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By Tom Sloper
November 16, 2008

Column #387

American Mah-Jongg (2008 NMJL card). Have you ever met a player like this one? Let's call her "Yelda." I made the name up -- if you know someone whose name really is Yelda, I assure you I'm not talking about her.

If someone makes a play that Yelda doesn't like, Yelda says that play is "against the rules." Mind you, Yelda has never seen the rulebook; she doesn't even know that one actually exists. But make a play that hampers Yelda's game, and you'll hear about it.

Abby passed three winds to Yelda during the Charleston. Yelda gave them right back. "You can't pass three winds in the Charleston. You have to give me something else."

Betty picked her own mah-jongg, and it was jokerless. She announced her score: "It's a dollar all. A 25-cent hand, times two because I picked it, that's fifty. And times two again because it's jokerless, a dollar." Her look of glee was quickly squelched by Yelda: "No, that's wrong. You can't double it twice, and even if you do, it doesn't come to a dollar. Who ever heard of paying a whole dollar? I'm giving you fifty cents."

Cassie discarded a tile while Yelda was waiting. The tile Cassie discarded wasn't Yelda's mahj tile -- it was Abby's. Abby said "mahj!" But Yelda would have none of it. She turned to Cassie: "You can't discard that. It's an obvious hot tile. You have to pay for the party. I'm not paying for your mistake."

Betty threw 1B and named it "Flower." Yelda wanted a flower, so she found it convenient to make up a new rule: "You have to throw a flower. You said flower, so take that back and throw one." Betty didn't have a flower, so Yelda declared, "Then you have to pay everyone a quarter."

On her turn, Yelda had lifted the tile from the wall and saw that it was a joker. She was about to rack it, but Cassie picked that moment to call for the previous discard. Yelda declared the rule: "it's too late once the next player lifts and sees her tile." But a while later, when Yelda wanted to call a discard after another player had lifted the wall tile, Yelda revised the rule. "This is different. She hasn't brought it all the way to her rack. She has to put it back on the wall."

Another time, Yelda objected to an exposure Abby made. Abby called 2D and put up two jokers with it. "You can't do that. You need a natural two dot in the hand before you can call another."

Then there was the time Yelda called Betty's win invalid. "That's a concealed hand, and two turns ago you redeemed my joker. Redeeming a joker with a concealed hand is against the rules. You're dead."

Yelda exists because the NMJL doesn't publish an up-to-date rulebook, and because nobody would buy one even if they did. You could buy Yelda my book, but it would probably just make her angry. "I know the rules perfectly well," she'd say. So don't bother trying. There's not much that can be done about a Yelda, except not to play with her.

I hope you don't have a Yelda in your group.

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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, 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.