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Thursday, March 26, 2020

The 2020 Card

The card was mailed on time, and just in time to ease the anxiety of living on lockdown.  It was difficult to stop myself from ripping open the envelope with my bare hands, but after using the protocol recommended by the CDC, I was able to feel comfortable handling the card.   I don't want to dwell on the situation we all find ourselves in, so let's go right to the annual side-by-side comparison.  If you get out your 2019 card and follow along, we can see what has changed, and what has not.

One thing that has not changed is the categories, although there is no section for Addition hands this year - the "math" hands are woven into the Even hands (4x6=24 and 6x8=48) and the Odds (3x5=15 and 5x7=35).  Looks like algebra to me!

2020 - This category still has four hands, but of course 1s and 9s are gone, and because of the prevalence of two's, some fancy footwork had to be done.  So it really isn't about the soaps, it's all about the 2s.  Wondering what 2022 has in store! The only hand that was retained to any extent is the one with the pair of flowers, two kongs of dragons and the year in the middle.  This year, however, the hand must be made with Reds and Greens and the 2s any suit.  It could not be any other way.  The closed hand from 2019 has been totally reversed and now the 2020 is in the middle where NEWS was and the winds are where the numbers were.  But don't fret, because NEWS shows up later.  The first hand is a pair of flowers, 2020 and two kongs of twos.  Again, because of the 2's it must be in three suits.   The second hand in 2019 has been completely replaced with five (count 'em, five) flowers, a pair of twos, a pung of twos and 2020.  This will dovetail nicely with some other hands, should those soaps prove elusive.  Keep reading...

2468 - This category has been only modestly redesigned.  The first hand differs from the 2019 hand only in that it requires four flowers and one 2, instead of three flowers and two 2s.  Three hands were retained (the second, third and fifth ones on the 2019 card, although the pattern hand has changed from pung/kong/pung/kong to pung/pung/kong/kong, as it does from year to year).  The gate, my favorite hand, with the pairs in the middle, has been stretched out to make a closed hand of two flowers, with three 2s and three 8s in one suit and three 4s and three 6s in a second suit.  The category is serviceable, keeping in mind that 2s are at a premium.  There is a three-suit hand with opposite dragons that has made a comeback from prior years.

Any Like Numbers -  The first hand is retained.  The closed dragon hand is no more.  Instead there is a brand new hand which calls for a pair of flowers, two like numbers each with a matching pair of dragons; i.e. 1111 DD 1111 DD.  (two suits), open hand.  2's and soaps, maybe?  And the bottom hand is another five (count 'em, five) flower hand, followed by a pair, a pung and a kong of like numbers. if I go dead on the five-flower 2020 hand....

Quints -  Kiss the top quint in 2019 goodbye, and the bottom hand has been changed so instead of two like number quints with dragons in the middle, it's a quint of five (count 'em, five) flowers, any dragon, any number.  So this takes the place of the "any" hand as well, with dragons replacing the winds and adding one more flower.  The third hand in quints has been modified.  Instead of a pair in the middle and a pair of dragons at the end, there are two pairs in the middle, making a consecutive run; quint/pair/pair/quint.  But wait!  There's also a quint hand with 1/3/5 and 5/7/9 - the pattern being quint/kong/quint.  A like number (or is it a consecutive run) hand  gives some spice in a pair/pair/quint/quint pattern, also a new hand never before seen.  11 22 33333 33333.  Think of the consecutive run hand 11 22 33 4444 4444, only with two pairs and two quints.  Maybe it's easier, maybe it's not!

Consecutive run - 2019 had seven hands in this category; 2020 has eight.  The top three classic hands are back, with some slight pattern variations.  The three-pair hand has gone back to it's old configuration, 11 22 33 4444 5555.  A familiar hand, and the much-beloved yet most maligned hand, FFF 1111 2222 DDD, has disappeared and will probably never be seen again.  Ah, well.  There is a dragon hand, and, surprise, it's also got two kongs and two pungs, 111/2222/333/DDDD, one suit, but no flowers.  It remains to be seen whether it will be played as often.  The four-flower hand in consecutive is eliminated to be replaced by a four flower hand in the same pattern as the first hand in 2468 - kong/single/pair/pung/kong.  We get two closed hands in consecutive, maybe to make up for the lack of a concealed hand in like numbers? The first closed hand simply changes the pungs in the 2019 concealed hand from like numbers to opposite dragons.  The second concealed hand is a 1-2-1-2-3 hand, in a pung/pung/pung/pung/pair pattern.

13579 - First hand the same, different pattern, now pair/pair/pung/pung/kong. Classic 1/3/3/5 and 5/7/7/9 are back in pung/pung/kong/kong.  Sandwiches are back, both in odds (1/3/3/3/5 and 5/7/7/7/9) and winds (N/1/1/1/S and E/2/2/2/W).  A dragon hand complementary to the one in consecutive run rounds out the open hands in odds (111/3333/555/DDDD and 555/7777/999/DDDD).  Will certainly be "odd" to see a kong of sevens and a pung of nines in one suit!  And, it looks like there are no pungs of dragons on this card that can be exposed!  The closed hand from 2019 is gone, replaced by a harder-looking one; two flowers, 1/33/555 and then 5/77/999, two suits.  Better start practicing now - it's 35 cents.

Winds-Dragons - The block hand on top now has a kong/pung/pung/kong pattern.  This goes nicely with the sandwich hands, which also have kongs of Winds, no flowers, and a hand with two flowers, kongs of winds and 2020 in the middle.  And, lest you worry there's a teltale pung, there's NN EEE DDDD WWW SS.  This will be helpful if you go dead on the closed hand in 2020.  But where are the dragons in winds and dragons you say?  Well, the all-dragon hand is gone, replaced by a hand with a pair of flowers, two kongs of dragons and -- wait for it -- NEWS -- in the middle.  Yes!  It looks suspiciously like a hand in 2020, but remember the 2020 hand must be done in reds and greens only.  Sneaky!  Closed hand lovers, rejoice - the closed hand in winds makes an unprecedented third appearance in a row.

369 - This category retains three out of six hands; the 369 block, the pattern hand which switches to pung/pung/kong/kong and the "step" hand, which also switches pattern to pair/pung/pair/pung/kong.  The closed matching dragon hand now complements the dragon pattern seen in consecutives and odds, and there is a familiar three-pair hand with like kongs, 3's, 6's or 9's.  The only thing that's new-ish to the experienced player is the closed hand, 369 in the same pattern as the 135/579 closed hand, also 35 cents.

Singles and pairs:  I'll get right to the point - after much speculation the "big" hand is FF 2020 NEWS 2020, now worth 85 cents.  Four soaps make this hand extra challenging.  The first three hands are familiar:  Wind pairs with any three consecutive numbers; the run hand is two flowers, run of five numbers, two dragons, and - back by popular demand, I suppose - FF 11 22 11 22 11 22.  Making its debut is a very cool-looking even pairs hand:  FF 2468DD 2468DD, any two suits.  The 369 hand is a cha-cha:  336/33669/336699, followed by an odds hand; 11 357 99 11 357 99 in two suits.

So there you have it - the new card - while you wait for the new card.

On a personal note, writing this blog, much like the game of mahjongg, has been a means of transcending the unsettled atmosphere outside my home.  I live in Queens, which has been very hard hit, and we are all sitting tight, Zooming together and playing online.  The League office is closed, so if you haven't received your card or aren't sure if you ordered it, or want to complain about a hand, there will be no one there to take your call.  We are sheltering in place, with our family and friends, trying to stay connected in a world that doesn't make sense right now.  I hope you are all safe and remain that way so that we can get back to bickering over who gets the tile when someone has exposed.   (Hint:  The answer is now on the back of the card)

Monday, March 23, 2020

Countdown to the Card!

The countdown has begun and very soon the new card will be in the mail and headed to the hundreds of thousands of players who placed their order.  If you have not already heard, the National Mah Jongg League has closed their offices as a result of the public health crisis that our country is facing.  The League office, which is located in New York City, is considered nonessential (!) and will not re-open until at least April 1.  However, the League has advised that cards will be mailed to all those who placed orders as of March 16.

What does this mean for the members of the League?  It means we will be getting the new card on schedule - the first mailing will go out in the coming week, if it has not already, and the second mailing will go out a short time later.
Through all of the uncertainty, there is still excitement and anticipation as we await the new card!  As long as our heroic Postal employees are delivering the mail, we can still participate in our time-honored tradition of watching and waiting, albeit from six feet away.  Enter the digital age.

It falls on us to find ways to enjoy the game we love, while staying safe and protecting our neighbors. This means getting creative and using the resources that we may have shied away from not so long ago.  Let's get digital!  I, for one, am using Informed Delivery which shows me what is coming to my mailbox.  (No card today, darnit)!  And, since I am in NYC, alone in my house with my new co-workers (Nico the dog and Nelson the refugee cat who belongs to my machatunim in the hospital) I am scouring the 'net for ways not just to play, but to play with friends.

So here's what I found:
There are some sites where you can play online, and they are doing a stellar job.  Just yesterday, one of the sites had over 1500 games going - that's 6,000 people.  Here's a list of digital resources posted by Lynn Kaplan, a mahjongg teacher who runs a lovely social game at the Manchester Community Library:
Don't forget to add the National Mahjongg League's online game as well which you can download at
IMPORTANT TIP:  If you want to play the NMJL online game, you will need your MEMBER ID NUMBER.  Because the League office will be closed, you will not be able to call the League to find out what it is - so KEEP THE ENVELOPE YOUR CARD CAME IN.  YOUR MEMBER NUMBER WILL BE ON THE ADDRESS LABEL.  Do not fear - the online sites will make a very quick switch to the new hands, BUT, you can still play the 2019 card until you get the new one.

For those of you who aren't lucky enough to have a husband, kids or willing roommate(s) to play with at home, here's what we've been doing. 
Find three other players and a mutual time to play.
Register to play on the same site Make sure you each have an account with the same digital mahjongg site.
Put your phone or tablet next to your laptop -  It works best if you have a phone and a computer, so you can chat on the phone and play on the computer, but if that is not possible you can play and talk on the same device, but you won't be able to look at the video and the game screen at the same time.
Set up a live chat - this can be audio only, or audio and video.  Everyone must have the same chat program running on their phone.  Some popular programs are:  FaceTime (Apple products only), Facebook Messenger (requires Facebook account), Google Duo (requires account).  Please leave a comment if you know of any others.  (Hint:  Ask your grandkids) All four can chat together.
Log in to the agreed-upon game site: Decide who will set up the table (East) and then the others join.  Turn off the sound and call the tiles yourselves! 
Kvetch about your hand - This part is optional!  Poof - you are now a "gamer."

This is almost as much fun as being there, and it has the added bonus of meeting and playing with friends in different parts of the country.  The only downside is that only four can play.  Someone will need to find a way to set up a virtual tournament!
Any takers???????

How are you playing?