One of our members  Barney Gallassio  wanted to share this with you…….


Last Updated March 6, 2017

Some people tell me they would never play in a tournament – and their reasons are all over the board.  However, I think tournaments are great and unquestionably make you a better player.  If you have decided to play in your first MJT – congratulations!   Barney’s Tournament #1 Crib Sheet might be helpful getting ready for that experience.  I know you will have fun and I know you will be back for more!   BEST OF LUCK!!




  • AM I NERVOUS!:   This is your first tournament – you are going to be nervous – just be ready for that and accept it.  Trust me, once you make it past your first game, your nervousness will be cut in half.  Everyone, everyone, everyone feels this way in their first tournament.  And when you make your first MJ you will feel GREAT!
  • KNOW THY CARD:   You should know the card very well.  This is a given.  If you are not very comfortable with the card (ex. groupings, sections, categories, etc.), you are probably not ready for a tournament.  This does not mean you have the card memorized; it just means you need to know the hands very well.
  • IS THAT A BIRD?:   All MJ sets are different.  Tournament Directors often will ask their East players (East players bring their own MJ set) to bring “easy to read” tiles.  If the East player thinks some of the tiles are confusing, like the One Bams or the Flowers or even some Dragons, they will start each round by showing those tiles to the players at the table.  Good idea to ask to see those tiles if they are not shown to you.  But again, most East players are using very basic tiles.
  • RULES ARE RULES:   You should know the rules of the game.  On the day of your tournament (and sometimes even beforehand via e-mail), you will be given a rule sheet.  Almost everything on that sheet should already be familiar to you.  The tournament director will review the rules so any questions will be answered before the start of Round 1.  The rules sheet will also tell you how to move between tables after the completion of each round.  Since this is your first tournament, get there a few minutes early and read the sheet a few times, just to be sure.  If you are going to play in more tournaments (and I bet you will!), it might be a good idea to play “tournament rules” at some of your home games.  It makes for great practice.
  • BE MINDFUL OF THE TIME:   Most tournaments require each round (4 games make up one round) to be completed in no more than 50 minutes.  You should check your speed in some of your current games and see if you think you can do this.   IMPORTANT NOTE:  You CAN do it – almost everyone can.  The odds of a table not finishing their round in 50 minutes is HIGHLY unlikely.  The player designated as East at your table will assist the table in moving along, ensuring the pace is appropriate.  By the way, all the East players are identified before the start of the tournament.  If you did not volunteer to be East – you won’t be East.
  • PACE IS KEY:   Related to the point above: be mindful of your pace.  Pausing here and there is fine but pausing on every play you make could impact the timing of the game.  When passing some of your tiles, you may need to make quick decisions that might not account for all possibilities – but force yourself to sacrifice some thoroughness for pace and speed.  Keeping the game moving is key.  It is important to remember that neither you, nor anyone else, is going to win every game!
  • YOUR SCORECARD:   Your points for each game will be recorded on your scorecard.  You will be asked to review and sign off on everything written on your card.  Please discuss any discrepancies right away with the East player at your table.  For example, you get 10 bonus points for picking your own MJ.  Check that you get the right number of points.  Make sure you agree with everything on your scorecard before you leave the table.   It is VERY RARE that anyone makes a mistake here so you don’t have to worry about this one too much.  The rules sheet will explain very clearly who signs off on each other’s scores.
  • PENALTY POINTS:   One thing that will be new for you is the concept of “penalty points.” Just like in your home, when you discard a tile that is called for Mah Jongg, you are penalized (since you pay double).  In tournaments, you get penalty points for throwing an opponent’s Mah Jongg tile.  The number of penalty points is based on the number of exposures that were showing for the person who gets MJ.  The number of penalty points based on exposures is different throughout the country believe it or not.  This is usually the first thing we look at on the rules sheet – figuring out how many penalty points will be assessed based on the number of exposures.  
  • TO RACK OR NOT TO RACK:   A comment about “racking”.  Whether you rack or not, you are going to find many tournament players rack their tiles.  As we know, once a tile is racked, players cannot call for the last discarded tile.   Whether you do this or not, I wanted to bring this to your attention as it often is a point of discussion/conversation with newer players.
  • A DEAD HAND:   This is a tournament and money/prizes are awarded to the top players.  This necessitates a strict adherence to MJ rules.  If you do something wrong, your hand might be called dead.  So what!  You will learn from your mistake and you probably will never do it again.  It happened to me in my first tournament and it never happened again.  [Here was my case.  I called a tile for MJ and did not know I had to place that tile on top of my rack.  I placed the tile with my other tiles and then put up all the tiles together showing my MJ.  This was something I was not familiar with and I was called dead.  First and last time for sure – and guess what, I’m a better player for it!]
  • NOISE LEVEL:   Many people only play in home games.  These settings are generally quiet.  The room in which you will play the tournament will be much louder since you’ll hear tiles being moved around, people calling out their tiles etc.  If you think this could be distracting, I would suggest playing a public game somewhere – perhaps at a Meet-Up location in a public space like a Panera Bread.   You have to be ready for some level of noise in your tournament play.  One other word about noise.  If your table ends early, please be mindful of other tables still playing.  If you want to talk, please leave the playing area all together so others can concentrate on their game still in progress.
  • SHHHHHH:   Talking during the game?  A few words here or there might be fine.  But in all honesty, there is minimal to no chatting while the game is in play.  There will be lots of time for conversation (and commiserating!)  in between games and in between rounds and of course at the lunch/snack breaks.  And keep your cell phone off or in silent mode while the games are being played.  This last point is so essential that some tournaments have introduced a penalty for those ringing phones!  It’s always worth checking – especially after you come back from lunch or a break.
  • YOUR CHECKLIST:   What to bring with you?  Any special dietary requirements – contact the tournament director beforehand.  This way she can let you know how this will be handled for you on the day of the tournament.  Otherwise all the food and snacks you’ll ever need will be there.  If you are bringing a mug of some sort, make sure it has a good lid to prevent spills.  Dress comfortably and in layers.  Have a sweater in case it gets cold.  Try not to wear any clothing or jewelry that hangs off your body too much.  I have seen people knock over their tiles when reaching for the wall, for example, since their jewelry or blouse sleeve was dangling too much.   Some people are sensitive to very strong perfume; please be mindful of that on the day of the tournament.  Have your current NMJL card with you.  It is actually a requirement for play.  Should you forget it, someone will have an extra.
  • NEW FRIENDS:   Tournament players are nice people – usually VERY nice!  Tournament Directors go out of their way to make it a great experience for everyone and that starts with having nice people play in their events.  People who are NOT NICE are generally not welcomed back.   If you happen to come across someone who is not nice, be yourself, play like you always do, and wait for your next table with a new group.   Sometimes people seem intimidating because they are hyper-focused and perhaps rushing.   Don’t take this as a personal affront; assume the best about them and usually you will see their true personalities outside of the game time.  By the way, if you are ever uncomfortable with anything that anyone does to you in a game make sure you let the director know.  A good East player will also help ensure that everyone is being polite to one another.  
  • INSIDE SCOOP:   If possible, talk to a friend who has been at the specific tournament you are playing in.  She or he can provide any special insights to this event.  For example, what is parking going to be like on that day?  Are there any special requirements for getting in/out of the building?  What were some of the things she learned the last time(s) she played here?   Finally, I am sure the tournament director would not mind an email or call from you if there was anything you needed before showing up at the event.  These directors are very special people and will help you in any way they can.
  • ENJOY:   Get ready to energize your game.  Have fun.  I’m betting good money that you will play in many more tournaments after this one!
  • FOLLOW IT:   One of the Tournament Golden Rules:   Be kind to everyone – we live in a very small Mah Jongg world!

I hope this was helpful.   I plan to update this from time to time.  If you have a suggestion for something I should add to this list, please let me know.  Perhaps your recommendation will show up on a subsequent version of this crib sheet.  Thanks so much!   Barney Gallassio   Old Tappan, NJ.   February 2017 [email protected]