Screen Shot 2015-06-21 at 2.32.45 PMOur friend Jan in beautiful Vermont posed a question and I would love to hear your thoughts on this. I will tell you that defensive playing seems to be one of the hardest concepts to get across to my Mah Jongg students. Frequently I see someone throwing out the needed tile for Mah Jongg when a rack has three exposures and it is beyond obvious what tile is needed. Newer players believe hope springs eternal and, even if there is only one tile in the final wall, they are unwilling to break up their hand. As seasoned players always say, you can’t win second. 

I try – and I say try because clearly the students aren’t listening to me! – to teach newbies to never throw a “hot” tile to a third exposure, particularly when we are down to the last wall. But do they listen? Oh, I see the pain on their faces, trying to decide what they should do. And I will say that they almost always decide to save their hands and throw out the tile that ends the game with someone else’s Mah Jongg!

I like a defensive game and when another player throws out a tile that gives Mah Jongg to someone else, I can’t help but ask why they did so. As Jan says, there is no second place in Mah Jongg. 

How many of you have experienced exactly what Jan is finding at her table:

“There’s one half of the last wall left. Player throws out a 3 Bam when the player to her left has exposed a Kong of 9 Bams and a Pung of Greens. Player to the left obviously calls it and exposes a Kong of 3 Bams. The same gal is up and says “I have her tile.” I say, “you can’t win second.” She throws a 6 Bam. Needless to say, I’m not happy and I say that is why we should start playing that if you throw into 3 exposures, you pay for the table. Yes, I saw eyes roll, but seriously???? Am I that wrong?”

Can’t wait to hear what you think about this!


18 thoughts on “TELL ME YOUR OPINION…

  1. Gwen

    What helped me as a student of the game was the suggestion and reminder to always figure out what hand people are playing. I often notice that players don’t take the time to do that.
    As a result, they not only don’t play defensively, but make a play ignorantly!
    Thereby handing a win to someone else!


    1. Mah Jongg and Me Post author

      When I am teaching my supervised play students, this is one of the strategies that I try to get across to them. You must take the time to figure out what hand people are playing and you don’t have a lot of time to do that in-between your turn. I always tell them, if you can’t figure out what hand they are playing, at least try to figure out what hand they are NOT playing so you have an idea as what is safe to throw out. These are tough concepts for fairly new players since they are so busy trying to figure out their own hands!


    2. Sharon Duckman

      You are definitely right. No reason for the table to have to pay for one player’s bad judgement.


  2. Valerie

    A timely post for me. I’m off to try my first tournament this morning (Albany,NY), so I will be very mindful that you can’t win second, lol. In our local games we don’t play for points, so carelessly tossing out that needed MJ tile isn’t as painful.


  3. Norma

    In our game if a tile is thrown to an obvious hand, that player pays for the table, as it should be.


  4. Stuart Wilber

    Our group has very defensive players. We used to play a hot wall , but discontinued it as unnecessary because it slows down the game. We play that the person who throws Mah Jongg to three exposures pays for the table. If he or she is Pie, it is out of pocket.


  5. Kathy Sollenberger

    In our group we always have a player pay for the whole table if they throw the winning tile for a hand that has 3 exposures. Personally, if I only need one tile I might take the chance that they need more than one tile to win. Often that is the case. If I guess wrong then I pay for the table.


  6. Rilo Weisner

    My home game in Las Vegas plays that way. However, the groups that I play with in Montana do not. One group does play a hot wall but who ever throws the tile pays double to the winner but the other players pay regular. I think that defeats the purpose of a hot wall rule.


  7. Lynnsie

    We follow the NMJL rules that does not recognize a hot or a cold wall or the paying for the table.


  8. Audrey

    Admonishment and disapproval from the others at the table should eventually have an impact on the player who won’t play defensively. Reiterating that if she continues to play that way no one will want to play with her might get it to sink in. I tell my students that playing defensively is the other half of the game (including figuring out what the others are playing based on their exposures) and I encourage them to eat their young (sacrifice their own hands to prevent someone else from winning) even when it is early in the game. When I violate these guidelines I am usually sorry. I tell them that, too.



    I agree with you. We pay for table if we throw into 3rd exposure. How about this one?? I was at a tournament, if you throw into a 2nd exposure you lose 20 points. One gal threw into the same gal’s two exposures THREE times and lost 60 points that round. I was upset because I had to take a zero! Other player and I asked if she was waiting, her response, “I was close”!!! And this is a tournament player!!!! When I teach by the 3rd lesson they learn defensive playing what to throw and what not to throw!!!! Phyllis C.


  10. Donna

    And for the first two years that I played we did not play with money so itmwas a whole different game and the only way I knew. If you saw that someone needed a tile for MJ and you didn’t need it and you probably weren’t going to win, there was no harm in throwing that tile. I really knew nothing about defensive play. I now play with money and play very differently but no hot walls around here!


  11. Boots Hersh

    Whether you are playing with or without money should not affect how you play the game. Even in a “fun” game, you should play the same way as if there were very high stakes involved. Defense is such an important part of the game, it needs to be taught from the beginning.


  12. vintagevirago

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thrown a tile or seen a tile thrown on a three exposure only to find out the other player was bluffing! They didn’t have the tiles they needed to call that final exposure. Our group doesn’t pay for the table but I wouldn’t be opposed. When you call someone’s bluff there should be a penalty. But I never get upset with the player who has thrown the tile because to me bluffing is part of the game. Of course part of calling someone’s bluff is having some degree of certainty such as two of the tiles (for a pair say) are already on the table and you are holding the third. Calling someone’s bluff when none of the tiles are on the table is foolish.


  13. Karen

    I do think players take more risks late in the game when each hand has a payoff compared to a tournament where scores are cumulative. But, it should be a risk taken thoughtfully, not just through carelessness!

    In our group, everyone at the table pays a quarter if it is a wall game (we have a holiday dinner on the proceeds). One experienced player explained that you should consider a wall game to be “a win” if you can’t win outright – at least you limit your payoff to a quarter. Same concept since you have to play defensively to make that happen, but it did encourage a couple of people to pay closer attention and sacrifice a hand that wasn’t going to win anyway.


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