Though the tiles received in the dealt hand are obviously important for determining your initial goal, it is not so rare that a player ends up winning with a hand where most of the tiles of the MJ have been picked from the wall or from other players’ discards. So do not conclude that a bad deal must mean your chances of winning are poor.
The better you know the rules, particularly what scores most and what special hands are possible, the more proficient you will be at collecting good hands. It’s worth reminding yourself of the more obscure special hands and what can give you a double before each session.
Have a copy of the playing aid to hand so that you can check up on this during the game.
Although luck plays a large part, the art of saving is all about understanding the probabilities of obtaining the hand you desire at any stage in the game. Experienced players are constantly evaluating this from what has already been discarded or punged/konged and from deducing what others are trying to achieve.
Saving for anything worthwhile will usually have risks associated with it. You need to try to cultivate an understanding of the probabilities of achieving a given hand as the game develops. It’s something beginners are sometimes fearful of, so they tend to bomb out with a low scoring hand. Try not to be too timid.
East Wind always pays and receives double the score, so one clearly needs to take this into account while trying to construct a hand. But try not to be too fearful of being East Wind. Rather see it as an opportunity to gain something from your opponents.
On the other hand, if you can see another player is heading for a high score (and you are rather weak) it’s better to go for a quick MJ and survive as East Wind for the next game (when you may have a better chance of winning).
If you are not East Wind and he seems to be doing rather well, you need to pay attention to that.
It’s worth looking for the potential of a hand to be a good one and having the patience to save for that, but also you sometimes need to accept that luck is against you this time and aim to minimize the damage.
Bear in mind that a pung/kong of Dragons will give you a double, so they are usually worth hanging on to until you can see that getting a set has become hopeless.
Make sure you know your own Wind. A pung/kong of this will give you a double.
Make sure you know the prevailing Wind [d]. It may not be East.
If your Wind is the prevailing Wind, a pung/kong is worth two doubles to you.
Note that a kong is worth four times the pung equivalent. For example, an exposed minor pung is worth 2 but an exposed minor kong is worth 8. Kongs of major tiles are very valuable, especially if they are concealed.
Make sure that you know all the special hands and try to assess your chances of achieving one as the game progresses.
If you are saving Bamboos, bear in mind “Imperial jade” if you are deciding which of two Bamboo tiles to discard.
If All pair honours is a possibility think carefully before you pung. If you have three of a set in your hand, then pick up the fourth from the wall, don’t immediately declare a kong.
If you are saving for “The thirteen unique wonders”, consider converting it to All pair honours if you start to get pairs.
If you are close to getting all the three Dragons, bear in mind “The three great scholar”s.
If you are making kongs from different suits, think of “Fourfold plenty”.
If you are trying to save for “The wriggling snake” or “The thirteen unique wonders”, be wary of others’ kongs.
Avoiding a dirty hand
A clean hand gives you another double and is usually a good thing to go for as a matter of course. But it is worth bearing in mind that there are other ways (somewhat more difficult) of forming a double, such as a concealed hand and a hand of all majors/honours.
If you already have a number of other doubles in your hand (e.g. your own Flower/Season, Dragons, your own Wind, prevailing Wind) then it might be more sensible to go for an easier dirty hand.
If you have a pair from a suit you do not want, make it the last of that suit that you discard.
It’s worth trying to keep your options open as the game progresses and assessing your position relative to your original aim. Is it now realistic? Is a better hand now possible?
However, a radical change of direction might leave you at a disadvantage, for you have thereby lost previous opportunities to choose tiles that would have fitted your new plan.
Try to assess the chances of completing your MJ as the size of the wall diminishes. One wall represents about 9 tiles for you.
Normally it’s wise to avoid a chow as it scores nothing and deprives you of a double.
However, if the appropriate tiles are in your hand, it’s worth choosing your discards so as to keep the chow option alive for as long a possible. For example, if you have a 2, 3, 4 and 8 of Bamboo – none of which you really want – discard the 8 first. Likewise, if you have a 2, 3 and 8.
Should someone then go fishing early you would have a better chance of a simple MJ.
Saving for the special hand of Triple Knitting can be tricky, unless you adopt the appropriate rack organisation.
I have found that the following procedure works well.
- Place sets of three on the extreme left, followed by sets of two – leaving singles to the right.
- Within these categories, order the tiles numerically (1s or 9s to the left).
- Keep the suits in the same order with a set – (say) Character, Circle, Bamboo.
- Adjust your tiles to keep to this pattern as you progress towards a MJ.