A few weeks ago I received a message from Loretta, a friend of this blog. She wrote: “What is an atomic hand? I could not find your winning hand on the card.” Well, that is correct, Loretta – there are no Atomic hands on the NMJL card.
Here is a hand that is going Atomic and all it needs is one more pair. Note that there is a South Wind that has just been discarded on the table. The only time an Atomic player can pick up a discarded tile is to declare Mah Jongg and that is exactly what happens here, as you will see in the next photo.
So, just what is an Atomic hand? My Mah Jongg group, the OMs, learned about Atomic hands from Tom Sloper’s fabulous book, THE RED DRAGON & THE WEST WIND and also from K who plays Atomic hands with her other group.
An Atomic hand is where you are trying to put together seven pairs – any pairs in any order – except you cannot have Jokers. You cannot pick up a discard (except to declare Mah Jongg) and therefore you have no exposures.
Playing an Atomic hand is a table rule and not every group allows this. Some table rules say that you cannot have Jokers or Flowers in an Atomic hand but my group does allow Flowers.
As I wrote above, an Atomic hand is a table rule. If a group agrees to allow Atomic hands then they are in play. I have played with a number of different people that do not know or do not allow Atomic hands but our wonderful group likes to play this kind of hand. It frequently does not work out but when you do declare Mah Jongg with an Atomic hand, the stakes are higher. With our group’s table rules you must declare yourself Atomic right after the Charleston. If you pull a Joker then you must show it to everyone and revert back to playing a hand that is on the card (and, hopefully you do have a back-up hand). Another one of our table rules is that everyone pays a straight 50 cents for a winning Atomic hand but I know that some tables charge a dollar or higher.
Tom Sloper in his all-encompassing website, sloperama.com, writes: You get to decide that for yourself. It’s a table rule. Some players permit seven pairs of anything. Some players say the hand can only be made if the player never had a Joker in the hand. Some players also say Flowers invalidate the Atomic hand. Some players say the player has to declare “atomic” (or an equivalent announcement) when going for the hand, and declare “nuclear-free zone” (or words to that effect) when the hand becomes void due to having picked a Joker or Flower. You and your group get to figure out those details and how much the hand is worth, if you and your group want to use the table rule at all.
If you haven’t ever played an Atomic hand, try it the next time you put together a Mah Jongg game. It’s risky but so much fun when you win!