Here’s the last of the questions and insightful answers from this month’s newsletter from Gladys Grad, the Grand Master of American-style Mah Jongg tournaments. Both questions involve situations at tournaments.
Q. I’ve been playing for a year and am going to play in my first tournament in October. I was told by my teacher to play more defensively in the tournament than I do in my game at home. Do you agree? Sylvia
A. Uh oh. I really don’t want to disagree with your patient and knowledgeable teacher…but “No” I don’t agree. When you are playing in your game at home, you are likely playing for “gain” (spell that m-o-n-e-y). If you give someone else Mahj in your home-game then you are actually responsible for your opponents also paying for your “mistake.” However, in a tournament, you are the only one who will “pay”…in the form of minus-points. The others will only be disappointed that they didn’t get Mahj first. If you think you might have a pretty good chance of getting your own Mahj, then you should go-for-it. The way you win in a tournament is to accumulate those points.
Q. I was in a tournament, and the player to my left began to discard a tile. She laid it down but didn’t name it. When I saw it touch the table, I called it for Mah Jongg. Almost at the same time, she changed her mind and picked it up. She said she “didn’t name it, and she didn’t take her fingers off it, so she could take it back.” But no one would throw me my tile after that!. Is that right? Carol
A. That was the perfect time to call over the director of the tournament, who would have (should have) given the game to you. You had a legitimate Mah Jongg. A discarded tile is “down” when it touches the table or is named. Down-is-down. (This is not a game of checkers, where you can keep changing your moves until you take your finger off the checker!)