Playing Nice

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mjtilesI have decided that I am a nice person and I play nice.  I have played numerous styles of MJ and yes I love to win but I like to be fair and give the benefit of the doubt sometimes so everyone has a good time. I play in a regular weekly game and I have played in other weekly local games. I have also played in numerous tournaments adhering to the strictest of rules.

But today I experienced something that truly feels wrong.  It was all legal but it was still not nice in my eyes.   Today I played in a very local tournament held at one of the local synagogues from 1-5pm. We played 3 rounds of 4 games.  There were 17 tables and even 3 other tables for casual play.  This tournament was a first time one sponsored by the synagogue. They put together a nice job. Most of the players were friendly and the games I played were good ones.  In 12 games I played in 5 wall games!

But in the last round I learned something — it is  strategy called “holding back”.  Now I had never heard of it because I guess I am not cutthroat. Here is the scenario. Player B calls for an 8 Bam.  She places on her rack an 8 Bam, Joker, Joker and another 8 Bam but then removes the second 8 Bam and replaces it with another Joker. I thought that was strange but maybe she had a reason for it or whatever.  She then made her discard. NMJL rules state you can change your exposure however you want up until you close your play with a discarded tile.

A couple of plays later, an 8 crack was thrown. Player B called for the 8 crack, placing it on her rack with 3 other 8 cracks.  Then she replaced the Joker with the 8 Bam and declared Mah Jongg revealing 3 flowers now with the Joker and 2 eight dots – claiming a self pick. My neighbor player immediately questioned the validity of this play and brought the director over. Player B explained that this is called holding back. It is a strategy used to allow for a self pick reward of extra points when you win on the hand.  She clearly “called” for the 8 crack first and then made the changes in her hand to make it a winning hand. So legally it was viable but I thought it was a sneaky move.

This was a low key friendly tournament with a lot of first time tournament players. The fourth at our table was soo confused by all this she had no clue what to think. The Player who made the Mah Jongg did it because she was close to the top of the leader board and wanted the extra points. As it turned out she came in Third Place and yes those points made the difference. She was determined to play to win and that is what she said. As for me, I decided I needed to play nice.  This was not a cutthroat game, it was supposed to be fun but that left a sour taste for me.

What would you have done? Would you have played to win and used this strategy or would you have just played the hand as it played out? That took a lot of planning and thinking for sure. I guess I just do not think like that.

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  1. mlpenn44  May 2, 2016

    Faye, thanks for the heads up about a strategy that would never, I’m pretty sure, have crossed my mind. Playing in weekly friendly games I’d never run across this tactic but although sneaky rather brilliant. If and when I do play tournament play this post gives pause to think. And cutthroat would never be my choice. I love winning but my little gray cells might explode if I tried such a move!
    Keep posting. We are all enjoying.

  2. Faye  May 3, 2016

    MLB –
    Thanks for the feedback. It does certainly give you pause, I agree!

  3. Surely  August 3, 2016

    This was explained at the Las Vegas Tournament last February. I had never heard of it, but it is something to consider if you are playing for higher stakes than a club game or within a foursome.

  4. Jacque  November 19, 2016

    I also have never heard of this, but frankly, if it’s legal, then I wouldn’t consider it cut throat or not nice. It seems pretty smart to me. I don’t know of anyone playing Mah Jongg who doesn’t play to “Mah Jongg”, or win. Yes, some are more serious than others but playing with them is more often where I’ve learned the most and improved my skills (strategies). Strategizing can make the difference. I would have before never thought of this play. Very clever and I say “good for her”.

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