Jewish Journal


by Elaine Sandberg

July 19, 2010 | 2:20 pm

                                                      LUCK VS SKILL

The references to Luck abound in our idiomatic language—Lucky Louie, the Luck of the Irish, Lady Luck, he/she’s got all the Luck, Lucky in Love, etc., etc., etc.

What is Luck?  Fate?  The Law of Averages? Randomness?? I don’t have an answer. In Mah Jongg, I have heard it said by countless numbers of people the game is all Luck.  As a teacher of the game and a player of the game, I beg to differ.  The game is not all Luck.

Yes, Luck, or whatever you want to call it, plays a part, especially when you first take a peek at your tiles.  You have no control over that aspect of the game.  But from there on you do have a great deal of control.  It’s your ability and skill and sometimes guile that controls the choices you make about all the other aspects of the game –from what tiles you pass in the Charleston, what tiles you keep, what hand to pursue, whether or not to change your hand and to which hand, the discards you make, the Exposures, whether you play defensively, and so on.

To prove my point that skills play a greater role than Luck in Mah Jongg, I note that there are players who generally win, fairly consistently. People refer to them—they a say   “She’s a great player”.  What makes a “great” player? It can’t be just Luck.  We’ve all experienced the fleeting nature of Luck.

It must be something else. It is. It’s the number one skill—a thorough knowledge of the hands on the card.  There are many players who can play quite successfully without referring to the card. Yes, they mostly memorize the hands.  They are able to accurately assess what information the Exposures of others reveal and modify their play accordingly. They keep a very close account of the discards, and are fully aware of the nuances of their opponents.  And they play a strong defensive game, which some players describe as “tough”.  Mah Jongg is very competitive—you do everything you can to win and everything you can to keep the others from winning.  That’s the challenge of the game and what makes it such fun to win and such dismay when you lose.  And, last, but not the least, there’s Experience, which some say is the best teacher….

Even as I believe the skills a player possesses is the most important factor in winning, there’s a little voice inside that says


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A kid from Brooklyn, a graduate of Syracuse University and an immigrant to California via Palo Alto, San Juan Capistrano, finally, Los Angeles, I have been here for the past 15...

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