MAH-JONGG
By Tom Sloper

May 4, 2003 (Sunday)

Column #29

American (2003 NMJL card). The Charleston is very important in American strategy, and is also very difficult for novice players. Especially when the initial deal is a mess. Put yourself in the seat of today's player. Wesley's deal had no pairs, a little of everything, and exactly one joker.

"What am I supposed to do with this?" he asked himself. (Unlike his compatriots, he kept such musings to himself, based on a belief that it was strategically wise to hide one's quandaries from one's opponents. Who knows where men get such strange ideas.)

Of course, he needed to pass three tiles to the right. But which?

First he compared odds with evens. Six evens vs. three odds. Then he compared highs against lows. Four lows and four highs (not counting the one five). Then he looked at the Singles & Pairs. His best bet in that section would be the 3rd hand (evens in one suit, with F, E and W). But since he had no pairs, that was far-fetched. Still, it was possible. So he pulled out anything that didn't fit with evens, and put them to the right of the Joker.

Of the four, he would pass three. But which? The best pass is one in which no more than two tiles can conceivably contribute to some hand on the card, so he didn't want to pass 5D 7B 9B (all three tiles could be used to make 13579 #7). It's also best if a pass doesn't provide two tiles that can be used to make too many hands on the card.

7D 9D Wh was out. Between the other two, it was a tossup. He passed 5D 7B Wh to Sophia. From Noreen he got 1C 3B R.

Still no evens, and still no clear direction. He wanted to pass 3B 9B R across, but all three of those could be used to make 369 #4 (if Esther was going that way). He passed 1C 3B 9B. In return he got 3C 8D G from Esther.

Now, as he considered what to pass left, he re-evaluated his possibilities, the best of which were:

Three hands, all even. Esther began humming the countdown song from some TV game show to urge Wesley along. He realized he was thinking too much. He passed 3C, 4C, W.

And so it went. By the end of the Charleston he was still working in the 2468 family, and was in a somewhat better position.


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Copyright 2003 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.