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Subject: Mah-jong with Chinese friend's parents rss

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B Randall
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Those who have read my posts relating to Xiangqi will remember my Chinese friend, CF. CF's elderly parents are now visiting her for about a year, and it turns out her mother is a mah-jong enthusiast. One of her biggest worries about leaving China was that she wouldn't be able to play mah-jong. CF naturally thought of me and my game-geekiness, and DH and I are now playing mah-jong weekly with CF's parents. This is strictly the Chinese version -- none of the American additions, not even arabic numerals! Before our first game I spent considerable time reviewing the Chinese characters for the digits 1 - 9, so I could put together sequences of the "wan" suit, and I was very glad I did. To my surprise, even the suits with no characters, like "tiao" (sticks) and "bing" (dots), were quite hard to read. If I didn't concentrate, I could easily confuse the 6s and 9s. All the tile designs take a little getting used to.

CF's mother speaks only Mandarin Chinese, with a Hunan accent, but her father speaks some English. I speak about three words of Mandarin, with the tones wrong, and DH speaks somewhat more than that. For our first game CF sat with us and translated, but since then we've mostly been on our own. This has been a great example of how games can bring people together. Under almost any other circumstances, it would be very awkward and uncomfortable to spend this much time with CF's parents, because of the language barrier. But when we're playing mah-jong, a good time is had by all.

The most important aspect of mah-jong to me is its aesthetic quality, which adds immensely to my enjoyment of the game. The tiles are beautiful to look at, they feel heavy in the hand, and they even sound beautiful when you clack them together. Aesthetically, it's pretty much the opposite of Go. Where Weiqi has a minimalist, austere beauty, mah-jong has a bright, elaborate quality that reminds me of the kind of decoration you see in a big Chinatown restaurant. You can see how Weiqi is the game of aristocrats and scholars, and mah-jong is the game of the people.

I won't review the rules here, except to say that it's basically a form of rummy. The two aspects that DH and I haven't mastered at all are the scoring (baroque), and the special hands (mysterious). I managed to win with one of the special hands (seven pairs), but every time we play with CF's parents, one or the other will exclaim "hoh-le!" ("I've done it!") and triumphantly display a hand that neither DH nor I can make head or tail of. Last week it was a sequence with some pattern of gaps, and this week it was a hand containing all 1s, 4s, 7s, and 8s (if I remember correctly). I haven't found these hands on the web, but I've got some books on the way from Amazon, and I'm hoping one of them will lift the fog a bit.
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Ben Wang
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In Chinese Mah Jong, you can with any hand consist of three of a kind, four of a kind, or a straight with exactly 3 cards and one pair(the eye). You can also win with special hands. I guess you are playing 13 tile version of mah jong because you have won with with 7 pairs.
 
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Laurence Koehn
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Thanks for sharing your session report. It reminds me of the first time I played Mah-Jongg.

I first learned about Mah-Jongg by reading about it in the encyclopedia as a child. It struck me then as mysterious and intriguing, and far more exotic than Monopoly or even Chinese Checkers (although the article most likely concentrated on the NMJL version). I knew that some day I would have to play.

Many years later, as a graduate student, my advisor invited his research group over to his house. Four of the other group members set up a game of Mah-Jongg (as they were from at least three different countries - China, Thailand, and Singapore - I'm not sure how they came to a concensus on rules), and I knew I'd found my chance. They very gamely consented to my request to play, teaching me the characters for digits 1-9 and north, south, east, and west, and translating the terminology the best they could (though they found something very amusing in the way I pronounced "pung" ). We played a very simple version with no special hands (in fact, one guy went out with a special hand, and was promptly scolded by the other two for doing so while playing with a newb -- heck, we weren't even keeping score).

A few years after that, my wife and I went to Victoria, BC, on our honeymoon, and picked up a cheap Mah-Jongg set in Chinatown, there, as well as Dieter Kohnen's book on the game. (Kohnen's description is approximately classical Chinese rules and scoring, but with only a few special hands.) We play two handed (which lacks some of the excitement of the proper game), and have attempted to introduce the game to friends and family on a couple of occassions, with little success. Lately I've been studying Zung Jung rules and I've downloaded Four Winds to play against the computer. We've also found another couple that enjoy games, and we've arranged to teach them Mah-Jongg in the near future. Fingers crossed.

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Hertzog van Heerden
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It's great when games cut across cultures! I'm currently playing a lot of Lexio games with some of my Korean friends. Great fun :-)

The hands you refer to with the 1,4 and 7s are referred to as 'Knitted Hands', where one suit goes '1,4,7', another suit '2,5,8' and the last one '3,6,9'.

So in effect, it's like reading a numeric keypad vertically as opposed to horizontally, and is referred to as a 'Knitted Straight'.

You may also supplement gaps in these configurations if the entire rest of your hand consists of single honor tiles (that is, dragons and winds) and is referred to as 'Knitting with Honors' (Either Greater or Lesser). E.g. Bams : 1,4,7; Cracks (Wans) : 2,8; Dots : 6,9; and one each of the honor tiles.

The book you are looking for is called the Takeshobo rulebook, and was released as a brochure-style booklet, or can be downloaded from http://www.mahjongnews.com/comj.htm (Just use the download option at the top of the page).

The hands may seem overwhelming at first, but there's a definite pattern to scoring, and you can practice scoring basic hands at www.mahjong-o-matic.com. Also, knowing the irregular hands can really mess with an opponent's strategy.

Happy gaming!



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Henri Huttunen
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Hertzog wrote:

The hands may seem overwhelming at first, but there's a definite pattern to scoring, and you can practice scoring basic hands at www.mahjong-o-matic.com. Also, knowing the irregular hands can really mess with an opponent's strategy.

Happy gaming!


Not only is this session report with its multicultural aspect great, this thread is also finest of examples about what makes bbg such a great place.

You got gamers around the globe and (at least almost) every game listed here is bound to be played by some of the users, so anytime you have a gaming troubles, help is at arms reach - especially if you happen to sit next to your computer!
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B Randall
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Wow! Thanks for the helpful and clear description of the special hands. I will definitely check out your links. -- Beth.
 
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Hertzog van Heerden
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You're welcome! I'm confident the links have the answers you need. You might also want to visit Tom Sloper's excellent site dedicated to Mahjong (www.sloperama.com), where there's a thorough explanation of differing systems of scoring.

The system I prefer (and the sites I mentioned before) is considered Chinese Official.

Have fun!

 
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