You’ve built the walls of tiles, rolled the dice, cut the wall, and taken your tiles in the unique tradition of Mah Jongg tile assemblage.
What do you do next? First and foremost, you can flip your tiles into your rack! I am a “flipper” and love the sound of the tiles as I guide them up into my rack in one graceful upturn! The literal meaning of the word Mah Jongg is “clattering sparrow” and you will definitely hear those sparrows chittering away when you flip up your tiles! Watch the short video below to learn how to do “The Flip!”
It is now time to begin to “create order from chaos,” as Julia Roberts has reflected about the playing of Mah Jongg.
Below you will find MY method for organizing the tiles, and the process of focusing tiles toward a category or two related categories on the Mah Jongg playing card. You may have a different recipe for success when rearranging your tiles toward a section or Hand. Over time, each player will develop their own way of creating some semblance of order from the jumble of tiles.
A suggestion for veteran Maj players:
Attempt setting up your tiles in a different order than usual. Maybe place all of your tiles from all suits combined in numerical order! Adapting your customary tile order may challenge you to “see” the tiles in your rack in a new light and encourage you to attempt new Hands on the playing card.
Organizing The Tiles:
· place your tiles in ascending numerical order by suit
· place your Dragons with their matching suit:
Green Dragons with Bams
Red Dragons with Craks
Soap (White) Dragons with Dots
· place Jokers and Flowers on the Left side in your rack
You may not pass Jokers during the Charleston. Most Hands begin with Flowers so positioning them on the Left makes it easier to align your tiles with choices of Hands that contain Flowers
· place Winds together
The photo below shows how my tiles would look after my initial organization.
Evaluating Your Tiles:
· begin analyzing tiles and look for your strong tiles and sets of tiles- Pairs, Pungs, Kongs
· Do you have any Pairs and do they relate to other tiles? Keep Pairs that make sense with other tiles in your rack.
My motto is, “Random Pairs a Hand does NOT make!” If you have a Pair that just does not belong, divide the pair and pass one tile from the Pair in two separate passes of the Charleston
· Do you have any Jokers? If you have been dealt Jokers, choose Hand(s) in which you can best use the Jokers - Hands containing pungs, kongs, quints.
Jokers may NEVER be used as a Single or in Pairs…NOT EVEN for your final tile for Mah Jongg!
If you have NOT been dealt Jokers and have some related Pairs, you may want to consider Hands that require singles and/or pairs. Also, you can attempt S&P Hands and always convert to other Hands on the card if your tiles for your Pairs are discarded or you pick/shop Jokers during game play.
Feel free to read my Blog from 7/9/21 entitled, “Will You Convert For Me Please” for tips on switching from S&P Hands to other categories/hands on the 2021 plying card.
· Were you dealt any Flowers?
If yes, choose Flower hands if you can and if your other tiles work toward a Hand with Flowers. Remember there are 8 Flowers in the American Mah Jongg game, so your chances of picking Flowers are greater.
I also KEEP Flowers and do NOT pass Flowers during the Charleston whenever possible, even if I do not play a Hand with Flowers. Extra or unused Flowers in your rack can be used as “Joker Bait.” During game play, you can discard a Flower hoping an opponent will Call for the Flower in an exposure consisting of Flowers and Jokers. On your next turn, you can “SHOP” (redeem the Joker from the Flower exposure) for the Joker with another one of your extra Flowers! I instruct my students to always remember to “Go Shopping!”
However, you may not always be able to keep Flowers and may find you have no option but to Pass a Flower during the Charleston. Just remember that we all need to spread a little sunshine!
· Do you have many Winds?
If you do not have enough Winds to play in the Winds & Dragons category or another Hand using Winds, you can begin to pass different Wind tiles during the Charleston. For example, pass a North and a West tile, not two South tiles (a Pair) or a North and a South tile if it can be avoided. Many Hands require both North and South tiles OR both East and West Tiles so passing a North and a South or an East and a West tile together could be most helpful to your opponent if they are choosing to play Hands with Winds.
· Do you see two or three suits that relate consecutively? Sometimes new players try to void themselves of a suit or two, but the playing card has many choices of Hands using two and three suits. Keeping only one suit of tiles may look pretty, but could reduce you options of categories and Hand choices.
One of my favorite Hands on the card is the second Consecutive Run Hand in the Pung Kong – Pung Kong rhythm. This Hand requires two suits that run consecutively, the tiles speak to each other without gaps in their order. You can begin this Run Hand on the number one, two, three, four, five, or six with your suit change happening right in the middle of the Hand.
· Keep number tiles in different suits if they relate. For example, collect 3s, 6s, and 9s tiles in all three suits in order to have more Hand options to play within the 3-6-9 category.
· Do you have more EVEN tiles or more ODD tiles?
Physically count your tiles to see if you have more Odd or more Even tiles. This is an easy, quick way to guide your tiles toward either the 2-4-6-8 (EVEN) or 1-3-5-7 (ODD) categories.
· Do you have many LOW number tiles (from one to five)? Or do you have HIGH number tiles (from five to nine)? Keep a range of four to five numbers only for Consecutive Runs Hands
· Do you have Matching or Opposite Dragons?
Matching Dragons Hands can be easily detected on the card as the numbers and “Ds” (for Dragons) are in one ink color
Opposite Dragons Hands require a bit more mental gymnastics to be sure you do not use a Dragon that matches the suit of your number tiles. The “Ds” will be written in different ink colors than the number tiles
· Does 2021 stand out? (Soap is the only tile that stands for the Zero in 2021 and Hands that require Zeros, like 0000)
I often ask my students to close their eyes for a moment, then open them to see if they have the tiles for the year category. Do you have Ones, Twos, & Soaps tiles? Keep collecting just those tiles!
· Are many of your tiles the SAME (Like) Number in two or three suits? For example, do you have some three Dots, three Bams, and three Craks? Continue collecting the number 3 tiles.
Check to see if you were dealt the SAME number tile in various suits which may lead you to the ANY LIKE NUMBERS category or Winds & Dragons Hands requiring LIKE numbers.
After you assemble your tiles, it is fairly rare to be able to look at your tiles and simply choose a Hand to play. If you are having lots of LUCK, then maybe your tiles will lead you to a particular Hand or two. For most players, narrowing down choices of card Categories to play can be the most challenging part of the game of Mah Jongg.
The Charleston passing is designed to help you focus your tiles and hopefully point your tiles in a direction for game play. First and foremost, determine a Section or two related Sections on the playing card in which your tiles fit best.
Concentrating & Passing:
One player’s trash could be another player’s treasure!
· During the Charleston, collect tiles toward your chosen ONE or TWO sections
· Keep Gathering tiles toward a Section or two RELATED sections (ie. 1-3-5-7-9 and 3-6-9 are categories that both use the number 3 and 9, so you could begin collecting 1,3,5,6,7,and 9s and see which tiles you receive during Passing to finalize your category choice)
· As long as you can PASS THREE TILES during the Charleston passes, your goal should be to keep “ugly”passing while determining one category or two related sections from which to play.
· Passes should not be pretty…they should contain tiles that are not alike. For example, an ideal “ugly” pass would be a high even tile and a low odd tile in different suits and one Wind tile.
· Break up random Pairs of tiles into two separate passes during the Charleston, or use the Blind Pass to eliminate having to pass a Pair.
Sometimes, there may be no other option but to hold your breath and Pass a Pair.
· Veteran players are keenly aware of the tiles that are being passed by their opponents during the Charleston and may even change their choice of categories as they realize what tiles are going around.
· When you no longer have 3 tiles to pass during the Charleston, you must focus in on the section(s) you have chosen
· Analyze each HAND within the selected section(s) starting at the first hand of the category and working your way down line by line. Decide which hands make the most sense given your tiles and whether or not you have been dealt Jokers.
· Be highly aware of waiting for Pairs!! You may NOT Call for a tile to complete a PAIR except for your final tile for Mah Jongg!
· Strong players are FLEXIBLE and have back up hands in mind during play
· Advance players know when and how to switch Hands if needed. Changing Hands is a strategy that requires skill and will be addressed as a future blog topic.
“What if I have been dealt ONE of everything?”
· I would suggest choosing a section or two and plan to play Hands in those categories. During the Charleston, be highly aware of both your outgoing and incoming passes to help further guide you toward your category selections. Many times, options become clearer through the passing process. Hopefully with six/seven passes, your choices for Hands and back-up Hands will take shape. Even through a game I call “forced section play,” you can play and win the game! You can force play in one category on the playing card.
There will certainly be times when our choices may not work out…you can always concentrate on defensive strategies and thwarting your opponent's progress toward a Mah Jongg win!
I hope the suggestions above help you to make sound decisions when determining what to play. For extra practice, I highly recommend watching Michele Frizzell on YouTube at MahJong Central. She has a plethora of videos which can strengthen your game play and help you speed up the decision-making process.
I encourage you to try categories you may have avoided and play Hands you realize may be more challenging. With over 700 variations of Hands on the NMJL playing card, your choices are plentiful!