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Defensive Playing (Article ID 117)

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Abstract:  Playing defensively in any game, simply put, means not letting the other team or player win. When playing Mah Jongg, it is essential to know when to play defensively. 

Let’s look at a game of mah jongg in thirds (beginning, middle & end). A more experienced player will discard tiles needed by another player in the beginning and middle of the game. A more experienced player will often disrupt their hand to avoid discarding safe tiles (tiles not needed by another player) in the end. A newer player might hold all tiles (they think) are needed by another player. When this happens, the newer player gets stuck with many “hot” tiles (tiles needed by another player to win the game), putting them in a risk-taking position. Newer players often hold on to everyone’s tiles, afraid of discarding when they should be getting them out early or, as the NMJL states, “People start “dogging” (defined by the NMJL is when a player discards tiles that are not needed by any player, early in the game.” More experienced players know when to discard tiles other players need rather than dogging.

Question from a player:  A player has two exposures on their rack. May another player discard the obviously needed tile to that player?

Answers from the NMJL: 

Most of the skill in playing Mah Jongg depends upon the ability to play a good defensive game.  If a hand does not improve rapidly during the play and a large portion of the wall is exhausted, a player should break up their own hand and discard tiles that are useless to the other players.  This is called “dogging” tiles.   

Exchanging a Joker or Jokers can double the value of another player’s hand by making the hand Jokerless.  If a player is thoroughly familiar with every hand, this player can usually judge by the exposed Pungs, Kongs, Quints, Sextets and discards, which combinations the other players are playing.  An experienced player will always try not to discard a tile that is obviously needed by another player but will discard the same tile as the player on the left, or some other “safe” tile.   

At this stage of the game it is unwise to discard a tile that has not been discarded before.  When “dogging”, a Joker can be discarded and named the same as the previous tile.  While you are trying to complete your hand, remember it is just as important to prevent the other players from completing their hands.  YOU CANNOT MAH JONGG SECOND.   

Sources: Mah Jongg Made Easy 2020 page 18, Defensive Playing, www.nationalmahjonggleague.org


Other answers from the NMJL: 

“A good player will try and play defensively at all times. We have no ruling on a “hot” tile. Remember, you cannot declare mah jongg second.”

“A good player never throws a dangerous or obvious tile at any time or into a third or fourth exposure, and every pick and discard should be a challenge to the very last tile on the wall. This is part of the fun!”

“A good player defends the play always but if she does not have a tile that is not dangerous, of course, she has to throw the tile which she thinks is the least dangerous and hope that it does not result in giving mah jongg. After all, this is a game of skill but also a gamble and a game of luck and when one is lucky then very often there is another one that is not so fortunate.”

“A good player defends the play always but if she does not have a tile that is not dangerous, of course, she has to throw the tile which she thinks is the least dangerous and hope that it does not result in giving mah jongg. After all, this is a game of skill but also a gamble and a game of luck and when one is lucky then very often there is another one that is not so fortunate.”

“Hot or cold wall. A good player never throws a dangerous or obvious tile at any time or into a third or fourth exposure, and every pick and discard should be a challenge to the very last tile on the wall. This is part of the fun!”

“Wall games occur because players start dogging too early in the game. If a player has exposed part of their hand very early in the game, it is not always a fact that the player is set for mah jongg. Discretion must be used on the part of the discarder.”

Sources for other answers:  National Mah Jongg League Bulletin Q&A (1967 page 5, 1968 page 4, 1972 page 5, 1973 page 5, 1980 page 3, 1981 page 3, 1982 page 3, 1983 page 3, 1985, 1992 page 5, 1993, age 12, 1996 page 5, 1997 page 5, 2002, 2015) https://www.nationalmahjonggleague.org

Defensive Playing (Article ID 117)
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