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By Tom Sloper
October 31, 2010

Column #472

American Mah Jongg. The ladies are having their weekly game, when all of a sudden an unexpected thing happens, and they don't know what to do about it. Player A discarded a tile and mistakenly said the wrong thing. She said, "Flower," but the tile she discarded was actually South wind. That wasn't the unexpected thing, however. People had misnamed discards before. But usually when that happened, the misnamer would simply say the correct name and the game would go on without a problem. But this time, Player B, without looking, said "Call." When Player B went to take the tile, she couldn't find a Flower. "Where is it?"

Player A looked and said, "Oh, sorry. It's a South." And that was the unexpected thing: somebody had called the misnamed tile, without realizing she wasn't getting what she thought she was getting. They had a discussion, and what they decided to do was this: they made Player A take back the South and discard a Flower. Player B made her exposure, and the game continued on. But is that what should have happened? No. Of course not.

Consider: there is such a thing as an official rulebook. All they had to do was have a copy! The rule is right there, on page 17. But most groups don't have a rulebook; many don't even know such a thing exists. Me, I was raised playing board games, and those always come with printed rules. So I don't know why so many people can think mah jongg doesn't have printed rules. But I'm just ranting again.

Consider: what if Player B didn't have a Flower, so couldn't discard the tile whose name she'd said? Should she be declared dead? Isn't that an overly harsh punishment for simply saying the wrong tile name? Are we to call people dead for every least error? "You sniffled: you're dead." I mean, come on!

Consider: Sometimes when a person says the wrong tile name, it's a matter of wishful thinking, rather than looking at the wrong tile. Sure, sometimes you might see a flower in your hand and accidentally say "Flower," but more often than not, you're thinking "Come on, Flower. Somebody discard Flower!" And that's why you say Flower instead of the name of the tile you're discarding. That happened in my weekly game just last week. An opponent misnamed his discard, and corrected himself. But somehow I knew, just knew, that it had been a Freudian slip—that he'd inadvertently said the name of the tile he needed for mah jongg. So I made sure not to discard the tile whose name he'd said.

The official rule is that there's a penalty to the misnamer only if the discard is wanted for mah jongg. If nobody wants it, then no harm done. No harm, no foul. If it's wanted for mere exposure, then the caller (the one who wants it) is also partially at fault—she should have been looking! Shared fault, shared foul. But if somebody wants it for mah jongg, that's grounds for punishment because all are affected.

*So I skip one occasionally. Shoot me!

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Question or comment about this column? I often miss something; maybe you'll be the first one to spot it! Please be gentle. Email and the discussion will be posted on the Mah-Jongg Q&A Bulletin Board.

October 2010 article on American mah jongg's rise in popularity, from the WALL STREET JOURNAL: ?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 ?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:

© 2010 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.