Alright ladies, buckle up for the ultimate showdown on how to choose a winning hand in American Mahjong. Now, I'll do my darnedest to dish out some juicy tips and tricks, but let me warn you, I'm no Mahjong master (despite my Mahjong tile-making skills). So, sometimes I win, sometimes I lose. But hey, who cares when we can have a blast playing this ancient Chinese tile game and look fabulous doing it? Take my advice with a grain of salt, and let's get ready to rumble!
- The Deal: when the Mahjong Gods deal you your tiles (14 if you're the dealer, 13 for the rest of the gang), it's time to get organized. Now, me? I like to sort my tiles by numerical order and suit, and put my winds, dragons, flowers, jokers, and blanks off to the left. But don't get too crazy trying to choose your hand just yet. Take a deep breath and survey your tiles. What do you have a lot of? Odds, evens, dragons, winds, flowers? This is where you need to find the trend in your hand, so you know which three tiles to trade in the Charleston. For example, if you have a lot of 3's, 6's, and 9's, you can trade in three tiles that aren't in that group. And hey, why not hold onto other odds, since 3 and 9 are both oddballs?
- The Charleston: So, after you get your first three tiles from the plate to your right, it's time to assess how they fit into your hand. And if you get a 3, 6, or 9, well then hot diggity dog, add that bad boy to your collection! Keep doing this for the rest of the Charleston, and by the second or third trade, you should have an idea of the SECTION you're going for, not necessarily the EXACT HAND. No need to commit to one specific hand just yet, we're just getting started here!
- Game On: Now it's time to get real about narrowing down our winning hand! By the end of the Charleston and optional trade, I usually have my hand narrowed down to two or three potential hands within a section. Ideally, by the end of the Charleston, I like to have 7-8 tiles for a specific hand (jokers and blanks don't count towards that total). Now, if I don't have that many tiles by the end of the Charleston, it's not game over, but it's a good gauge to go by. And let me tell you, ladies, anything can happen - that hand could completely change if I end up with less or more tiles. So keep calm, keep playing, and keep your eyes on that winning hand!
- Game Time: Draw, discard, draw, discard - keep going until you get that one tile you need. Now, there are two camps on this - some say commit to a hand early on and pick up the tile you need to complete a section, others say do not commit early on.Me? I'm from the "if it fits, it sits" camp. If someone else discards a tile that I need and it goes with the hand I have the most tiles of, I'm calling it and picking it up faster than you can say “Margarita!" Just remember, if you're picking up a discarded tile, it can't be a pair (unless it's your MAHJONG tile) and you must have the remaining tiles to complete the section. So let's say you need four 3 dots - there are a couple of ways you can pick up a fresh discarded 3 dot. For example, if you already have three 3 dots, you can pick up the discarded one to make the foursome (or Kong in mahjong language). Or, if you only have one 3 dot and two jokers, you can use those jokers to complete the Kong. And yes, ladies, you can use multiple jokers to complete a section - ain't no rule against that! And don't forget, if you have a joker exposed on your rack to complete a section, that joker is fair game. If someone else has the tile that the joker is subbing for, they can switch it out with the joker and use it in their own hand.
- Calling a Tile: In mahjong, calling a tile is a serious business, folks. If you're not on your toes and ready to shout "HOLD UP!" the second a tile hits the rack, well, you might as well kiss it goodbye. That's right, once it's racked or clicked, that tile is as good as dead. And let's not forget the importance of being the first one to call a tile. It's like a free-for-all, but with strict rules. If you're not the first to call it, tough luck, buddy. You gotta sit there and watch as someone else snatches it up. But, of course, there's always an exception to the rule. And that exception is your mahjong tile. When it comes to your mahjong tile, all bets are off. That bad boy is yours for the taking, no matter who else wants it.
- Concealed Hands: Listen up, my Mahjong comrades! Let me drop some knowledge on you - don't even think about going for a concealed hand if you're a mahjong newbie. Those little "C's" next to the hand mean "concealed," but they might as well mean "crazy difficult." These hands often involve tons of singles and pairs, so you better have some serious mahjong skills to pull them off. Now, if you do go cray cray and are trying to get that concealed hand remember that you can't just go picking up any old tile to complete a section. Nope, if you want to keep your hand concealed, the only way to pick up a tile is if it's your precious Mahjong tile. My advice is save yourself the headache and stick to something a little more straightforward, at least until you've got some more games under your belt.
- Blanks: The "B" word... BLANKS! (Gasp!) Now, some people have very strong opinions about these little guys, so it's important to know the house rules before you start playing. Some folks refuse to play with them at all, so if that's the case, don't even mention the word "blank." But if you are playing with blanks, here's the deal: typically, there are 2-4 of them and they can be swapped out for any tile that has been discarded and is now "dead." It's a bit sneaky, but ideally you want to swap out your blank when no one is looking, so they don't know what you've replaced it with. My advice: don't swap your blank until the very end when you're going for mahjong. Why? Well, let's say you swap out your blank for a flower early on because you need it for a pair. Then, a few turns later, you draw a flower and now you have one too many. You have to discard it and you've wasted your blank on something you eventually drew. So be strategic with those little sneaky blanks! Need more info on blanks? Check out this post.
- Strategy: Oh dear, looks like we have another task to add to our list of things to consider while playing mahjong. Besides completing our own hand, we also need to be strategic and pay attention to our opponents' hands. So, let's say you notice your opponent has been collecting all the North and West tiles that you have been discarding. Don't be a fool and keep discarding Winds until you have no other option left. That's like serving up a delicious meal to your opponent on a silver platter! You don't want to feed their hands and make it easier for them to win. So, hold on to those winds until you absolutely have to discard them.
After dropping some serious knowledge bombs, it's time to wrap things up with some final words of wisdom.
So here it is: take these 8 tips and tricks, and use them to absolutely demolish your Mahjong group with your winning skills. But, don't get too caught up in overthinking your hand. The quicker you make a decision and commit to it, the easier it'll be to focus on winning.
And hey, don't forget that the main goal is to have fun. If you start feeling like it's all becoming too much, just pour yourself another cocktail and cheers to a good time.
Want more Mahjong tips? Check out our Beginners Guide to American Mahjong here.