Musing on mahjong

Hands messing up with mahjong tiles

I had a delightful opportunity to play mahjong recently. My son has always been into the game, and my daughter also got into it recently. She’s been interested, but the game has been too hard for her. Now that she’s 12, she can play.

We were visiting my mother, who also plays, and while I had other games and we did play those, too, we mostly played mahjong. The other games just weren’t as good!

We ended up playing three sessions, with two cycles or eight hands per session (well, one of them was extended for a couple of extra hands because we didn’t want to stop). A few things come to mind.

First, out of the 27 hands we played, I won 13. Clearly, there’s skill involved in playing mahjong, and part of that skill is coming up with winning hands. I was the best in that part of the game.

However, in mahjong, it’s not the number of won hands that counts. If we total up the scores in all three games, I was dead last. The winner was my son, who won a total of two hands during all these games. One of those hands was Small Four Winds for 320 points.

To make it worse, I discarded the winning tile for him, so he earned 960 points, and I paid 900 points (in Zung Jung, everyone pays up to 30 points, and the player who discards the winning tile pays the rest). When almost all the other hands are in the 10–40 point range, that was enough.

So, in mahjong, you can aim high and rare or low and common. If you win often enough, the low scores may well be enough, but if the high-scoring players manage even one good winning hand – even 100+ points can be enough – the low scores won’t cut it.

Then again, if you do aim for high hands, you have to accept that you won’t win very often, and it may be you’ll just run out of time.

My daughter wasn’t happy about how rarely she won, but she played for fairly complex hands. I clearly need to teach her how to win more often.

In the last hand we played, she got a kong of her own wind from my first discard, and I then told her to aim for a quick exit, and she did that and won the hand. So that’s what she needs to do more if she’s annoyed at not winning hands.

I’m looking forward to more good times with my children and mahjong!

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