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By Tom Sloper

January 27, 2008
Column #350

American Mah-Jongg (2007 NMJL card). Some etiquette questions. How would you handle these situations? My responses in italics below. No peeking ahead!

1. Abigail discards a tile, ending her turn, so Betty reaches for the wall and takes a tile. "Did you see that photo of the mountain lion in the paper today? Can you imagine one coming so close that you could take a picture with your cell phone like that? It makes me shudder!" She puts her tile in her hand, continuing to chatter. She moves some tiles around, considering different possibilities as she continues her monologue. Having fully discussed wildlife news and the latest celebrity gossip and the cute thing her son said yesterday, eventually she discards.

2. Charlene picks a tile, leaving twelve stacks in the wall. Darlene announces, "the wall is hot!" Charlene discovers to her horror that with her new tile, she has to discard a hot tile or else break up her hand. What the heck. "Flower." A gasp goes up from the table. Eve scolds Charlene: "You can't do that. It's the hot wall. You can't discard a hot tile." Darlene reminds Eve, "She can if she wants to. She just has to pay for the party if someone wins on it." Eve is adamant: "She shouldn't be allowed to throw it at all. That's the way we do it in my other game." Charlene defends her act: "Nobody said maj. I took a risk and got lucky." Flora chimes in: "It's her choice, she can take the risk if she wants to." Outnumbered, Eve sulks.

3. Grace discards a tile: "two crak." Helen calls: "I'll take that." Helen puts it up on her rack with a joker and two naturals. Irene looks at Helen's rack and says, "Two craks... soaps..." She puts her finger on the left pane of her card. "You must be making twos and eights and dragons... so you need eight bams and flowers. Very interesting!"

1. As Marge Simpson said, this can be fixed with "gentle nagging." The next time this happens, I would say very softly to Abigail, "make your move, please." As she continues holding up the game, I would repeat the phrase like a broken record until she ends her turn. Eventually she'll get the idea.

2. I'd point out to Eve patiently and gently that since she's outvoted, the house rule is not going to change. And I'd suggest to the group that punitive table rules like "hot wall" and "cold wall" can cause disharmony. But I wouldn't belabor the point.

3. I'd put a hand under my sagging jaw to close my mouth (since the slack-jawed look isn't in fashion this year), and I'd say to Grace: "The best strategy is to keep that sort of thought to yourself. Sometimes the rest of us aren't paying attention, and you could have an advantage over us." If I couldn't stop myself, I'd add: "So, just curious: how did you come up with the idea to say what hand someone else might be working on?"


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Question or comment about this column? Email and the discussion will be posted on the Mah-Jongg Q&A Bulletin Board.

Haven't ordered the 2008 NMJL card yet? Read FAQ 7i.

Need rules for American mah-jongg? Tom Sloper's book, The Red Dragon & The West Wind, can be ordered through AND see FAQ 19 for fine points of the American rules (and commonly misunderstood rules). AND get the booklet from the NMJL (see FAQ 3).

Jay Firestone of the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles has posted a nice video about a young man (himself) learning to play American mah-jongg. You can see it at

© 2008 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.