Miscellaneous questions

Q. How long does a Mah-Jong game last?

A. I generally reckon about 15 – 25 minutes.

Q. When should a Mah-Jong session end?

A. Normally it depends on the time you have.

Officially, a Mah-Jong session ends when all four Winds have been the prevailing Wind and each player has been East Wind for each prevailing Wind. This is a minimum of 16 games – taking at least 4 hours (I would guess). So a session normally ends at a mutually agreed time.

Q. What does “Wash” and “Wash-out” mean?

A. “Wash” means “shuffle”. A “Wash out” is a drawn game.

Two players (usually South and North) wash (shuffle) the tiles. This is known as the “twittering of the sparrows”.
When East judges that they have been washing sufficiently then he calls “Pow!”

Q. How do you pronounce Mah-Jong? Is it “Mah-Jong” or “Mah-Yong”?

A. I don’t have an authoritative answer for this. But I’ve got used to pronouncing it with a soft “j” – something between a hard “j” (as in “John”) and a “y” as in “yonder”. I can’t think of an English word equivalent.

I forwarded the question (and my answer) to Gwyn Headley and Yvonne Seeley and received the following reply:

“A good question. It seems that we pronounce it in the same way and I’m convinced that Yong is wrong. Our best guess is that the western spelling (and hence the usual pronunciation) comes from visitors to the east – Singapore, Hong Kong etc. – who saw people playing and transcribed what they heard as Jong. If they’d heard anything else it would always have been spelled Yong. A quick online search seems to bear this out!”

Q. What is “Mahjong Solitaire”?

A. This is a tile-matching game which can be played by one person (sometimes two), but bears no relationship to any traditional Mah-Jong game, except that it makes use of the same tiles.

For more information see Wikipedia or search online.

Q.  Various groups near me, with their different house rules, allow a player to pick up the previous player’s discard. I can find no written reference to this. Is this a rule that you are aware of?

A.  I can only tell you what the BMJA rules say, which is that the discarded tile cannot be picked up by the next  person unless it is being claimed as a chow, pung or kong – or for Mah-Jong.

I am aware of this rule and have played many games using it. The club that I belong to adopted it early on when learning the game, though it adheres to all the other BMJA rules. The early editions of my website/book did actually suggest this rule as a variation.

The rule does make it easier to collect a higher scoring hand – and increases the chance of forming a special hand. However, there are some downsides.

One particular problem is that it makes the special hands of Knitting and Double Knitting a lot easier to collect – with little that the player to the left can do to frustrate this. Moreover, the player to the right benefits from all the discarded honour tiles, which is unfair to the other two players.

House rules, besides having unanticipated consequences which sometimes distract from the essential pleasure of the game and can cause problems when you try to play outside your own circle. It’s something which the BMJA rules set out to try and call a halt to.