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By Tom Sloper
November 9, 2008

Column #386

It is my duty as a mah-jongg journalist to inform you of a shameful event in the mah-jongg world. A group of hoodlums outrageously and viciously attacked a highly respected and admired member of eBay and the mah-jongg community. My editors have forbidden me to name names in this column, unfortunately.

The situation began with Ms. X, let's call her. She sells mah-jongg stickers and other mah-jongg supplies. There are many such vendors on the Internet and eBay, but Ms. X has earned the respect and admiration of eBay and the mah-jongg community by her exceptionally canny business sense. She saw a need, and found a way to fill it and make money at the same time.

As I wrote in my March 25, 2007 column (#311), and in FAQs 11h, 19S, & 19AI, the National Mah Jongg League hasn't always required a set of 152 tiles including 8 flowers and 8 jokers. Many older sets manufactured before 1971 don't have 8 jokers. And many Americans travel to China and buy sets there, only to discover that now they need to add jokers. The NMJL sells joker stickers, but those stickers are unattractive and wear out quickly. Some ladies even smeared tiles with nailpolish to make jokers.

So that's the need Ms. X recognized. Her brilliance was to realize that she could scan the jokers of old mah-jongg sets and turn them into stickers. This way an old pre-1971 set could be "rescued" in an aesthetic manner, providing jokers that looked authentic rather than kludged.

Of course, others got the same idea, and thought they could do the same. So Ms. X was forced to take action. Anytime another eBay seller offered a set with scanned antique joker images, Ms. X had to report the seller to eBay and get those auctions shut down as copyright violations. After all, it had been Ms. X's idea to scan those old joker tiles first. eBay shut down many auctions to protect Ms. X's copyrighted idea of scanning old public domain joker tiles.

Which brings us to the events of a week ago. No fewer than 10 sellers simultaneously offered sets with scanned old joker images for sale, in a show of flagrant defiance of Ms. X. What could she do, report 10 sellers at once? If she did that, eBay might have to look more closely at Ms. X's claim of ownership, and we couldn't have that! Am I too sarcastic now?

Did I mention that I was one of those hoodlums? You can get more information about the "Great Sticker Uprising" on my Mah-Jongg Q&A Bulletin Board ("Stickers, Part 3," Oct. 21, 2008 to "Stickers, Part 7," Nov. 5, 2008) and on the eBay Mah Jongg Group (go to, click Community, click Groups). And soon, FAQ 7T will tell you how to make your own stickers.

Click the entries in the header frame, above, to read other columns.

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, is the most comprehensive book in existence about the American game. AND see FAQ 19 for fine points of the American rules (and commonly misunderstood rules). AND get the official rulebook from the NMJL (see FAQ 3).

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

© 2008 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.