Jewish Journal


September 20, 2010

Change Your Hand—-SOME CAVEATS


In my last posting I talked about common situations that necessitated changing your hand. Sometimes it can be a difficult decision. One discard can be the blow that finally upsets your well-made plan. And you need to quickly and quietly find a new one. Quickly, because holding up the play of the game is a clue that you don’t have a viable hand and quietly, because you do not want your opponents to know of your situation.

Here are some caveats.

Unseasoned players tend to lose confidence in their hands because one or two of their needed tiles are discarded, especially early in the game. Panic strikes and a frantic search for a new hand ensues—-unnecessarily. Hold on! Your hand is not dead—yet. The opportunities for you to complete your hand abound. It often happens that the player picks the missing tiles, picks Jokers, and/or exchanges Jokers from others’ (or your own) Exposures. Remember, there are four of each tile, eight Flowers and eight Jokers.  Don’t give up on your hand too soon. Be sure all your options are gone before you decide your hand needs to be changed.

Avoid excessive hand-changing.  Excessive hand-changing is when you pick a tile for one hand and change it, then pick another tile for another hand and change it, over and over. Changing the hand three or four times in a game is excessive and can lead to chaos and becomes almost impossible to make a firm decision about which hand to play.  By the time a final decision is reached, the tiles you need for the new hand have undoubtedly been discarded and it most likely there are not enough Wall tiles left for you to create a winning hand.

Keeping options open is reasonable and productive.  Having Plan B ready if Plan A fails is a good idea.  But having Plan C and Plan D and Plan E ready is not. I know it’s hard to abandon “maybe” hands. But having too many options available is counter-productive and deciding which hand has the best possibility for success can be overwhelming.

There are situations when you shouldn’t change your hand, even tho you may have acquired a few tiles for an alternative. When you already have seven, eight or nine tiles toward Mah Jongg for a hand you have chosen, stick with that hand and do not even think about the other.  You are already more than half-way toward Mah Jongg so why would you want to change? If you don’t need to change your hand, don’t. 

And a most important factor is timing.  Do you have enough picks from the Wall to create a winning hand?  If the game is about half-way over, it probably is reasonable to think about changing your hand. But once the third Wall is more than half-way gone you have maybe 7 or 8 picks left and it probably is too late. 

And check the discards.  How many of the tiles for your new hand are already discarded?

Weigh all these factors before you decide to change your hand. Do it only when you successfully can and if you must. If you can’t or shouldn’t, play defensively….

Til next time,


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