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By Tom Sloper
August 26, 2012

Column #534

American (NMJL). Frequently Asked Question: What if all 4 players want to do a blind pass at the same time? Frequently Given Answer: Use the IOU paradigm. One player begins by passing whatever she has, and says "I owe you one more," or whatever. That gets the ball rolling (or, if you prefer, the dominos falling), and when tiles come around to her again, she can fulfill the IOU.

So, let's say all four players have just two tiles to pass, and want to blind pass one. One player starts the dominos falling by giving her two to her neighbor and saying, "I owe you one." The player she passed to can now blind pass one, giving three to her neighbor. When the fourth player gives three tiles (including one blind tile) to the first player, the first player can give the tile she owes to her neighbor. Problem solved.

Or let's say one player has one tile to pass in the last right; two players have none, and one has two.

  • The player with the most tiles to pass should begin, passing her two tiles to her neighbor, promising "I owe you one more."
  • If the player who received the two had only one tile to pass, now she has three. She can pass them.
  • The next player, who had none, can pass the three she got.
  • The next player can pass the three tiles to the player who started the dominos falling.
  • And the starter, who owed one more to her neighbor, can pay off the debt. Now everybody has passed three tiles, one way or another.

    What about the worst case? What if someone has no tiles to pass, so wants to blind pass three? What if everybody needs to blind pass three?

    There is one player who has at least one tile she can pass... the dealer. If the dealer cannot declare mah-jongg, she is going to have to start the game by discarding a tile. So she has at least one tile to pass.

    The player who has a tile to pass passes that one tile and says, "I owe you two more." The next player can pass it along and say, "I owe you two more," and so on, until each player has blind passed the same tile right. Then the first player need only repeat the process twice (saying, instead of "I owe you two more," rather "Now I owe you one more" and "Here's your third tile", respectively). Now each player has (in effect) passed three tiles to each other player, using the IOU workaround, although in actuality nobody has actually changed her hand. Or you could just all SAY you did the above. It amounts to the same thing anyway.

    The IOU solves the blind pass impasse.


    P.S. The League has never addressed (to the best of my knowledge) the question of how to handle the extremely unlikely and rare eventuality of every player wanting to blind pass. So what I have said about it is not official - it is just my best guess, my own idea about how it could be handled. - Tom
    P.P.S. Mah Jongg Madness rules: if every player wants to blind pass, it's tough luck for the dealer - she has to pass three. But as of March 2019, the League has still never issued a written ruling on this question. - Tom
    P.P.P.S. In 2020, the League issued a rule supporting the IOU method outlined above. - Tom

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