I was trolling around the Internet recently and came upon a series of articles published in 2009 on the Yahoo Contributor Network. I have tried to get in touch with the authors, but to no avail. However, I thought you might find these articles to be of interest so I will post them over the next few days. If anyone knows how to reach these “contributors,” please let me know. Here we go…


8 Ways to Be a Better Mah Jongg Player

May the Tiles Be with You

Lorraine Yapps Cohen
So, you’ve learned how to play mah jongg. You’ve played a few times or maybe many, and now
want to stop losing and start winning. Whether you’re a neophyte or an old pro, these rules can
make you a better player. And, hey, drop me a line and let me know how they work for you.

Fully understand the rules about singles and doubles.
You’ve called a soap to expose “2009,” or an East Wind to expose “NEWS,” or used a Joker in a pair, or called a tile to expose a pair. You’ve just tipped everybody off that you’re a new player, or an inexperienced one, or one who’s left her thinking cap at home. There’s nothing like not knowing the rules about singles and doubles to wreck your game. They’re on your card in blue and white:

“Joker or Jokers can NEVER be used for single tile, or for a pair.
At no time may a tile be called to complete a pair…” —OFFICIAL STANDARD HANDS AND RULES (2009)
National Mah Jongg League, Inc.

Although it seems pretty clear, what this means is that two-of-a-kind tile is a pair, and one-of-a-kind tile is a single. In other words, the “2” in 2009 is a single; the two soaps in 2009 is a pair; the “9” in 2009 is a single. The “N” in NEWS is a single. So is the “E”, so is the “W”, so is the “S.” And you can’t call any of these tiles for an exposure or use a joker in there anywhere. Ever. Period.

Look for patterns.
The card is arranged in categories, such as evens, odds, consecutive runs, winds and dragons, singles and pairs. When you get your starting tiles, look for a preponderance of tiles in one of those categories. “Mmm, I’ve got a lot of even-numbered tiles,” or “Wow, look at all those winds.” If you say to yourself or even out loud, “There’s no hand for these tiles,” you’re not recognizing the pattern that is there, to one degree or another, among the 13 tiles you’ve been dealt.

Pick one hand.
Pick one hand and stick with it. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have a back-up hand to switch to when you see tiles in your chosen hand going out on the table. But playing three or four hands at the same time is a strategy for losing. Some players say it makes for more options. Actually, it makes for more ways to lose.

“Call” or “Hold.”
Call out the word “call” to call a tile. Call out the word “hold” to pause the game while you think about whether you want to call the tile. “Ummm,” “uhhh,” and “wait a sec” don’t work nearly as well, because they don’t signal your intentions. The other players won’t know what you’re doing or whether your expression was a yawn. “Call” or “hold” should be the only words you articulate during the game aside from calling out your tile during your turn. Or declaring “mah jongg” when you win.

Play faster.
Ten minutes ago you started to take your turn. You’re thinking. You’re studying the hands on the card. You don’t know quite what to do. Around the table, eyes above the reading glasses are glaring at you. Polite players will advise, “Take your time; it’s okay.” They’re lying. And you may not be invited back to play.

No good mah jongg player ever takes too much time during her turn. The ooers and the ahhers are neither skillful players nor winners. And delaying the game will not endear you to the others. Study the card offline and progress the game underway as promptly as possible.

Limit social chatter.
There’s nothing more distracting than talk and chatter during the game. Save the report about your latest vacation or the new grandchildren for before or between games. Social chatter won’t gain you respect among the players, who, after all, are convened to play mah jongg, not gab. It will break your concentration, which you can forgive yourself for, but will break others’ concentration as well, for which there will be no forgiveness. And you run the risk of not being invited back to play. Or gab.

Play for money.
There’s nothing like losing twenty-five cents to make you want to be a better player. Losing your entire pouch of quarters can put you into a downright depression. When you play for money you’re play for something of concrete value in this world. When you play for fun, you’ll have nothing but the memory of your fun after the game. When was the last time you went to Vegas and told everybody about all the fun you had losing? The same goes for mah jongg. Play for money. Play to win for money. You’ll want to play better when you’re in it for the bet.

Play, play, play.
Practice makes perfect. Play every chance you get. Get invited to play again with your friends. Find new friends with whom to play. Playing familiarizes you with the card, allows you to learn the relative difficulties of the hands, and how others tend to play the game…all tactics for you to become the winner you KNOW you are at the game you love to play!


  1. Diane G

    I am pretty sure you can call any named tile, single or double at one time only: for a mahj. The above instructions noted, correctly, that they cannot be called for an EXPOSURE, but I think for clarification, it should be noted that such tiles can be called for MAH JONGG. I have noticed beginners being confused by this difference. Overall, a good posting. Thanks.


  2. mahjonggandme Post author

    You are absolutely correct. Glad you pointed this out – I do think it should be clarified and will do so in a future posting. Thanks for the heads up!


Comments are closed.