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FAQ 7i. Mah-Jongg Cards... and "Kards"

I am occasionally asked where one can obtain a deck of MJ cards so the game can be played while traveling (without having to lug a heavy set of tiles around). The NMJL calls such cards "kards," with a K -- this is to differentiate from "The NMJL Card" which is simply a list of hands.

I think that's a good idea, so I use that nomenclature here.

Above: Mah-Jongg CARDS (left to right: Marvelous card, NMJL card, AMJA card).

Below: a deck of mah-jongg KARDS, suitable for playing American-style mah-jongg.

See? "cards" (the upper picture above) are a completely different thing from "kards" (the lower picture above).

Sometimes someone will ask me "where can I get mah-jongg cards?" And I think she means kards with a K (in other words, "where can I get a deck of kards"). But she may have really meant cards with a C (that is to say, she was just looking for more than one NMJL card). (Confusion?? In the Mah-Jongg universe?? Quelle surprise!!)

So... here is the information about where to get Cards and Kards both (respectively):


CARDS

Here's how to order a card (with a "C") from the National Mah Jongg League:

The NMJL Card can be obtained from:

When you get to their website, click the "ORDER FORM" link. You can also order the NMJL card from online vendors (such as those listed in FAQ 4a). At one time, apparently, the card was available at stationery stores or something (maybe in the NYC area, I don't know) - but I do not know of any actual bricks-and-mortar shop that currently sells the card anywhere.

But the best place to get the card is directly from the League -- then at the end of the year you'll get the yearly bulletin as well. Believe you me, you need to get and keep these bulletins in order to stay on top of the rule changes! The NMJL card is the "standard" card used by the majority of American players.

The NMJL card alternates between red and blue each year. In 2003 it was blue. In 2004 it was red. The NMJL offers both a regular-size card and a larger card for those whose vision needs that extra little help.

The NMJL card is updated every year and is mailed out at the end of March of that year (the players do not get the new card until April 1st). The 2004 card was mailed out at the end of March 2004, for instance. Note: if you already have an NMJL card and were hoping to ask a question about it, see FAQ 16. Or if you have a question about the NMJL rules (which are also used by the AMJA, below), see FAQ 19.

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Here's how to order the Marvelous Mah Jongg card:

The Marvelous Mah Jongg card is played using NMJL rules, and comes out in January. The card is large and easy to read.

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Here's how to order a card from the American Mah-Jongg Association:

The yearly AMJA card comes out in January. The AMJA card is played using NMJL rules. Many AMJA members use both the AMJA card (for a "change of pace") and the NMJL card (for regular play and tournament play).

The AMJA makes just one size card - it's large and easy to read.


KARDS

As stated above, the spelling "kards" is used to refer to a deck of cards emblazoned with mah-jongg symbols so that one can play mah-jongg with cards instead of tiles. You can buy kards suitable for the American game from the NMJL.

I live in Los Angeles. We have a Chinatown district here. I have been able to find both high-quality playing-card sized kards and also low-quality long slim kards here.

Above: high-quality kards from Taiwan.

Below: low-quality slim kards from China.

Why do I call these kards "slim?" Here's why -- these cards fit endwise into the box, not sideways as you expect! Check this out:

These decks come with 148 kards: all the dots, bams, craks, winds, dragons, and flowers, plus four "kings.".

Here's a closup of the kings:

These decks are very cheap (around $2 per deck here in L.A.), so in order to make a deck suitable for the American game (with 8 Kings, useable as Jokers), I bought two decks and took the Kings from one deck and put them in the other deck.

As it turns out, this type of deck is very cheap and also unfortunately also is very low quality. There are kards with ink smears, ripped off surfaces, and bad registration:

So, it's actually a good idea to buy two decks. That way the really bad kards can be discarded and you don't have to deal with them at all. However, the length of the kards can vary from deck to deck! (+_+)

These slim Chinese kards are made cheaply because they're intended for sale in China, and since Mah-Jongg was illegal until just recently, the cards had to be disposable.

Both of the above-described Chinese decks come with Western indices (Roman letters and Arabic numerals readable by people who are not able to read Chinese characters). But due to the poor quality of the slim kards and the fact that neither deck comes with 152 kards suitable for playing the American game (in case you're interested in playing the American game), you're probably better off to just buy a deck from the NMJL, or from one of the other sources listed below.

How to Play with Kards

Obviously, you can't build walls when using kards instead of tiles. But guess what? I usually teach newbies that "mah-jongg is a lot like rummy, but you can't just make a stack, so you have to build walls instead."

So... to start, you have to shuffle the kards. The easiest way to do that is to divvy up the stack into 4 parts - each player shuffle a part, then stack them up in front of the dealer.

Dealer deals the kards. 4 to each player until each player has 12. Then 2 to the dealer and 1 to the other players. Put the stack in the center of the table.

As you play, you have to line up the diskards so that they don't get hidden underneath each other. Any way you want to line'em up is fine. I recommend overlapping them some, so you can see the corner markings.

Obviously, you're not using racks either. Just fan the kards in your hand. And when you make exposures, lay'em down in front of you so everybody can see'em.

That's all there is to it. You were expecting maybe a whole treatise or something? Oy. Don't be fershlugginer! (I don't know if that's really a Yiddish word - it's a Mad Magazine word from when I was a kid.)


Other sources for kards

Check the online vendors listed in FAQ 4a, Selected Maj Links. Several of them offer NMJL-style kards.

Gareth Saunders has made a beautiful print-your-own deck! (Click here to get it.)

Robert Kalin's "print them yourself" kards site is at http://www.angelfire.com/alt2/robertkalin/create.html . He has several different decks available. Older versions of Kalin's creations are available here at Sloperama. Click here to go get'em.

One website where one can obtain kards is R. Somerville Playing Cards. http://www.playingcardsales.com (or http://www.playingcardsales.co.uk if you prefer).

In October 2004, I went to San Francisco to attend a wireless game conference. I stayed with friends, met an internet mah-jongg friend, and went mah-jongg shopping in Chinatown. I found not just sets but also kards and tables for sale there.

Attractive regular card-size mah-jongg kards can be purchased from: http://www.gamepreserve.com/mahj/mahjongg.html.

Here's a source for kards and sets in the Netherlands, thanks to Peter Gallagher:
CHINEES AZIATISCHE KUNST D EBERHARDT BV,
DAMSTR 7,
1012JL AMSTERDAM,
tel: +31 (0)20-6240724

Here's an Italian site where you can buy mah-jongg kards and Tarot cards.

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And there is also a much easier-to-find American-made MJ deck called "Mhing."

Mhing is manufactured by...

I found my Mhing deck at the Game Keeper store down at the local mall! The deck can be used to play any form of Mah-Jongg. It comes with 6 "Mhing" cards and 6 score cards (you could just use 2 of the score cards and all the Mhing cards as 8 jokers to play American). All the suits, winds, dragons, and flowers are there -- but the flower cards are not numbered (if you wanted to play a Chinese game with "own flower" you'd have to number the flower cards). Mhing is sometimes available for auction at eBay.

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Update, Nov. 15 2001. Dr. Iur. Martin Ulrich Fischer, M.A.S. (of Austria) has kindly provided some information on the mahjong newsgroup today:

> [Mhing] seems to be pretty near to MJ but only uses chows and pongs, but no kongs.
> http://www.dani.at/Mingh.htm
> The deck consists of 108 "colour kards" (3*4*9), 28 "picture kards" (4*4
> and 4*3), 8 flowers (2*4) and 6 "Mhing kards" (used as Jokers).


You can also get the book THE FORTUNE TELLER'S MAH JONGG, by Derek Walters, Eddison-Sadd Edition, Viking Penguin, 1994, ISBN 0-670-85640-1. The book comes with a deck of kards which are not suitable for the American game since there are not enough cards (no jokers).

There are enough flowers/seasons (actually flowers/trades, but that doesn't make a big difference), but there are no jokers. It's a 144-kard deck, with only 3blanks added (total: 147). The kards are highly stylized (Tarot influences abound) and beautiful.

The book focuses on fortune-telling; there is only a 2-page description of how to play Mah-Jongg (an abbreviated version of classical Chinese).

You can see the book and kards listed at www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0670856401/ and you can find out more about them at www.aeclectic.net/tarot/mahjongg/. I found these sites by using Google. It's easy and quick! For more about how to search the internet, click here.

The book and kards are out of print in the U.S. Although they're listed on Amazon, I suspect that if you order them they won't be able to dig up a copy for you. However, on June 24, 2003 I got this encouraging email from Ulrich M. Schwarz in Germany:

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Here's a new addition to the collection - PANDA CARDS from Japan!

The deck is intended for kids, and includes 144 cards. In addition to the standard 136 (the 3 suits, winds, and dragons), there are 4 season cards, and 4 double-sided cards. In my opinion, cards that look the same on front and back are generally a problem. The player tends to turn them over to make sure the card isn't just backwards, giving away a clue about the hand!

This particular deck is most suited for playing Japanese-style, else players could use only 4 flowers, and perhaps call the P cards "jokers."


New as of November, 2009: you can order a deck of 200 mahjong cards (suitable for American mahjong or even Vietnamese mahjong) at http://www.bananaq.com.

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Not all decks are suitable for the type of mah-jongg you play. As with buying tiles... you should know what you're buying before you puts down your money.

Like kards? Then check out the Hanafuda page on this website. Even more fun decks of playing cards from Japan!



Copyright 2001, 2002, 2009, 2011, 2012 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.

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