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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Keeping Track of the Charleston it right/across/left or left/across/right?

Today I received a message asking:  
"What is a good way to keep track of the Charleston?
It seems it's easy to forget which direction is next when passing. Any suggestions?"

The message was left on a post from 2011, but I thought this was a timely issue that could use a post of its own.  After all, *everybody* messes up the Charleston at some point, even the most experienced players.  It's a rare game that doesn't include at least one of the following comments:
  • Is this the first or the second?
  • Did I give you a second?
  • Can I steal on this one?
  • Why don't I have enough tiles?
  • I have to give three?
  • Is this the must across?
  • I'm waiting for my last right....etc., etc., etc.
So here are some suggestions for how to keep track, short of using an iPhone app.

1.  Keep quiet!  In my experience, the main reason why the Charleston goes south is due to distraction.  It's hard to keep track of tiles if you are busy discussing your grandson's bar mitzvah or last night's episode of "This is Us."

2.  Speak the passes as you do them. It helps to quietly state each pass by name as you place the tiles face down:  "Right, across, first left.  Second left, must across, last right." Indicate in advance if you are thinking of stopping.  Before the first left you can say, "Wait on the second" or "Hold on, I may want to stop."  After you receive your first left, if you want to stop, this is the time to announce you do not want to do the second Charleston.  Players must then proceed to the Optional pass.   Even if no one says to slow down, it is helpful to pause a moment after the first left to make sure everyone wants to do the second Charleston.  Stacking the tiles in a pyramid signifies the second left.

3.  Keep tiles away from the center of the table.  It's easy for someone to mistake a pass that is meant for someone else.   Place your rights and lefts on the corner of the table and your acrosses directly in front of the intended player in a vertical line.  Keep any leftover tiles from the wall away from the center, so they are not unintentionally passed.

4.  Neither a "rusher" nor a "lagger" be.  Some hands are "no-brainers" and you know what to pass right away.  Some hands are "what the xx#$@???" and require more contemplation.  Don't be the player who passes right then across then drums her fingers on the table while audibly sighing.  Be aware others may need more time to decide, just as you may in the next game.  It's helpful to wait until everyone has received a pass before the next pass is made.  Passing across while a second left has not been taken can lead to mistakes.  Pay attention to what others are doing and pace yourself. On the other hand, if you are the one holding things up, be aware of the traffic jams you are causing and make a decision.  Remember, "it only hurts for a minute".  If you wait too long, you may forget which pass you were up to.

All the above are suggestions and ways to keep track, but it should go without saying that you must follow the rules.  Passes must be done correctly, i.e., three tiles passed face down.  Do not pick up your tiles until you have passed.  If you want to steal, don't look

If you understand the rhythm of the Charleston, you should be able to proceed without interruption.  Practice it until it is second nature and pay attention.  It is not easy to keep track of the tiles in your hand, the tiles you are passed, the tiles you are giving away and the different directions to pass in.  But understand that if the Charleston gets messed up and one player has either too many or too few tiles, the hand is thrown in and started over.  That's right - no one can be declared "dead" in the Charleston because the game has not started yet.  So that should be your incentive to keep track, especially if you have started the game with several jokers!

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

2020 NMJL Annual Meeting

National Mah Jongg League 2020 Annual Meeting

On February 3, 2020 at 9 a.m., Larry Unger, President of the National Mah Jongg League called the meeting to order.  In attendance were Larry and David Unger, President and Vice President of the League, along with the recording secretary, treasurer, members of the Standardization Committee as well as individual members of the League.  The meeting is held on the first Monday of February and members are welcome to attend.

The meeting was held in the League conference room, as the main part of the office was filled with helpers opening envelopes containing 2020 card orders.  It was mentioned at the meeting that the League receives almost 10,000 mail orders A DAY during the card ordering season (now).   President Larry Unger verified that the 2020 card has been printed, but, alas, no sneak peeks...

The NEWS from the League is good!  Membership has increased, to approximately 338,000 members, with card sales of close to 500,000.  During the Q and A session, we were told that the discrepancy is from members who buy multiple cards.  Many members order two cards, one for their residence and one for their winter "home away from home."  Some members buy for their group or students.  Almost 25% of card sales are through Collectors - people who "collect" money for sales of over 35 cards.  The collectors receive a portion of the funds back as a donation for their designated charity - and Larry remarked on the number of local community groups receiving donations.  

Some other questions that came up:  Why don't the cards come out January 1?  Apparently, the schedule goes back to the founding days of the League in 1937.  There is a cycle of activities which corresponds to the fiscal year.  "Imagine trying to send out 350,000 cards during the (year-end) holidays," Larry asked.  Or the collectors trying to collect in the summer?  Or the Standardization committee trying to get together to play the new card while everyone is on vacation?  The system works like a well-oiled machine.  David talked about their visit to the mailing facility and what the League has to do to get the cards ready for mailing.  The membership list is scrubbed for errors and sent to the mailing facility where they are arranged by zip code for distribution.  The on-time arrival has vastly improved over the last several years, as those who order early will receive their card on or before April 1.  Remember the cutoff date is February 21!

Another question - Some people have not received a bulletin.  This may be because they are not in the League's 2019 member database, either because someone else bought their card for them or they did not purchase a card from the League, or they purchased a 2020 card.  In addition, the bulletins are of the type of mail that is not forwarded, so if a member has a new address, it's important to let the League know.  If anyone wishes, they may send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the League and one will be mailed.

A spirited discussion was had about the making of the card - ten members of the committee play for two months getting the combination just right.  The topic arose as to whether a computer could generate the hands, and the answer was a resounding no.  While artificial intelligence may calculate combinations of pungs, kongs, pairs and singles, no computer can factor in the "wow" that comes from winning a hand.  The consensus was that it's the human connection that makes it all work.  The committee creates the card working from their knowledge and experience of the game in a way that delights beginners and seasoned players alike. 

Another tidbit from the meeting - "Mahjongg Made Easy," the League's guide to playing, has been updated again.  The updates are not rule changes, but clarifications of existing rules based on questions the League has received from members.  The 2018 book was so popular it sold out! 

It's always a pleasure to have the opportunity to schmooze with the folks that bring you such a great game and a pleasure as well to report on the meeting.  It's reassuring to know that some traditions continue in our ever-changing world, and we have a new card and a new year of playing to look forward to.