Tag Archives: Grand Master of American-Style Mah Jongg Tournaments


No real food in this posting…just something to think about…

I’m thinking about East as the dealer. That’s the title she (or he!) has won by throwing the highest number on the dice. It’s true that she also has won an advantage by becoming East because she starts with 14 tiles when everyone else just has 13. But what else is her role? Although there is no official rule on this – and your table rules may dictate otherwise – I live by the rule that no one should be dealing out the tiles except for East because she is THE DEALER. I am of the school that I don’t want anyone else to touch the tiles until they are all dealt out. Interestingly enough, the wonderful Gladys  Grad, the Grand Master of American-Style Mah Jongg Tournaments wrote about this in her Mah Jongg Madness March 2019 newsletter:

Q.  In the old days, we thought nothing of exchanging a tile for a Joker from our friends’ racks.  Now, every time you go to a game, someone tells you not to touch their tiles; don’t deal them for me; don’t exchange for my Joker; don’t touch my wall, don’t, don’t, don’t. Barbara CA

A.  This isn’t something new…it’s been going on for a long time.  Bingo players don’t want you to touch their cards or their daubers; domino players don’t want you to straighten their double 6’s; and you wouldn’t think of touching your poker buddies’ cards.  It might have something to do with superstition….but there have also been some mistakes when players exchange for a Joker in exposures….like replacing a 1Bam for a Flower, or a West for a North.  Please don’t take it personally.

When I teach Mah Jongg I tell the beginning students that no one should ever touch anyone else’s tiles or racks. When you want to exchange a tile for a Joker you extend the tile out to the player with the Joker and politely ask for her Joker. You do not take it off her rack yourself.

Why do I teach this way and why am I so adamant about this rule? As it was explained to me, all of this prevents any hint of cheating. I’m not sure that I think too much about that aspect because I would never play with anyone who is suspected of cheating. I think I am just superstitious about this!  So, don’t touch my tiles and I won’t touch yours!

Let me know if you agree.


You probably know that I adore both Gladys Grad, the Grand Master of American-Style Mah Jongg Tournaments, and Lynn Chorn, the owner of the fabulous Mah Jongg website, www.wherethewindsblow.com. What a great delight today for me to see that Gladys has written a wonderful article for Lynn and her website. And it is really an informative and interesting article – one that all of you will want to read, especially for those of you interested in tournament play. Much thanks to Gladys and Lynn for always providing us with such wonderful Mah Jongg information!

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Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 4.48.50 PMOn September 27th I posted a question from a reader of this blog – she asked what she should do with someone who was cheating in their friendly (and small) neighborhood games. I gave my response but so many of you were kind enough to chime in. I received more responses than I could possibly re-post but here are a few of them. Be sure to scroll all the way through to the very last response as that one is from the wonderful and very knowledgeable Gladys Grad.

  • I would encourage everyone else to count her tiles continuously, and if she starts moving the discards do as suggested in the blog. If she doesn’t figure it out, then you need to be direct.
  • This situation is already ugly… and will get uglier without proof that she’s done anything wrong…
  • Very awkward for sure but cheating is cheating and can’t be tolerated even in a neighborhood game. Just keep declaring her dead. That should stop it.
  • Hard to believe that this person thinks she is getting away with cheating. Maybe it’s the thrill of thinking she’s getting away with it…living on the edge. I think Gladys and Ann are right on. Many players get annoyed when discards are moved around because they are visual and remember tiles by their placement on the table. Also, I’ve played in a tournament where hands in front of racks is not allowed. Perhaps you could just say that moving the tiles is distracting and during the next game have one of your players intentionally get caught with 14 tiles on their rack and call her dead. This would serve as fair warning. If the group is playing with loose rules, this could all be presented as an effort by the group to tighten up the game to conform with NMJL rules. However it is handled, it should be stopped before someone loses their patience and creates hurt feelings. If she can’t play by the group’s standards, she will probably find somewhere else to play.
  • Cheaters don’t just cheat in MJ. I broke up a game due to discovering a player cheating. That’s so wrong. Either call her dead every time she had 14 or call her out on it.
  • An ex-friend!
  • It is an awkward situation but I wouldn’t want to play with her & suggest telling her outright to stop.
  • I have to agree with the 1st suggestion about leaving all tiles where they are & if you are found to have 14 tiles you are declared dead. She must comply or no longer play with the group. What a shame. The game is supposed to be a fun social get together.
  • To me, there is never any reason to continue playing with somebody who cheats. If she needs the money that badly, take up a collection and put it in a good bye card.
  • Confront, poor character probably in other areas.
  • Fool me once; shame on you. Fool me twice; shame on me.
  • I played in a game for a few years, where two of the ladies ALWAYS made the correct bet. They never wanted to use a better (said friends should trust friends). Well, this friend got tired of it and I just left the game. It did end a friendship. But then again, what kind of a friend cheats for a quarter!
  • I think the suggestions are very diplomatic and should work to stop her behavior but I agree with the response that said the issue runs deeper and I would keep my eye on her in other social situations that she may participate in , such as bridge, etc.
  • It’s unfortunate that someone is desperate enough to make a hand that they would cheat! Tell her you made a new table rule where all hands must be behind the rack because it’s distracting to the other players. Personally, I find it annoying when a player has a need to constantly move the tiles on the table.
  • Is there someone in the group who is close to her? Perhaps one of the women can pull her aside and be direct and say, “We are a friendly game but we noticed…and if it happens again we’ll need to ask you to stop playing with us.”
  • Cheaters don’t just cheat in MJ. I broke up a game due to discovering a player cheating. That’s so wrong. Either call her dead every time she had 14 or call her out on it.
  • I would confront her as well. she has no problem taking advantage of her “friends” and cheating. then i would ask her to find another table. believe me…if she cheats in mah jong, it goes deeper than that.
  • For a friendly game I would suggest that the group announce they would like to streamline the game: 13 tiles ONLY on your rack. 14 makes you dead. Moving the tiles around is a distraction as many of us take a mental picture to remember what has been discarded. Trust you will have the support of the entire group. Good luck

And, finally…from Gladys Grad, the Grand Master of American-Style Mah Jongg Tournaments, comes the definitive response: The hardest thing we face in our tournaments is “firing” someone who has been found cheating. These players are usually good-natured, knowledgeable players….and come to these events with their friends. This makes it particularly tricky because we don’t want to embarrass them in front of their friends. In my previous profession, it was really hard when I had to fire employees; but dis-inviting a MJ player is worse. We warn them (after a thorough “investigation,” of course) …and tell them they can finish the tournament if they wish, so as not to embarrass them further; but they are never allowed back in another tournament of ours. Of course, they are always watched if they decide to play to the end; and their scores are not counted. I do not envy your very difficult position. Your situation is literally in your home. Ann’s solution may be the only way.

Much thanks to all of you for your responses!

















Oh, boy – today a package arrived from Sheila and Gil Linderman. Housed in a beautiful bag, I found two Mah Jongg racks specifically designed for Siamese Mah Jongg…BRILLIANT!img_1801Check out how the tiles play out on these special racks – I am loving how clever they are! img_1802 img_1805Gil is the wonderful Glady Grad’s brother and Sheila is his wife  – the two of them are both are very talented and have provided wonderful additions to our Mah Jongg accessories.  These racks are available now and if you are interested in purchasing them (BTW, a great holiday gift for your Mah Jongg-playing friends!), contact Gil and Sheila at glinderman@aol.com.

Now that I am playing Siamese Mah Jongg using these racks, I don’t know how I ever lived without them!


Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 6.27.53 PMI hear the following question frequently, especially from beginners: How long should a Mah Jongg game take to play? My answer is always the same – a game should take about 15 minutes at the most. Of course, it isn’t unusual to see a game take anywhere from 30 – 60 minutes for beginners. But, as each student becomes a better player, the game speeds up and the amount of time it takes to play a game becomes less and less until the players reach their goal of a 15 minute game. As I tell my students, it is better to try to play fast and keep up with the rest of the table than to worry about what tile to throw. And now, Gladys Grad, the Grand Master of American-Style Mah Jongg Tournaments, has addressed this very subject with a slant for those of you who might be nervous about the speed of game required to play in a tournament:

For those players who stress about so-called “tournament speed,”…..please don’t let it bother you. We should all be playing at least 4 games in an hour in our friendly home games. (Many play 5 games in that time.) Tournaments sometimes have a 55 minute round. Plenty of time to complete all 4 of your games; even if you take some time to figure out your hands. It’s rare for players to go over the time limit.
And remember, only the first game in a tournament is daunting….after that, it’s just a group of players – playing the game we all love.  And it’s a lot of fun.

How long does it take your group to play a game? Let me know.


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?