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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Fair Exchange - Joker swapping II I supposed to hand her the joker?

Back in 2012 I wrote a post about joker swapping strategy; i. e., determining when and if to make the exchange.   This post focuses on the process by which a joker is taken, in other words, how to make the exchange.  I've received many questions from players, beginner and experienced alike, who are unsure about the process.  

The National Mah Jongg League states on the back of the card, "Jokers may be used to replace any tiles in any Pung, Kong, Quint or Sextet only. Jokers may be replaced in any exposure with like tile or tiles by any player, whether picked from wall or in player's hand, when it is player's turn.  Let's look more closely at what that means:

The first rule is that it must be your turn in order to replace.  This means that you must wait (which is sometimes hard to do) until you have either (a) picked a tile from the wall, or, (b) called a tile from the table and made a complete exposure.  

(a) When a player picks from the wall, there is no requirement to rack.  If the tile that was picked can be used to redeem a joker, you may make the exchange immediately.  If the tile to be exchanged is in your rack with the rest of your hand, you must place the tile you picked in your rack, then take the tile to be exchanged out of your rack.
(b) When a player calls a discarded tile, the call must be completed before an exchange is allowed.  You cannot call a tile unless you have the requisite number needed to make a complete exposure.  Once you have exposed the entire pung, kong or quint, then you may take the tile you wish to exchange out of your rack.  The League has ruled this constitutes two separate moves.  In other words, once the exposure is made and the tile to be exchanged has left the rack, the exposure cannot be altered.

While you are holding the tile to be exchanged, it is important to announce your intention to exchange. You may say "exchange," or "may I" or "replacing," or in some way (hopefully politely) state or indicate that you wish to use the tile you are holding to make a swap.  After the intent has been declared, you may make the exchange.

It is recommended by the League that you not touch another player's rack, but rather hold the tile to be exchanged in your outstretched palm, and wait for the player to hand you the joker and take your tile.  This is a recommendation, however, and not a rule.  Once the intention has been announced, it is also allowable to place the tile to be exchanged on the table close to the rack that has the joker.  The verbalization of the intent ensures that your tile will not be considered discarded.  Simply placing your tile on the table and pushing it over to the rack may negate your claim as the rules state when a tile touches the table it is discarded.  Be sure your intention is clear, and always be observant as to where and when jokers are available.

Disputes may arise over intention if someone has started to name a tile to discard and then realized they could use the tile to exchange.  The rules state that a tile is discarded when it is fully named, so saying "four...I'll take your joker," is allowable, but "four bam...I'll take your joker" is not.  Be mindful.

If you are replacing a joker on your own rack, you may do so silently, since there will be no issue of considering the tile discarded, and you don't have to put others on alert that you now have a joker.
You may also make multiple exchanges in the same turn.  If you wish to exchange for more than one joker in single exposure, hold out the tiles you wish to exchange.  If you wish to exchange for a joker in more than one exposure, exchange them one at a time. 
You may make an exchange if your hand is concealed, as it does not require you to expose.
After the joker or jokers are placed in your rack, you must discard (or declare mahjongg) and your turn ends.
If an exchanged joker gives you mahjongg, you may declare mahjongg and it is treated as self-picked.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Claiming a Discard

A couple of years ago, I received an e-mail from a player who said her teacher had told her that if she picked up or merely touched a discarded tile she had called, she was obligated to take it.  I did not believe that was correct and wrote the League for clarification.  I received the letter above, which states:  You are committed to taking a discard when you have either exposed tiles from your hand or placed the called tile on top of your rack.

This got me thinking about the difference between a call and a claim.  The call signifies your intention to claim the tile, and the League has clarified that you must verbalize your call.  The tile is claimed when you have either exposed or placed the called tile atop your rack.  The League states in "Mah Jongg Made Easy," - the "call" or "take" has become the claimant's turn. (1984, 2018)

There's been some brouhaha going on about this being conducive to "aggressive" play.  After all, if one is committed to taking the discard, it precludes the player next in turn from waking up and saying, "Oh, gee, I wanted that flower."  The argument is that someone who is paying attention and ready to call will "slam" their tiles atop the rack in a display of sharklike rudeness.  Poppycock.  Why would this be more likely to happen than an alert player snatching the discard from the table and slamming it atop the rack? 

Here is an analogy:  In scenario A, a person orders printer ink from Amazon.  She pays by credit card.  It's delivered to her door the next day.  In scenario B, she goes to Staples for her ink, which is kept behind the counter.  She tells the cashier what she wants.  The cashier hands her the ink and takes her money.  In both scenarios, she owns the ink. 

An exposure is the price you pay for a discard.  Does it matter if you pay in advance (expose first and then take the discard) or take the discard first and then expose?  I say no.  In either case, the tile is claimed.  The player next in turn is TOO LATE.  (2013)

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Where's My Card?

If you are a mahjongg player, you know the 2019 card has been released by the National Mah Jongg League.  The League sends over 300,000 cards to the membership beginning in the first week of March. A second shipment goes out the first week in April, and third shipment is released the second week in April.  After all the members get their cards, a shipment is made to retailers; Amazon, Hallmark stores and the like.  

As stated in a previous post - if you ordered your card in January or the first two weeks of February your card was mailed out the last week in March.  If you ordered after that, your card will be mailed out in a later shipment.  

This is the time of year the League is inundated with phone calls from members who have not yet received their card.  The phone is ringing off the hook and even with extra help on the phones, it may take a while before you get through.  Before you call, however, there are other ways to find out where your card is.
  • If your payment was received by the League, you would have an e-mail confirmation with a ship date.  Remember, the later you pay, the later it is shipped.  The second shipment has just been released, which would include cards purchased from mid-February to mid-March.  
  • If your payment was received by the League, you would have a canceled check or credit card receipt.  If you do not have either, it is possible your payment was not received.
  • If you gave your payment to a person who sent in for a group, check with that person and see if everyone has received their cards.  If you are the only one who hasn't, have the person call the League.
  • Have you had an address change since you purchased your card?  Check to see if your mail has been forwarded.
  • Are you certain that you ordered from  Check your credit card receipt to see who the charge is from.  The League does not charge tax or shipping for card orders.  Remember, online retailers will not get their cards until the member orders are caught up.  If you pre-ordered from an online store, they will send the cards to their customers after they receive them from the League.  Retail stores will get them at the same time as the online sites.
Cards are sent by U.S. mail and delivery times can vary.  A card can be delivered any time up to two weeks after shipment, even in places close to the League office.  It is not unusual for one person to receive a card but not her neighbor.  Before you call the League in a panic, make sure your order was received, and that you have given sufficient time to pass from your ship date.  The League will take your call Monday - Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.  The office is closed from 12:30-1 pm for lunch.

Everyone is anxious for their card to come - and for good reason!  Yours will be in hand before you know it!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The 2019 Card

Every player knows the anticipation of waiting for the new card.  This year, I had mixed feelings.  You see, I am still in love with the 2018 card and I know there will never be another one like it.  It had a symmetry that other cards lacked, and I am so sad to see it expire.  I could play that card forever - BUT - we can't stop time, can we?  If only! 

So the new card has arrived, and it's time for the yearly breakdown - what's new; what's old; what's missing; what's added?  Take out your 2018 card and we'll see..  

The categories are the same, but it's obvious this card is distinctly different from last year's.

The "year" category has undergone a complete gut renovation.  The only holdover is the closed hand, which will please all those NEWS fans out there.  (It's the only NEWS hand on the card.)  Forget everything you knew about 2018, and start from scratch with 2019.
The first hand is an unusual pattern:  Four flowers, 2019, pung of 1's, pung of 9s, 3 suits.   
Next hand has no flowers, pung of 2s, kong of 0, pung of 1 pung of 9.  1 or 2 suits.  We've seen this hand in 2017, but it was in one suit only.  Remember, soaps are neutral when they are 0, so the 2's don't have to be dots.
Then we have an old favorite, Pair of flowers, kong of dragons, 2019, kong of dragons.  (2 or 3 suits)
This hand takes the place of the dragons with NEWS.  It's a little harder to make, though, because you need the 2019 in the second or third suit.  And don't forget if you use soaps for dragons, you must reserve one for the 0.   Tricky, tricky!

Well, thank goodness the first hand remains the same.  We all got used to that nice pung of flowers.  A closer inspection of the rest of the card shows that there are three hands with pungs of flowers, and no six flower hands.  
The second and third hands on the 2018 card are gone.
The third and fourth hands on the 2018 card are still there, but the pattern hand has changed.  2018 had pung/pung/kong/kong and 2019 has pung/kong/pung/kong. 
My old favorite hand has returned - the "gate" - pair of flowers, kong of 2s and 8s with pairs of 4s and 6s in the middle; any two suits.  Gives you a place to go when your 2s and 4s are different suits.
Dragon lovers will like the one-suit hand - 22 444 DDDD 666 88.  
Pung lovers will like the closed hand - 222 44 666 with two pungs of 8s (3 suits).  This is also an unusual pattern - and is repeated in the closed hand of consecutive run.

Any like numbers
The first hand has switched out the kong of dragons for a kong of a like number - so now you need three kongs of the same number in three suits.  (That sounds hard!) 
The six flower hand is gone, but the closed hand with dragons remains.  Only two hands in like numbers now, but like numbers pop up in other places, so don't despair.

Addition hands
Something new - the common kong is 5's - 5+6=11, 5+7=12, 5+8=13.  One or three suits, as usual.  Well, at least one of those hands is familiar (5+7) but, unlike 2018, there are only two hands that could have a kong of 5 and a kong of 7.   (Cue song:  Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide...)

All the quints have changed.  Some seem easier, some not so much.  The new "any" hand is now any wind, any number, kong of flowers.  There are two consecutive run quints.  One is a riff on an old hand that was two twos, three threes, four fours, five fives - only now its any four consecutive numbers in any one suit with the quint being the last number.   The easy part about this quint is you only need one joker - hence the lower value of 40.  
A little more difficult is the one-suited kong/pair/kong/pair pattern, with the kong/pair/kong being three consecutive numbers and the last pair a matching dragon.  
And like numbers show up in quints in an interesting fashion - two quints of like numbers with opposite dragon.  Three suits of course.  It's sort of like the 2018 like numbers/dragon hand on steroids...

Consecutive run
Ah, our old standbys.  When I teach mahjongg, I turn first to consecutive run.  Tried and true, classic hands.  No disappointments here.  The first two hands remain, with changed patterns.  1-5 and 5-9 are now pair/pung/kong/pung/pair and the pattern hand is now pung/kong/pung/kong.
The pair of flowers and three consecutive kongs remain - one or three suits.  That's a relief.
The three-pair hand has changed slightly to three pairs of consecutives and then kongs of like numbers; i.e., 11 22 33 4444 4444 (three suits).  There go like numbers again!
Brace yourselves, however.  The "knitted" hand of pungs and dragons matching is gone.  Believe me, I feel your pain....  In fact, all the knitted hands are gone, with the exception of 3333/666/9999/DDD.
But now for the new stuff:
The old snoozy standby FF 1111 2222 DDDD did not predictably change to FFFF 1111 2222 DD..  It's now a pung of flowers, two kongs of consecutives and a pung of dragons.  One suit only, and although it's not expressly stated, experienced players know this hand can be any two consecutive numbers.
The closed hand in 2018 consecutive has been tricked out and is now open.  But instead of two flowers and four pungs, it's now four flowers, pair/pung/pair/pung.  And it's not the only hand with four flowers and two like pungs - there's another one in 3/6/9.
And the final hand:  If you remember the pattern in 222 44 666 888 888, this hand, also closed, is the same pattern - The pung/pair/pung are any three consecutive numbers and the two like pungs at the end must match the pair.  This is sort of like the quint hand (1123 11111 11111) but the pair in this hand must be in the middle; i.e., 111 22 333 222 222.

Oh, gosh, there's more?  Okay.  The classics are still there, with the same pattern changes as in consecutive run - pair/pung/kong/pung/pair and the pattern hand is pung/kong/pung/kong.  Note: The 13579 hand is now in one or three suits.
The third hand has changed from two flowers and three kongs to four flowers and a pair in the middle.   Four flower hands have made a comeback with a vengeance!
The knitted hands are gone, as previously noted, as are the six flower hands, as is the hand with three pairs and two kongs.  Taking their place are the following:
A three-suited hand similar in pattern to the 2018 22/44/666/888/DDDD hand only with odd numbers instead of evens; i.e., 11/33/333/555/DDDD and one for 579 as well.
A three-paired, three-suited hand with like kongs of odds - 11 33 55 1111 1111.  This pattern appeared on the 2018 card in 33 66 99 3333 3333.  It now makes its debut in odds.
The closed hand is pungs and singles.  On the 2018 card it's the closed hand in 369, but on the new card it's a little more difficult as it's 111 3 555 in one suit and 555 7 999 in another suit.  Oh, I will miss the old closed hand in 2018.  I will have to learn to love this hand.  Check back next March.

I will say there has been an improvement in Wind and Dragon hands.  The League giveth and the League taketh away.  They have taketh away the first two hands on the 2018 card and there are no four flower hands with winds.  The pattern hand with four N/E/W and two S remains.  The "sandwich" hand (two kongs of winds with pairs in the middle) are now pairs of dragons instead of pairs of numbers.   The closed hand is the same (yay!)  And dragon fans, rejoice, there is a hand with three dragons, but the pattern is:  pung of flowers/kong/pung/kong of dragons.  Cool!
Two interesting debut hands:  NNNN E W SSSS 2019.  Fun!
And more like numbers - interesting because it's three pairs and two kongs.  It's a pair of flowers, pair of NN followed by two kongs of like odd numbers bookended with a pair of SS.  (Same of course for EE/WW/evens)  Save those winds, just in case!  And even though it's 3 pairs, it's only a 25 value...

This category is always being short changed, but there's been some switches made that may perk it up a bit.  Sorry to disappoint but the first hand is gone, replaced by a pair/pair/pung/pung/kong hand in three suits.  33 66 333 666 9999.  Same pattern as the dragon hand in 579.  The pattern hand is now pung/kong/pung/kong and the block hand is the same; pair of flowers, kong of 3/6/9 in one or 3 suits.  The knitted hand is the same as well, which is a good thing, although if you put out three sixes and three dragons, there's only one hand you could be playing.  More obvious hands on this card, I would say!  An old favorite is back, 33 666 FFFF 666 99 (2 suits), and two pungs of sixes could mean this hand or the hand in consecutive run with two like pungs.  So maybe not so obvious after all.
The closed hand is a pair of flowers followed by three pungs in 3/6/9 and a pair of dragons, so a familiar pattern from 2018, although on 2018 it was in odds.

Singles and Pairs
Lastly, we come to singles and pairs.   All the hands have been tweaked, with the exeption of the 369 pairs hand.  The wind pairs hand now takes three like numbers, the even pairs hand has gone back to the 22 4 6 88 pattern in two suits.  The odds pairs hand is odd!  It steps up like the 998 hand stepped down, so think 113/11335/113355, same for 579.   The consecutive run hand is any run of 7 numbers in one suit, which we have seen before.  
Nice dragon/number pairs hand!  FF 11 22 DD 11 22 DD.  Pretty - but certainly not easy.
And, old friend, BIG HAND is back!  Yes. pair of flowers, 2019 in three suits - 75 cent hand!  Play it while you can, since it can't be back in 2020!

So these are my observations - if you have your own, or catch any corrections that need to be made, please feel free to comment!  I think we have all been spoiled with the 2018 card and are in for a bit of a shock here, but change is good for the brain, so let the whining begin!

Thursday, February 7, 2019

What's the Score?

I did something a while ago that I wouldn't normally do, but a friend persuaded me and I acquiesced and attended my first 14-tile tournament.  Now, I won't go into detail about League rules and which is faster, which is better - hey, to each his own.  I won't even complain about going dead, which I did, as expected, but only once.  But what I will complain about is my score.  It was -690.  Yes, you heard that right,  minus 690.

Now, in all the tournaments I have attended, while there is some slight variation in scoring, for the most part if you win a hand, you get the value of the hand.  You will get more if you pick it yourself, and double for no jokers. If you give someone mahj, you get a minus - some will give you minus 10 for giving mahj even if the winner had no exposures, some give you minus 10 if the winner had one exposure and you lose more points if the player had two or three exposures.  So how could I get such a dismal score if I never gave anyone mahj? 😕😕

I can't say I wasn't warned, because the director sent an email outlining all the rules and the scoring system.  And from what I understand, this scoring system is starting to take hold in three states that I know of.  It goes like this:  When you win a hand, you get the value of the hand.  Everyone else gets minus the value of the hand, and if someone gave you mahjongg, they get minus two times the value of the hand.  Sound familiar?  Well, it's like money.  If I give you mahjongg on a 25 cent hand, I pay you 50 cents, the other two players pay you 25.  If you pick it yourself, everyone gives you 50 cents.  So if you play one round (four games) and you don't make a mahjongg, you could be down 200 points in the first hour. If you think of it as a purse, you have lost $2.00, but if you think of it as a tournament score, you are minus 200.

I don't like it.  A player told me at a recent tournament that out of three winners, one had a negative score.  WTF, as the kids like to say.  I wondered what my real score would have been at this tournament, but I was too depressed to figure it out.  I did make mahjongg a couple of times, and there were wall games, so from my point of view I did have some points, but, they were of no consequence, and I left feeling ashamed of myself.

So I am appealing to tournament directors who might be considering implementing this system. Please, please stick to the customary tournament scoring - I may not be in the running, but at least I will have retained my dignity.

Thanks for listening.