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By Tom Sloper
March 25, 2012

Column #512

American Mah Jongg (2011 NMJL card). Readers this week asked about what may and may not be passed in the Charleston. My guess (not yet confirmed at the time of this writing) is that these questions are based on Elaine Sandberg's book, A Beginner's Guide to American Mah Jongg, in which she says:

  • "Jokers may not be passed in the Charleston or exchanged in the Courtesy." (p. 78)
  • "Never pass a Pair of anything." (p. 82)
  • "Do not pass Flowers, unless you have no other choice." (p. 82)
  • "Do not pass a Pair of anything." (p. 83)
  • "Try desperately not to pass Flowers." (p. 83)

    These excerpts, I assume, are behind the questions I received this week (combined here for brevity):

  • "Our books do not recommend that we pass jokers, flowers or pairs... Is it ever acceptable to pass a joker... different books say different things... Most books say NEVER, yet the rule is ambiguous."

    There is an important difference between rules and strategic principles: rules must be obeyed. But strategic principles are just guidelines that can be trumped by preference and circumstance. Here is the rule from the official National Mah Jongg League rulebook, Mah Jongg Made Easy:

  • "A joker may never be passed during the Charleston." (p. 20, rule 9)

    It's unfortunate that Sandberg's wording implies that the rules prohibit passing pairs - they do not. And a discerning reader can tell from her wording that she is not indicating a hard rule against passing flowers.

    Imagine it's the second across, and you have:

    1. You are clearly well set up for Consec. #1. You need to pass the E pair and the flower, because everything else is needed for one clear hand. Sandberg says "never pass a pair," but seriously! You wouldn't really break up your hand at this point just because an author says "never," would you? Dude, pass EEF already! When your hand is this strong now, it only makes sense to go for it aggressively (and to heck with the strategic principles). Here's a new "never" strategy for you: "Never say never."

    2. You have three tiles not needed for S&P #3: J F 8B. You can pass 8B, no problem. There is no rule against passing F. But you may not pass J. You should think about what other hands besides the S&P hand you might be able to make, and use that thinking to help guide your choice. Since my third passer can't be J, I would pass 3B, preserving the dots for a 13579 #1 option. Not 3C, because I "never" wholly erase a potential pair. But now I've wandered from the topic.

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    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:

    © 2012 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.