A Calculated Risk

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One of the first defensive maneuvers Mah Jongg players learn is to avoid throwing a winning tile at all costs. I found myself in a situation while playing Mah Jongg last week that could serve as a perfect example of why sometimes we need to break the rules.

The player across from me (I’ll call her Kate) at the table had three exposures. Only a pung of 9 Bams was needed to win. I picked a 9 Bam and placed it in my rack for safekeeping. On my next turn I picked a Joker. I now needed only one tile to call Mah Jongg myself; I could use a Joker or an 8 Crack. But the only tile on my rack that didn’t belong was the 9 Bam that Kate needed. At that point, I saw my chances to win the game shrink considerably. I knew I would have to break up my hand to prevent giving Kate her winning tile. Since we were playing for money, I also knew that giving Kate the winning tile with three exposures would mean I would have to pay for everyone at the table- from my own purse. So I would lose a bit of my reputation and my money if Kate used my discarded 9 Bam and called Mah Jongg. I calculated the amount of money I would lose if I threw the winning tile to Kate.

I looked at the discards to see how many 9 Bams had been played already; there was one. However, I realized that there was an entire wall of tiles that had not yet been played. I realized at that point that I had only one exposure and no one knew I was “on call”. There was a good chance that I could get Mah Jongg if Kate didn’t pick up my discard. I threw the 9 Bam and held my breath. Kate did not call for the tile. The player to my right mumbled about how “gutsy” the play I made was, and then also discarded a 9 Bam she had been holding. Of course Kate couldn’t pick this one either.

Kate smiled and said something a bit more profane. Play resumed. Two picks later, I picked my own tile for Mah Jongg and won $1.50. The monetary win was small, however because I stepped out of my comfort zone, the victory was that much sweeter!

In retrospect, in this case I won by breaking the rules. But I only considered it because of a couple of factors. First and most importantly, there was an entire wall of tiles left to be played. I would never have attempted this if only a few tiles were left. Secondly, I had several options to get the tile I needed to call for Mah Jongg myself; a Joker or 8 Crack would do. If there was only one possibility, the odds would change. If there was only one 8 Crack that hadn’t been played, and I needed a pair, and therefore couldn’t use a Joker, the odds of me winning would have been much less. In addition, I needed to make my bold move and discard the tile at the first possible opportunity. It would have been a worse move to decide to break up my hand, then reconsider on my next turn, and discard the 9 Bam. The chance that Kate would be able to claim my discarded 9 Bam for Mah Jongg would increase as time passed.

The next time you are in a similar situation, calculate your risk, and make the best of the situation.

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