Are Your Mah Jongg Games Friendly?

 Many years ago, my husband and I played Scrabble in a group at a local library. It was a short-lived experience because although the players considered the play “friendly”, it deviated too much from the standard game for our enjoyment. The players used a dictionary between hands—not to challenge other players’ words, but to comprise words in preparation for their next turn—basically searching the dictionary for words to create from the letters on their racks. My husband and I felt the integrity of the game was compromised too much for our enjoyment, and we chose to leave this group.     We Mah Jongg players are passionate about the game. We lament the times we were “oh-so-close” and “on-call”. We speak exuberantly about needing only three tiles to “Mahj” after the Charleston has been completed, and try to hide our glee when we pick Jokers on our turn. We post pictures of our hands on social media. Most of us want to play a “friendly” game, but our opinions vary about what characterizes a friendly game.

     It should be noted that many of the issues noted in this article apply to playing in-person, and during this COVID-19 era, there are fewer in-person games.
     Many players play by National Mah Jongg League (NMJL) rules. But how strictly players follow the rules varies. Some players feel that playing strictly by the rules is not “friendly” and dislike playing with others who play “cut throat”. Others wonder why people play at all if the rules aren’t followed. Tournament rules may be cited.  Some players are chastised for calling someone’s hand dead, or for not letting mistakes “slide”.     Players may allow someone extra time to think about the next move. Others feel that being friendly is not playing for money, or that a friendly game allows players to discard tiles without racking, or to rack slower to allow extra time for calling the previous tile. Often, players feel that the game is “friendly” or more interesting if rules aren’t followed so strictly. In those cases, player errors may be overlooked. Some feel it is okay to expose a set of tiles and then change their mind and return them to their rack, or allow a discarded Joker to be claimed. The exceptions run the gamut from allowing someone who has claimed and racked a discarded tile in error to put it back and have play resume, to allowing someone to claim a discarded Joker or to use a Joker as part of a pair or in NEWS. Other players feel it is cheating or “dumbing down” the rules if exceptions are made.
    Players should agree in advance if the game is being played for money. Then there are environmental issues, like whether to allow cell phones or to allow eating or drinking at a game. Of course, players should be courteous and refrain from playing when ill or sneezing on the tiles. It’s ideal if all these issues can be agreed upon in advance.

     For me, it’s not what you say, but how you say it or do unto others. When you don’t follow the rules, it’s hard to be fair to all.  This time you follow them, the next time you don’t. It can turn into a favoritism thing or you like her/him more. It’s a slippery slope.  -Arlene