charities who have received donations sent by the League on behalf of the membership.  From major hospitals to individual scholarships, it is gratifying to know that a portion of our membership dues (an unchanged $8 - $9) is being used to help others.  The mailbag this year also contains some whimsical poetry on the subject of mahjongg.
  3. The Q&A - Here is where we get our rules clarifications and updates.  These questions and answers reflect the most covered inquiries received by the League in phone calls and letters throughout the year.  These are the latest rulings by the League experts and get filtered down through the mahjongg community.  When people want to see it in writing, it is there in the newsletter.  Some of this year's updates include:
         - A player is committed to taking a tile from the wall if it has been moved in any way.
    - Tapping or clicking the tile is not racking
         - A hand is not officially dead until another player verifies that Mah Jongg cannot be made
         -You are committed to discarding a tile once it is fully named
         - It is recommended that a player never touch another player's tiles
         -A bettor may not speak even though they realize an error has been made
         - If a tile is taken from the wrong end and racked the player's hand is dead
  4. The 2018-2019 Membership Application - make sure to order your cards early to be sure you receive the 2018 card without delay upon release!  The label of the newsletter contains your membership number, which is necessary when ordering.
  5. Bits and Pieces and the Mah Jongg Store - This covers the products and services performed by the League, including the online game and tile matching service.  Important note:  A newly revised version of Mah Jongg Made Easy (the League's official rule book) is now available.
  6. The Honor Roll continues to grow - the last two pages of the Newsletter list all the Collector members (those who send in 35 or more membership applications) and their charities of choice.
I may not have been blogging much this year but I have been playing and teaching and seeing the excitement and interest that people have been showing as they learn this great game.  Mah Jongg has certainly enhanced my life and brought me into a community of fun, like-minded people from all over the world, all for the price of a mah jongg card.  So I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone reading this a happy new year, and to thank the League once again for their hard work and dedication.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The 2017 Card - Six Flowers are back!!

Six flowers!

Like a migrating spring bird, the card is making its way across the country, first spotted on Saturday, March 25 in Suffolk County, NY.  If yours hasn't come yet, take out your 2016 card and follow along in this year's synopsis:

The only change in the categories is from 2016 to 2017 and Eleven Hands are now "Lucky 13". The pung, pung, kong, kong pattern has changed back to pung, kong, pung, kong, and the pair, pair, pung, pung, kong  has changed back to pair, pung, kong, pung, pair.  These patterns have alternated from year to year and this was not unexpected.  There is a pair, pair, pung, pung, kong pattern in 2468, Consecutive Run,  13579 and 369.  An example of this is the 11 22 111 222 3333 hand, which has been retained.

Some changes:  No wind/year hand combination this year.
Only four "year" hands
First hand is the pung, kong, pung, kong combo in two suits; 222 0000 111 7777
Second hand pair of flowers, kong of dragons, 2017, kong of dragons in second suit.
Third hand is something new - pair of flowers, followed by 2017 and two kongs of sevens; 3 suits.
The fourth hand is closed and is the same as the current closed hand except the last pung is sevens.

Pay close attention here!  Many hands look the same, but they are not!
The first hand is now a kong of flowers, single two, pair of four, pung of sixes and kong of eights.
Second hand pattern changes to pung, kong, pung, kong.
The three kongs of 2-4-6 with the pair of eights in one suit has been retained, as has the hand above it on the 2016 card.
The hand with the two pairs of eights is out, and the closed hand with dragons is out.
The dragon hand in evens is now in the pair, pair, pung, pung, kong pattern.  22 44 666 888 DDDD (3 suits)
The closed hand is a pair of flowers followed by four pungs each of 2468.

Like Numbers
Now it gets interesting!
Like numbers has been shaken up a bit.  Still only two hands.
First hand three suits; pair of flowers, kong of number, kong of dragon, kong of like number.  This may take a bit of getting used to.
Second hand a six flower hand.  Pung of flowers, kong of number, pung of flowers, kong of like number.  Open hand, value 30.
Makes those flowers way more valuable, IMHO.

Lucky "13" Hands
Fours and nines, fives and eights, sixes and sevens, all add up to 13.
Hang on to those flowers and sevens when and if you want to go joker shopping!

My old favorite in first place:  Quint any wind, kong any dragon, quint any number.
Second place like numbers - quint, kong, quint.  Fairly straightforward.
Third place:  Consecutive run.  Pair of flowers, quint, pair, quint, any three consecutive, one suit; i.e., FF 11111 22 33333. This substitutes for that infernal FF 11111 66 77777 hand which I never made.
Fourth place is odds, unusual pattern: 111 3333 55555 DD or 555 7777 99999 DD.  Only one quint so only one joker needed.  One suit, these numbers only.  Hmmm...more sevens...

Consecutive run:
The classic first hand is now pair, pung, kong, pung, pair.
Flowers 1-2-3 is BACK!
11 22 111 222 3333 is RETAINED!
Kong of flowers, one suit consecutive run kong with pair of matching dragons is BACK!
The sandwich hand is RETAINED!  (Kong pair/pair/pair kong)  Some call it bookends.
The Margaretann hand is BACK!   I mean, the closed hand, pung-pair-pung consecutive with two pungs of opposite dragons - value 30.  Margaretann played it (and made it) often.
Consecutive runs now seems like a haven of classic, cherished hands.

First hand is now pair, pung, kong, pung, pair.
1-3-3-5 and 5-7-7-9 is now pung, kong, pung, kong.
The one-nine bookends with pairs of 3-5-7 has been retained.
The dragon hand in odds now fits the pattern of the dragon hand in evens.
Three suits: 11 33 333 555 DDDD or the same in 5-7-9-D.  More sevens!
Flowers and odds has changed to pair of flowers, kong each of 1-3-5 or 5-7-9.
(I'm telling you, there will be fisticuffs over those sevens!)
Another pattern hand is next: 11 33 111 333 555 (3 suits), same in 5-7-9.
The closed hand is different yet familiar: 111 3 555 555 7 999.  Only 1 seven in this one.

Winds - Dragons
A little fun with winds and dragons.
First hand is the same, kongs of N-E-W and pair of souths.
Second hand is a sandwich:  Kong of norths and souths with pairs of dragons in the middle.  The hand comes in easts and wests as well.  30 points.
A variation on the closed hand; norths and souths with odds, easts and wests with evens, but the pattern is now: pair of number, pung of wind, pair of number, pung of wind, kong of number (3 suits)
Next hand is - aha! - another six flower hand.  Can be done in North/South or East/West.
Pung of flowers, kong of wind, pung of flowers, kong of wind.
And the last hand is a switch from a kong of flowers to a pair of flowers with three kongs of dragons.

Not a whole lot of change for this category, although the closed hand looks interesting.
The one suit dragon hand is now: Kong of 3, pair of six, kong of nine, kong of dragons.  No flowers.
Second hand has conformed to pattern in other categories:  pung, kong, pung kong of 3-6-6-9.
The third hand is retained.  Pair of flowers, kong each of 3-6-9 in one or three suits.
Fourth hand retained in same position.  Conforms to pattern; pair, pair, pung, pung, kong. 3-6-3-6-9.
Fifth hand tweaked and instead of like pungs it's now in three suits.  Pair each of 3-6-9 and kongs of 3, 6, or 9 in the other two suits.
The final, closed hand is something new.  Two flowers, pung of 3, pung of 6, then pung of 9 in second suit and pung of 9 in third suit.

Singles and pairs
Something old, something new in singles and pairs.
Wind hand is pairs of all winds and pairs of like numbers.
Consecutive run hand is seven pairs, any consecutive numbers in one suit.  (There are only three possibilities for this hand - 1 through 7, 2 through 8 or 3 through 9)  I actually made this hand last week - too bad it wasn't on the card yet!
The 369 pairs hand has been retained.
The evens pairs hand has been brought back: pair of flowers, two suits of 224688.
Odds pairs hand is pairs of 13579 with like odd pairs in opposite two suits.
The pair of flowers with pairs of consecutive numbers is retained; i.e., FF 11 22 11 22 11 22.
The final hand is a bit of a surprise.  It's not the standard FF 2017 2017 2017, but rather:
FF 2017 DD 2017 DD in bams and craks only.  (Let's see how many go dead on this one!)

So there you have this year's card - something for each one of the League's hundreds of thousands of members.  Can't wait to play!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The National Mah Jongg League RULES.

Saying goodbye to the 2016 card...

The League will shortly give the word for the new 2017 card to go out.  This is a time of great anticipation among the membership as we eagerly await the new configuration of the hands.  But it is not only the hands that we receive, it is the Rules, which are printed on the back of the card and demarcates the National Mah Jongg League as the rulemaking body for National Mah Jongg League mah jongg.  

I receive e-mails during the course of the year containing questions about rules and I have noticed some confusion regarding whether rules are "official" or not.  It can be disruptive to a game when there are disputes as to rules, which does happen from time to time.  This stems from the fact there are really three sets of rules.  They are:
  • Official National Mah Jongg League rules
  • Tournament rules
  • Table rules
The rules set forth by the National Mah Jongg League provide the basis for all games played with the National Mah Jongg League card.  These rules can be found on the back of the card and in the rule book "Mahjongg Made Easy (2013)," which is sold by the League.  There are also rule books that have been published and available online, most notably Tom Sloper's "The Red Dragon and the West Wind."  The League sends a newsletter to members in early January containing answers to questions about rules.  The newsletter also contains rule updates, so it is a good idea to read the Q/A section, as some rules may change.  If you do decide to buy a rule book, note its publication date - some rules may have changed since it was written.  

Tournaments are played around the country and while they use the NMJL card and play by the official rules, tournament directors have the discretion to add rules that are unique to tournaments.  These rules are implemented as a way of calculating points, or in an effort to eliminate cheating.  Some notable tournament rules are:  -10 points if you look at a blind pass; +10 points for a wall game; minus points if you throw to a second exposure and minus even more if you throw to a third exposure.  Most tournaments now have adopted the rule that you must place a called tile on top of the rack and not in the rack.  Because these rules vary from the official rules and they vary from tournament to tournament, they are usually spelled out in a rules sheet provided to each player.  Any disputes are mediated by the tournament director and not the National Mah Jongg League.

And then there are table rules.  I get many e-mails from players who are told by "experienced" players that they must pay for the table if they throw to three exposures.  Some players learned that tapping a tile on the rack is the equivalent of racking.  Some players have never stopped playing with 14 tiles.  And while there is nothing so terrible about playing this way, it should be understood by all who play that these are not official rules, but rules agreed upon by the house, or by the table.  Table rules should also be spelled out clearly before the game starts, so as to avoid disputes.  But in order to know whether you are playing with a table rule, you need to know which rules are the "real" rules promulgated by the National Mah Jongg League as the standard by which to play.

As many of you will know, the League suffered a great loss in 2015 with the passing of president Ruth Unger and treasurer Marilyn Starr, beloved women who formed the core of the association.  In the last year-and-a-half, Larry and David Unger have worked tirelessly to uphold the standards that we have come to know.  This meant finding members to serve on the rules committee, write the new card and issue rulings both over the phone and by mail; not an easy task by any means.  

In the next few weeks, the card will come and we'll all hunker down and learn it using the rules of the League.   The League stands ready to answer your questions and work to ensure that for the next 365 days we get our $8 or $9 worth of enjoyment and comaraderie playing the game we love.  Bring it on!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Annual Meeting of the National Mah Jongg League

Larry and David Unger (left/right in suits) joined by colleagues and members at NMJL headquarters
Today I had the privilege of attending the annual meeting of the National Mah Jongg League, to mark the beginning of its 80th year.  The annual meeting is held on the first Monday in February and all members are welcome to attend.  I understand that back in the day, the League would rent a meeting room in a hotel, as the office couldn't handle the crowds.  Attendance has been sparse in the last few years, but this year's meeting showed an uptick in interested aficionados.

Those who attended represented many the many sides of mahjongg.  There were tournament directors, teachers, tournament goers, organizers and just plain players.
The theme of the meeting, as put so eloquently by Larry Unger,  President, was "Friendship and Charity," and the many ways the League has provided opportunity for just that - through its donation program and by giving so many of us the chance to take the card and run with it, so to speak, and create spaces, virtual and concrete, that allow us to connect with others of like mind.

An interesting discussion ensued about issues that have been brought to the forefront in online forums, rec rooms and classrooms.  One such topic was the distinction between tournament rules, "official" rules, and what the League considers "recommendations," i.e., good practices that are not enforced.  An example of a recommendation is that you not look at a blind pass.  There is no penalty if you do, but it is good practice not to.  After all, you may see a tile that you need, but must give away, and that is penalty enough.  However, in tournament play, directors are unanimous that looking when you "steal," is a mandatory 10 point deduction.

A question came up about demographics and it quickly became apparent that the exact number of players is difficult to determine.  The League keeps records of those who order online or by mail - indeed, to be considered a member, you need to purchase your card from the League.  If you buy through an organization, in order to register as a member the organization should provide a list of each person buying.  The League keeps a database of registered members, but as there are many retail outlets (both online and brick and mortar) it is impossible to say for sure how many players are out there.  A few things we know for sure:  Mahjongg is spreading into more towns and cities than ever, particularly in the south - Texas and Tennessee were two states that came up.  And, of course, as more people retire and move to communities across the country, this trend will continue.  There are even expat retirement communities in places like Ecuador that are seeing an influx of players.

The League has a busy, very structured year, as the boxes all over the office could attest to.  (Sadly, we were not treated to a sneak preview of the new card).  Orders are coming in and it's time to ramp up to get ready to mail!  The League is every bit as excited to send the card to us as we are to receive it - and they look forward to our reaction.  We know they will not disappoint.