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By Tom Sloper
March 29, 2009

Column #399

Mumbai-Style Mahjong. I mentioned in column #396 that I'd been invited by a mahjong group in Mumbai, India, to go there and speak. Now I've been to India, survived the heat and enjoyed great food, and I'm here to tell you of the wonders of Mumbai-Style Mahjong.

In that previous column I referred to their game as British/Western mahjong, but I have come to see that there are differences significant enough to warrant calling their game a separate variant altogether. Classifying mahjong variants can be a taxonomic challenge, but it's a challenge I enjoy.

In column #396 I mentioned that each round of the Mumbai game has its own set of rules. That's not all! In India (not only in Mumbai), that's the way most players do things, but they have other rules worthy of note as well.

There's the practice of "buying" a discard, for instance. Under this rule, in certain circumstances you may add a chip to the kitty (did I mention that there's a kitty?), and by doing so you are permitted to take the discard and put it into the concealed hand. Actually, I think this is a very smart and ingenious rule.

Then there's the "Passport." A passport is a set of 5 or 6 unique honor tiles, which can be used together with other combinations during the Special Hands round, to qualify your hand for going mahjong.

The matter of Special Hands is subject to table rules. Some groups have a deck of cards, each card describing one special hand. At the beginning of the round, each player takes a card, and that's the hand that she must make that round. It's extremely challenging that way. One time, I drew the Ruby/Jade card. My assignment was to make a hand using pungs and a pair of bams (both red bams and green bams), and pungs of both G and R. To make it even more difficult, the dealer chose to stop the passing very early into the process. I wasn't able to make that hand.

Sushila Singh, the main driving force behind mahjong in Mumbai (and my gracious hostess), has been striving to do away with the cards system, in favor of a list from which a hand may be chosen freely, depending on the tiles in the hand.

I'll be posting photos from my trip soon. Not only the mahjong, but the sightseeing as well!

Update, 2012: Sushila Singh launched her Mumbai Style Mahjongg site ( in 2012.

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Links to sites where Western rules are described (every author's description varies somewhat):

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Copyright 2009 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.