Tom Sloper on the 2019 National Mah Jongg League, Inc. Card

By Tom Sloper. Copyrighted material. Reprinted with permission from the author.


Part 1 of 3

American Mah Jongg (2019 NMJL card).The 2019 card is now among us. There are 53 hands on the card; 9* are repeats from last year; 20 are repeats from a previous year; 13* are variations on previous hands; 5 are biannual alternating versions, and 6* hands are new (not seen on any card as far back as 2000, which is as far as I checked).


It often happens that a new card has something on it that raises a question, resulting in a flood of emails to me, and phone calls to the League. This year there was an omission that resulted in such a flood, beginning before I had received the card myself. And that is Consec #5 (the 5th hand in Consecutive Runs):

FFF 1111 2222 DDD(Any 1 Suit) x25

The problem is that the parenthetical is much shorter than it was on the same hand in previous cards (last year, for instance). Every previous time this hand has appeared, the parenthetical has always said “Any 1 Suit, Any 2 Consec. Nos.” This year the absence of the phrase “Any 2 Consec. Nos.” prompted a bunch of emails asking, “does it have to be ones and twos only?”

Based on an understanding of the “rules” regarding how the card is to be read, one would assume that the hand must be the numbers shown only (FAQ 19-AJ). But it doesn’t say “These Nos. Only.

Based on an understanding of tradition, though, one would assume there was a mistake; that the omission of the phrase “Any 2 Consec. Nos.” was an error.

Someone emailed me and told me that several people had called the League and were told that it is indeed an oversight – the hand is supposed to be “Any 2 Consec. Nos.” But that’s hearsay upon hearsay. At some point, the League will post the answer in writing on its own FAQs page.


Part 2 of 3

American Mah Jongg (2019 NMJL card). When I look at a new NMJL card, I look for certain things: dragon pungs, and (these days) flower pungs, and recurring patterns. On several past cards, dragon pungs have been “dead giveaways,” because they were used only in Concealed hands. The 2018 card (last year’s) contained seven dragon pung hands, while the 2019 card contains six. Four of the seven were eXposable last year, and this year just three are. If someone exposes a dragon pung, you know she can be making one of only three hands.

If she shows a flower pung in addition to the dragon pung, she is making Consec #5 or W-D #6. If instead her additional exposure is a number kong, she is making 369 #3 or Consec #5. If her second exposure is a pung of sixes, you know she’s making 369 #3.

Flower pungs are easy to make, and this is the second year of pungalicious flowers. If someone exposes a flower pung, you know she’s making one of only three hands.

Not many clues needed to figure out what she’s doing.

I also look for “four pungs and a pair” hands, as Concealed hands at the bottom of card sections. “Four pungs and a pair” is the easiest pattern to make in American mah-jongg. “Four pungs and two singles” is actually a little easier, but it’s basically the same as four pungs and a pair.

Don’t be intimidated; these Concealed hands are actually not too difficult to make.

As usual, we have the biannual “pung-kong, pung-kong” shape for Evens #2, Consec #2, Odds #2, and 369 #2.

This collection of hands works well together strategically, allowing a player to fool opponents into thinking she’s making one of the others (as frequently described in these strategy columns).


Part 3 of 3

American Mah Jongg (2019 NMJL card).Did you look at the back of the 2019 card yet? The left pane has been made over. The scoring information has moved from the top to the bottom, and gotten a label: SCORING. This section has been completely rewritten, and no longer includes red text. This movement of scoring to the bottom makes tremendous good sense; the left pane is now organized per the order of events during play! Starting at the top with the “key to the other side of this card” stuff is particularly useful for new players. Applause!

Let’s return to the front of the card. A reader wrote me this week about the use of fives, so let’s get into that now. The 2019 card makes intense use of kongs of fives, in Addition and in Odds (13579). At the bottom of the left pane, a kong of fives is required in all three of the Addition variations (5+6=11, 5+7=12, 5+8=13). Now shift right to Odds; the first three hands all require kongs of fives. And the heavy use of fives extends beyond those examples. Reader Margaret T noted that in all, kongs of fives “could (or must) be part of 24 different hands.”

Then there’s the matter of pairsof fives, which are required by Consec #1, Odds #5, Odds #6, and S&P #4. (Did I get them all? Can you spot more?) If one player is making a kong-of-fives hand and another player is making a same-suit pair-of-fives hand, somebody’s in trouble. Strategy tip: don’t go for a pair-of-fives hand unless you have the pair of fives in the Charleston.

Fives have always been a useful number to have, since five is in the exact center of the 1-9 range. Fives can be used in all sections except 2019, 2468, and 369. This year’s extra heavy demand on fives suggested a strategy tip from reader Linda Z: “I’m thinking maybe I should avoid passing them in the Charleston except when absolutely necessary. (Like I avoid passing flowers.)” I think that’s a pretty good idea.

I learned a great tip from a champion Japanese player at an international MCR tournament. Statistically, opportunities for runs are most numerous in the middle of the 1-9 range.

Accordingly, when choosing which tiles to dump, work from the ends (the terminals) inward.

That Asian strategic principle applies to Consecutive Run hands in American mah-jongg. But this year the 2019 card may cause fives to be harder to get. So opportunities for runs may cluster in the 1-4 range and the 6-9 range (below and above 5).

So when deciding what tiles to dump, assuming you don’t already have your fives, work in either high runs or low runs.

In Consec this year, there are two 4-number runs (#2 and #4), two 3-number runs (#3 and #7), and two 2-number runs (#5 and #6). The 2-number and 3-number runs can fit easily into the 1-4 range and the 6-9 range, with wiggle room (which comes in handy when changing hands).

…Then again, sevens were in extra demand on the 2015 card; anyone recall a shortage of sevens that year?



For more from Tom Sloper, check out his book The Red Dragon and The West Wind (click on link).

By Tom Sloper. Copyrighted material. Reprinted with permission from the author.