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WEEKLY MAH JONGG

By Tom Sloper
August 7, 2011

Column #494

American Mah Jongg (2011 NMJL card). My column 493 has generated a bit of a buzz. Especially my stopping the Charleston in this hand:

I wrote that there were two hands, and only two tiles to pass, so I'd stop the dance and offer two across (5C, 5D). Molly Abrohams stated readers' objections best: "I have heard another school of thought... stopping the Charleston is only recommended when you are two or three tiles from Mahjongg. So with a hand like [this], you should [pick one of the two hands] and [not stop]... you have a good chance of improving your hand with three more passes plus the courtesy pass and you are not alerting anyone to any info about your hand."

Going by the number of readers who said this, one would think that strategy principles like this were written into the rules--that it was a rule, not a strategy. I am reminded of an incident that happened in my very first tournament. It was hosted by Mah Jongg Madness, then owned by the late Larry and Dorothy Krams (Dorothy passed away in 2005 of breast cancer, and Larry died this past Monday from injuries sustained in a plane crash two days before), and was held in Las Vegas. This was around 1998, I guess, when I was developing Shanghai: Second Dynasty. I was a bit intimidated. First, it was my first time competing in a mah jongg tournament. Second, I was one of just two male players, with Larry being the only other male present. Third, I'd been seated at a table with a particularly beautiful opponent. I kept stealing glances at her while playing. Anyway, I had a two-chances hand like problem #4, and stopped the Charleston. I didn't win the hand, and then someone asked me about stopping. I said I'd had two hands. That made the gorgeous player infuriated with me. She snapped, "You never stop the Charleston with two hands!"

Well, I was sad not to be able to have a more congenial relationship between us than that, but I never took her words as gospel. You can stop if you want. The thing I learned from this incident was never to tell anybody why I was stopping. Many readers have written me to ask what to say when somebody asks, "Why are you stopping?" I always tell them to say, "Because the rules permit me to."

Two members of my regular group are constantly stopping the Charleston. I never ask them if they ever do it with two hands, or fewer than three tiles, or what. Once in a while, one will stop, then offer three tiles across. I assume she only wants to avoid the "evil second across" -- when you get a tile in the second left, and then have just two tiles to pass.

Stopping can also be strategic. It throws off your opponents when you stop the Charleston. All's fair in war and mah jongg, as Sun Tzu never said.



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October 2010 article on American mah jongg's rise in popularity, from the WALL STREET JOURNAL: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703631704575552683266650568.html ?mod=WSJ_hpp_RIGHTTopCarousel_2.
There's a movie of the WSJ story too -- just click the Video tab on the above page, or go to http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703631704575552683266650568.html ?mod=WSJ_hpp_RIGHTTopCarousel_2#articleTabs%3Dvideo.

Where to order the yearly NMJL card: 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). Linda Fisher's website is the only website that describes American rules: http://sites.google.com/site/mahjrules/.



© 2011 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.