Tag Archives: American Mah Jongg


I was just looking through my files and found this very interesting (at least it is to me!) article about the history of Jokers in Mah Jongg. People are always asking if I can tell how old their set might be. When asked this question the first thing I want to know is if your set has “natural Jokers.” Of course, that is not the only determiner of the age of a set – and, as you will read in this article, it is not always accurate –  but it is a good place to start.

Unfortunately, I have no idea who wrote the following article or where it was published. If anyone knows, please email me so that I can give it the appropriate credit. In the meantime, enjoy this article on the history of Jokers.

“Before 1961, there were no Jokers. Flowers were wild, and the number of Flowers fluctuated between 8 and 24. Joker tiles were introduced into the American game in 1961. The number of Flowers and Jokers fluctuated for several years, finally stabilizing at 8F/8J ten years later, in the 1971-72 card.

The NMJL varied the number of Flowers and Jokers for several decades early in the league’s history. People had to cobble together sets to make the number of Flowers required.

In the 1920’s, the standard Mah Jongg set came with 8 Flowers and 0 Jokers (8F/0J). From the founding of the National Mah Jongg League in 1937, the NMJL treated Flowers as Jokers (wild Flowers). Beginning with the 1943 card, more Flowers were added to increase the luck ratio and to allow for more challenging hands.

Some, but certainly not all, American Mah Jongg sets came with Jokers before the NMJL first started requiring them in 1960-61. The number of Flowers and Jokers in a set isn’t necessarily a reliable indicator of the exact date of manufacture of an American set, but an understanding of the NMJL’s fluctuating use of Flowers and Jokers does give some clues.

1937-1942 8F
1943 12F
1944-45 14F
1946 16F
1947-48 18F
1949 20F
1950-55 24F
1956-57 22F
1958-60 20F
1960-62 14F/2J
1962-66 12F/4J
1966-67 8F/6J
1967-68 10F/6J
1968-71 6F/8J
1971-Present 8F/8J

If you have a set with only 2 natural jokers but 14 Flowers, it was probably made in America in the early 1960’s. Domestic set manufacturing began in the1920s and continued into the 1960s. At some point, though, cheaper Chinese imports caused all the American manufacturers to go out of business. Those Chinese companies aren’t always sure what the NMJL requires, so Chinese sets made today often come with extra Flowers and jokers (more than 8F/8J).”


Perhaps the Mah Jongg craze sometimes goes a bit too far…my wonderful friend Charlotte sent the following photo to me from the June issue of Hamptons MagazineJoanna mahjong set, Ralph Lauren ($4,495). 31–33 Main St., East Hampton, 631-324-1222; 41 Jobs Lane, Southampton, 631-287-6953. Bellamy clover tall vase ($350) and clamshell bowl ($345), AERIN. 83 Main St., Southampton, 631-353-3773

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I received the following fabulous photo from my friend Christine M, along with the question as to whether or not this was “real” Mah Jongg…yes, Chris – this is the real thing but it just isn’t real American Mah Jongg!IMG_4579For you “newbies” out there – do you know how we can tell that these people are not playing American Mah Jongg? List as many clues as you can find and let me know!

BTW, stayed tuned…on the 30th I will be posting a gift for all of us!


I love the photo of Toby and Gail so much that I had to keep this posting up for another day. I did receive a message from Gail and this is what she wrote:

“Ann: I DROVE that van for about 1,000 miles of our cross-country odyssey – I’d totally forgotten about the Ed Hardy connection so loved reading this! The van had a manual transmission with the gear stick on the column, and a clutch pedal so stiff you had to stand up to engage it. I learn to drive a manual on that van – talk about trial by fire – and we all somehow survived my learning curve. P.S. Toby and I are planning a big, as-yet undefined, adventure somewhere in the world in 2016 to celebrate our 50th anniversary of friendship!”

I wonder where Toby and Gail will go to celebrate their 50th year of a very wonderful friendship…any ideas for them?

Oh – one more thing…I received a request from Maggie in Virginia – see below this paragraph – can anyone help her? Please let me know if you are a teacher of American Mah Jongg in her area and I will connect you with her. Thanks so much!

“Hi Ann…in my quest to find a MahJongg teacher in the Tidewater area, I landed at your site. Do you reside in the Va Beach area?  My friends and I just started to play and are in dire need of a teacher. We took a beginner’s Chinese MahJongg class at the library but we are ready for the next level-and want to learn American. Do you know of someone who could teach us?




My friend Elizabeth commented on yesterday’s posting, asking how it happened that Toby Salk and Gail Friedlander – two great friends and great Mah Jongg mavens – were driving to California in the car owned by Don Ed Hardy.


Here’s what Toby had to say:

“So my friend Richie and I went to high school together (with Gail Friedlander). WAAAY before everyone and their grandmother had tattoos, Richie and his cousins were covered by Don Ed Hardy. Richie wound up buying his van. 

The better story:

Don Ed Hardy was speaking at Mills College in Oakland, CA. Richie and I had a date to hear his lecture. Richard got sick and so I went alone. Afterward, I waitied in line to say hello from Richie in a sea of half naked people touting their INK.  Well…when I said I was a friend of Richie Mandracchio, you would have thought I was the Queen of England. The seas parted and he called for his wife..HONEY! HONEY!!! THIS IS A FRIEND OF RICHIE’S!!! I was probably the ONLY person there sans tattoos! No one could figure out why Ed got so excited to see Pollyanna!”

I love this – Thanks to Toby for sharing this story. And now, here are those dear friends, Toby and Gail, showing off some of their Mah Jongg treasures:


I wrote some of the lyrics from a Girl Scouts song the other day but, in honor of Toby and Gail, here it is again with yet another verse:

Make new friends

but keep the old.

One is silver

and the other’s gold.

A circle is round,

it has no end.

That’s how long

I want to be your friend.



Gladys Grad, the Grand Master of American Mah Jongg, always answers interesting questions  in her monthly Mah Jongg Madness Newsletter. But I must admit that I was rather surprised to read the following question describing a situation where a tournament director allowed someone to put back a tile that had already been racked and exposed. However, Gladys – as always – was diplomatic and kind in her answer. Read the question and answer and then let me know how you would have ruled on this situation.

 Q. I was at a tournament and a newer player claimed a flower for an exposure.  She picked that tile up, and exposed it with 2 flowers and a joker.  Then she decided she didn’t want the flower or the exposure, and proceeded to put the flower back on the table and put the other tiles back in her hand.  We called the director over to the table, and he said she could do that with no penalty.  Is that correct?  Rebecca N, NY

A. First, let me preface any comments with one fact….no matter what the Director in a tournament rules, it is always correct.  It is his/her tournament, and the Director’s decision is always the “right decision.”

That said….in standardized TOURNAMENT RULES, once a tile is touched and used in an exposure, the  player must use that tile, and complete her turn….whether or not she changes her mind or not.  (Please check with the NMJL to see what their ruling is for social games.)

Tournament rules have evolved to not allow you to “change your mind” about keeping a tile once you have touched it. 

What do you think about this? Can’t wait to read your comments!


I was so very happy to once again receive one of Gladys Grad’s Mah Jongg Madness newsletters yesterday – I know how difficult everything has been for her since she lost her darling husband Phil a couple of weeks ago. But Gladys – also known as the Grand Master of American Style Mah Jongg Tournaments – is a strong and wonderful lady, devoted to the game of Mah Jongg and to all of the people who look forward to her newsletter, her tournaments, and everything else she does to promote the game. Gladys, it’s great to hear from you again!


Here’s a picture of Gladys with her wonderful husband, Phil.
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