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Strategy by Wall (Article ID 116)

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Every mah jongg player has their own style and vision for where a hand can go but there are strategies that apply to American mah jongg that can set every hand up for success. The key is timing with good decision making. Strategy by Wall is a strategy in chess but it’s been adapted for mah jongg.  The strategies coincide with the wall in play. Adopt these guidelines into your style of play and take your game to the next level.

Strategies for the BEGIN-GAME (during the Charleston, 1st wall)

  • Arrange tiles in order: Jokers, Flowers, Winds, Dragons, each Suit in numerical order; no spaces
  • Multiples (i.e., pair, pung, kong) are more powerful than singles; if there are multiples in your hand, choose a category that uses the majority of them and keep tiles that fit that category regardless of suit
  • If there are no multiples in your hand, visualize or arrange your tiles by category (e.g., 2468, 13579, 369) and then select the category that uses the majority of your tiles
  • If the choice is still unclear, choose the Consecutive Run category and keep tiles within four consecutive numbers regardless of suit
  • Set unwanted tiles to one side of your rack (these will be your discards)
  • Below are best to worst case passing scenarios:
    1. A different numbered tile from each suit
    2. A single Wind or Dragon with mixed numbered and mixed suited tiles
    3. All the same category
    4. All the same suit
    5. White Dragons or Flowers (pass rarely)
    6. Like Numbers or Pairs (pass as last resort)
  • Do not focus on which hand you are going to play until you have no discards
  • Reassess your hand after each pass, especially if a new multiple forms

Strategies for the MIDDLE-GAME (drawing from the 2nd or 3rd wall)

  • Stay concealed as long as possible
  • Reassess your hand if a new multiple forms
  • Do not call a discard until you are ready to commit to a hand
  • Ensure that you are not playing a concealed hand before calling a discard
  • Watch what other players are discarding and exposing to identify their category then adjust your strategy accordingly
  • Commit to one category towards the end of the second wall
  • Commit to a single hand towards the end of the third wall
  • JOKER BAIT – Keep pairs, flowers, and dragons even if you do not need them; when someone makes an exposure with a joker, you may be able to make an exchange; get rid of them before the end of the third wall (coined by Tom Sloper of Sloperama)
  • Redeem jokers from another player’s hand to prevent someone else from benefitting; leave at least one joker amongst their exposures to avoid paying for a jokerless hand

Strategies for the END-GAME (drawing from the 4th wall)

If you are unable to win because the tiles you need are either in exposures or have already been discarded:

  • Do not claim discards for an exposure – it gives other players valuable information
  • Discard tiles that have been exposed or previously discarded; it’s best to discard number tiles where 3 are out (except Year tiles)
  • Discard jokers (jokers cannot be claimed)

Tournament Play (previous strategies apply)

  • Lose small (do not discard the winning tile)
  • Win big (play high scoring hands)
  • When 100% certain, call other players dead

Verbal, Physical, and Tile Tells

  • Never comment about your passes or hand
  • Control your facial expressions and body language
  • Change the way you arrange your tiles
  • Adjust your strategy based on observing other players:
    • Listen to what they say
    • Watch how they react to discards
    • Watch how they arrange their tiles
    • Note the types of hands they play
Strategy by Wall (Article ID 116)
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