This Week in Mah Jongg: Let’s Play!

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BY JULIE AND PHILIPPE, ILOVEMAHJ.COM

Our 5-part introduction to the fascinating game of American Mah Jongg is now complete and you have all the knowledge needed to start playing. If you didn’t manage to catch all five tutorials, don’t worry, you’ll just need to search for "Mah Jongg" above (top right of screen) to catch up.

It’s now time to start playing!

Of course, it’s going to take a little time and practice to get to grips with all the rules and formalities of the game, but the best way to learn is to actually play. Once you begin to understand how the different suits, numerals, winds, dragons, flowers and jokers are combined together to form patterns, the rest will begin to fall into place naturally.

How do I play in person?

Ideally, you’ll need 4 people to play a game of American Mah Jongg. Perhaps you have 3 friends who would also like to learn? If so, you can all get started together. 

Alternatively, you could find a local group that is looking for additional players. Or check with your local JCC or public library, as often there are lessons and game days scheduled. If not, consider posting a notice locally, or on the Nextdoor app, Craigslist, or a relevant Facebook Group to see if you can get a group started. I Love Mahj also has a Find a Group function, so don’t forget to search or post there too.

In addition to your National Mah Jongg League playing card, your group will need a game set, including racks and pushers, and a suitable table on which to play, along with chairs. A square card table is a perfect size for Mah Jongg. It’s possible to make larger square or circular tables work, though it’s more tricky to see the tiles or to lean across and reach the pushed out walls. As always, Amazon is a good place to source these items, and you’ll also find options in our online store if you’d like some inspiration. 

OK, so you have a group of four, a game set, table and chairs, a location to play, and everyone has their playing card at the ready. You’re all set! 

Arrange a date and start playing. Don’t worry if you can’t remember all the rules to begin with, you can help one another and these will fall into place along the way. We suggest printing a copy of our cheat sheet and keeping it near you as you play. It covers all the major rules at a glance on one page. Don’t forget to send any questions you have by email to [email protected] and we’ll answer those for you.

What about playing online?

For those of you who now have your 2021 card from the National Mah Jongg League, we suggest you sign up for the free trial at ilovemahj.com and start practicing with the computer bots. And as a special bonus, use the code “LIGHT” when signing up to get 3 weeks, rather than the standard 2-week trial! 

If you’ve previously signed up for the trial and didn’t get to use the code, just email us at [email protected] and we’ll extend it for you!

All you’ll need to play online is the National Mah Jongg League playing card and you can be off and running. In fact, even if you do have an in-person game, it’s still beneficial to practice and hone your skills with online games. 

One of the very best ways to practice is to choose to play alone against the computer bots. This is a great option for beginners, as the bots don’t mind at all if you take as much time as you need for each move. Plus, they’ll play the game just like a human would, so it’s great preparation for in-person games. 

You’ll also have the option to choose the level of bot you wish to play with. We recommend starting with our Level 1 bots. Once you’ve gained experience feel free to move on to the Level 2 bots, and if you’re really looking for a challenge, our Level 3 (advanced) bots are always ready to play!

We also recommend using the "Practice Mode" (located under Just-for-Fun bot games). This mode will offer hand suggestions throughout the game. What better way to get started and improve your game! 

And one of the very best things about playing online is that you can track your progress! I Love Mahj offers a whole host of game statistics on your very own page. These include a breakdown of your wins, losses and wall games, a summary of the hands you’ve completed, the average time it takes to complete a game, and much more. So, over time, you’ll be able to physically see your improvement!  

If you have Mah Jongg friends, you can also play with them online using your personal table. And if you don’t have a full table of 4 players, computer bots will automatically step in where necessary. I Love Mahj has built-in video calls, so you’ll be able to see and speak with each other too.

Online games also offer the convenience of being available anytime, day or night. Which makes it easy to sneak in a little practice whenever you have some spare time.

To help you get started with our online game, we recommend watching the introduction video. Also check out our other videos to learn how to play with friends online. And by clicking on the Help button within the game itself (the question mark, bottom right of the screen), you can search our comprehensive Knowledge Base or send us a message and we’ll get back to you just as soon as we can.

Next Time and Further Learning

Although American Mah Jongg is not too difficult to learn, a player’s skill is honed over a lifetime.

One of the most difficult tasks for a beginner is to determine which hand to play. This takes practice and familiarity with the card, so don’t be too hard on yourself. We’ll discuss how to decide on a hand to play next time. 

Study and practice are definitely key to improving your game. Although we’re setting down the foundation with our tutorials, it’s certainly beneficial to read anything and everything you can get your hands on regarding American Mah Jongg. You’ll find some great books on our recommended reading list

For now, just do your best at making hand decisions and practice, practice, practice!

Q&A’s

Readers’ questions:

Q: Can I claim a discard that is for either a single or a pair if it is my last tile towards Mah Jongg?

A: Yes, you can! In fact, this is the only time that you can pick up a discard for either a single or a pair towards the hand you have chosen to complete. And remember that NEWS and 2021 are considered 4 single tiles.

Q: Can I stop the second Charleston for any reason?

A: Yes, you may. The second Charleston is totally optional. If any player decides that they do not wish to take part in the second Charleston, then it doesn’t take place. No reason needs to be given. However, from a strategy point of view, it is always a good idea to take part in the second Charleston if you have at least 3 tiles to pass. This is because you will receive 9 tiles during the passing, giving a very good opportunity to collect more tiles towards a particular hand. We'll discuss this topic more in an upcoming article.

Q: I picked a tile from the wall and hadn’t racked it when another player called the last discard. I’d already looked at the tile. Do I put it back in the same place or bury it further along the wall?

A: The tile should be put back in exactly the same place it was picked up. The next player to pick from the wall will receive that tile.  

Q: One of the players threw a tile that could have been exchanged for a joker. Can I pick it up and swap it for the joker?

A: No, it’s not possible to pick up this tile for a joker swap, as tiles can only be called for exposures. Even the player that threw the tile is unable to pick it back up to do the swap. Once a discarded tile has been named or placed on the table, it cannot be retrieved by the discarder.

Keep your questions coming! Please email them to [email protected].

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