Tag Archives: Atomic


screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-2-36-50-pmI recently received a question from our dear friend Joy H regarding Atomic hands in a Mah Jongg game. For those of you who do not know about Atomic Mah Jongg, I wrote about it several years ago in a previous blog posting. Since that posting the OM’s (my Wednesday Mah Jongg group) have amended the rules to say no Flowers as well as no Jokers are allowed. Here is Joy’s question:

Hi Ann – Our group has started playing Atomic hands when possible and now we are wondering if you could answer a couple of questions.

I read your posts about going ‘Atomic’ and understand that since it is not recognized by the NMJL, table rules must therefore be applied.  We would like to follow your table rules, although we don’t play for money.

 I’m assuming that your group declares when one is going ‘Atomic’, due to the fact that there is no line on the card.  Is that correct?

 Also why does your group follow a rule that if you pick a Flower or Joker you must change your hand?  

 I can’t understand this one but another in our group does not think 4 of a kind makes two pair, so I’m also assuming that is another table rule you have implemented.

 So many questions… so many rules ….. so much FUN!

 Think of you often, my friend,



My response to Joy was as follows: 

Flowers and Jokers disqualify your hand for Atomic simply because there are so many of each and it is too easy to get pairs of them. That would give Atomic hands an unfair advantage so we say that if you pick a Flower or Joker then you are no longer Atomic (and hopefully you have a backup hand). This is not just a table rule for our group – this seems to be the standard accepted rule for Atomic hands. Also, you must declare yourself Atomic BEFORE the Charleston so that no one is allowed to pass you a Flower. And yes, with an Atomic hand, 4 of a kind is considered two pairs. Having said all of this I must also tell you that I do not “approve” of Atomic game play. It changes the nature of the game and I totally understand why it is not sanctioned by the NMJL. I only mention it briefly when teaching Mah Jongg and make it clear that I don’t like it. I personally do not play Atomic hands – I prefer to stay with the NMJL accepted hands on the card…but, that’s me. I would love to hear your thoughts on this game-changing hand. Let me know what you think! 


Gladys Grad, the Grand Master of American-Style Mah Jongg Tournaments, is always thinking of ways to improve our beloved game. In her October newsletter Gladys listed some ideas to add to your games at home. As she notes, these are NOT sanctioned by the National Mah Jongg League (NMJL) or by Mah Jongg Master Point tournaments, but they might be something new to add to your social games. Have any of you incorporated these ideas into your games? Or do you have any other ideas? Let me know and I will post them. BTW, I know the controversy surrounding ‘picking ahead” and I agree with you!

Your Tournament Questions Answered

 By  Gladys Grad

Q. My group has played Mah Jongg for over 30 years. We’ve added our own “house rules,” and think it’s added some excitement to our game. We play a “hot wall;” we double the cost of payment if someone throws a double when we break the wall with the dice; and we have a “kitty” if we have a wall-game – that is paid to the winner of the next game.  But our game can get somewhat predictable, ….do you have some other ideas? Lillian P, CA
A. We’ve listed and explained these ‘house rules” in previous Newsletters, but here’s an existing list….PLUS a couple of new ideas to consider. Remember, these are NOT condoned by the NMJL, nor sanctioned by Mah Jongg Master Point tournaments. But these “rules” might spice up your game….if you’re “game” to try them:
     1) HOT WALL;
     2) COLD WALL;  
     3) ATOMIC HAND;  
     4) 14-TILE GAME;  
    7) JOKERS-IN Everyone starts with 1 Joker.
    8) BUY A JOKER. 4 Jokers are left out of the walls. The remaining 4 Jokers are mixed into the walls as usual. After East throws out the starting tile, but before a first exposure is made by each individual player, and before they pick to begin their next turn….a player can “buy” a Joker for $$0.50 or 1.00 (which is added to the winner’s pot). Players are limited to buying only one (1) Joker, and ONLY if they DON’T ALREADY HAVE A JOKER IN THEIR HAND. Remember to discard a tile after you’ve “bought” your Joker to begin your turn.  Honesty prevails here. You can NOT “buy” a Joker for Mah Jongg. If all 4 of these Jokers (1 each) aren’t bought by each player, none of the remaining of the 4 Jokers can be placed back in the wall for other players to pick. 
    9) EXCHANGE A JOKER FOR A SYMBOL TILE IN AN EXPOSURE (instead of vice versa). This would help if someone exposed 3 or 4 of the tiles you needed for a single or pair.
FF 2012 2012 2012; and 1111 22 22 22 3333, etc
    11)  Take a Clue from the CHINESE game.  If you have 4 Flowers in your hand, and the numbers on the Folwers are consecutive 1,2,3,4, or SPR, SUM, AUT, WIN, you will get double the payment for your MJ hand, over and above your regular payment.  You are also able to exchange a flower in it’s exposure, if you pick it and exchange it yourself.
   12) The NMJL has increased, and subsequently decreased, the number of Flowers several times from its inception in 1937 to 1971. Then they added 2 Jokers to the game in 1960; and up to 8 Jokers in 1967. 

         Creativity and evolution are the building blocks for almost any game to gain in popularity and continuing success. Do you have any ideas you currently use, or you’d like to see implemented in your own game…or an idea you wish would be considered by the NMJL for the official game? 


Yesterday was Mah Jongg Wednesday with the OMs and S1 hosted. Look at the beautiful table with a spectacular fall centerpiece that was waiting for us:


Lunch was so delicious – spicy chili, three different and wonderful kinds of cheese, cole slaw, and – YUM! – corn bread!


Read on to see the very special gift I received…

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A number of questions and comments have come in to the blog lately and so I thought I would take this chance to answer a few of them as best as possible:

The first question comes from Jill who initially wrote about the enrobed set she inherited from her grandmother:  Hi Ann, Hope you are doing well! Did anyone ever respond to you about my enrobed tiles?  I just picked up what appears to be a vintage Japanese Mah Jongg set. It has never been used. The label on the bottom of the case says “Kimura, Japan”. It is a very compact case with velvet lined trays. There is a booklet of directions which is titled ” Chinese Game of Four Winds”. Might you be familiar with this? Thank you!  Jill

photo 3photo 1photo 2photo 4photo 5

 One of my favorite Mah Jongg experts, Tony Watson, has taken a shot at this (before he had a chance to see any of these photos):  Without a pic it’s difficult, but I’m guessing it’s a urea resin set, small tiles with thick white top backed with thin bamboo, deeply impressed designs in a tiny suitcase. The booklet is a standard title that comes with many sets. Probably from the 60s/70s. But I’m only shooting the breeze here!

And, after Tony saw the photos, he added: Yes, probably 70s, I have a slide-top set with the same birdbam, but these dragons are very unusual for the Japanese sets, they look like those in Matthew & Johni’s mystery sets. Material is as I said before, urea, and very fine impressed designs – excellent quality, which is why they look brand new. I’m intrigued by the tiles to the top of the dragons… I can’t make out what they are, but they appear to have a 1 on them???

And you have all heard me extol the virtues of the great Mah Jongg teacher, Johni Levene, who wrote: I’m with Tony here – it seems 1970’s ish. I have one and know absolutely nothing about it but they are a nice quality and it’s pretty so I kept it.

And then Johni added more comments: Oh wait, that’s totally not the set I thought it was now that I see more tiles. Still, I think it’s the same time period. I’ve not seen it in that case before though, but it’s probably one of those private label type things. Here is one I have handy with a different bird. Its a slightly different style than hers and a bit later.


Here is a close up of the bam, not the same as the mystery set.


I love the Mah Jongg community!

Read on for more questions and comments…

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Today was Mah Jongg Wednesday for the OMs but three of the OMs are out of town. So, that left S1, K, and moi. We decided to do things a bit differently today. The three of us went to a really fun summer luncheon at our club and then decided to stay there and play Mah Jongg in one of the club rooms. We invited G to join us and she fit right in!  We all had really good luck today and we each had multiple winning hands although we had just as many wall games as we had winning hands.

K always asks the question: Do wall games mean we aren’t very good or do they mean that we are all really good?

I think a wall game means we are all at the same level of game play and are playing very defensively. Let me know your thoughts on this.

The day started out with G miscalling a Mah Jongg. This has happened to all of us at some time in our game history. She was dead but there were still Jokers that could be exchanged.

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On yesterday’s posting I showed you a number of hands from our most recent Mah Jongg Wednesday. But I accidentally omitted the hand I was most pleased about – my winning Atomic hand!

This was an exciting win  – Atomic hands are always exciting when they are winners – but if you look carefully in the picture then you will see how early on in the game I was able to declare Mah Jongg. There really aren’t that many discarded tiles. Here is the hand:


I must admit that I don’t think Flowers (and of course, no Jokers) should be allowed in an Atomic hand but in this particular case I was very happy that the OMs have a table rule allowing Flowers to be used! By the way, check out those exquisite One Bams from this Bone and Bamboo set – the carving is so beautiful on them – they are almost three dimensional.