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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!


  1. How long (in minutes/seconds) is a reasonable time for each pass in the Charleston. A player in our game can take up to two minutes and we seem to lose track because of the delay.

    1. Unfortunately, there is no set time for passing, and it is not uncommon for an inexperienced player to hold up the game because they are "thinking." Your only option is to have a discussion with the player about how this affects the group. The group may set a table or house rule setting a time limit for passing to prod the person along, but enforcement of this rule may prove tricky. The ultimate solution would be to disinvite the player. If you put it to her in these terms, she may speed it up. Good luck!