Monday, May 7, 2007

Mah-Jongg for Dummies: Part 4

Scoring in Mah-Jongg is probably the part that makes most newcomers toss their hands up and say, "Uncle!" Some variants, such as the US Air Force wives' rules, have a bewildering range of bonus scores. Others, like the Japanese rules, inflate the scores unnecessarily (though, I suppose, if money is at stake there may be a point to this after all). I say, keep it simple. And so, risking assassination, I propose going with the following scoring system, essentially as found in a set of Singapore rules I came across five years ago. My "for dummies" scoring system further simplifies things by dispensing with the "double wind" factor (seat wind vs. round wind). I am also not distinguishing between "fundamental points" and "addition bonuses" because I couldn't think of a way to do it without overtaxing the brain power of said "dummies."

You will need a pad & paper to figure out how many points you win or lose at the end of each game; however, score is not kept on paper, but using poker chips. (Some Mah-Jongg sets come with counting sticks that are used instead of chips, but let's not tax our puny brains too much.) Here are the general rules about paying the winner:
  • Each non-winning player pays the winner the total points and bonuses due to him, up to the maximum points, give or take penalties (see below).
  • East (the dealer) pays, and is paid, double.
  • The player whose discard is used by another player to win, pays the other players' share (see final section below for the Renchon exception to this).
  • Some rules have the other players counting their points and paying each other accordingly. This might seem to even the playing field, but without most of the bonuses (which presuppose a winning hand) it doesn't really make much difference, except to add a layer of complexity to the scoring process. I say, scotch it.
Before you can pay the winner, though, you must count the score. when you get "Mahjong" or a winning hand, you count your "Fundamental Points." Your Fundamental Points are, essentially, a combination of your score for Mah-Jongg, Eyes, Pungs, and Kongs. You get the following number of points for each of the following that you have in your hand:
  • Mah-Jongg (base score for a winning hand): 20
  • Eyes: honor tiles (wind or dragon): 2
  • Pung: middle numbers (2-8): 2 exposed, 4 hidden
  • Pung: honor tiles or terminal numbers (1, 9): 4 exposed, 8 hidden
  • Kong, middle: 8 exposed, 16 hidden
  • Kong, honor or terminal: 16 exposed, 32 hidden
  • Flower or Season tile: 4 each
  • Win by making an Eye or a Chow: 2
  • Win by drawing from wall: 2
  • If you have a hidden hand & win by picking up a discarded tile, & have no other bonus: 10
  • 7 Eyes (a possible winning hand): total score for the hand=100

After you have established the "fundamental score" of your hand, you then start applying the following bonuses. The awesome thing about these bonuses is that you multiply them by your score (rounded to the nearest 10) rather than merely adding them. So having a table of "powers of two" on hand might help speed things up. It also helps to bear in mind that "seat wind" means which wind you represent in the order of play; for example, West if you are the player across from the dealer. Remember that the Flower and Season tiles are numbered to correspond with the winds in the order E-S-W-N [East-Spring-Orchid; South-Summer-Bamboo; West-Autumn-Chrysanthemum; North-Winter-Plum].

  • Flower or Season tile corresponding to your seat wind (e.g., East if you are East): 2
  • Pung of your seat wind: 2
  • Pung of dragon tiles: 2
  • Chows & Eyes only, number tiles only, win by drawing discard: 2 (=40 total)
  • Entire hand of middle numbers: 2
  • No middle numbers: 2
  • Concealed hand, win by drawing from wall: 2
  • All letter tiles & one suit of number tiles: 2
  • Win with tile drawn from back of wall: 2
  • Win by drawing last available tile: 2
  • Win by drawing discarded last available tile: 2
  • Win by drawing discarded tile another player called for a Kong: 2
  • Win after declaring Riichi: 2
  • Sequence of 3 Chows of one suit: 2
  • 4 Pungs: 2
  • 2 hidden Pungs: 2
  • 3 Kongs: 2
  • 4 Pungs, 3 of them hidden: 4
  • 3 Pungs, win by drawing from wall: 4
  • 4 Chows, all middle numbers: 4
  • All number tiles of one suit: 8
  • 2 dragon Pungs & dragon Eyes: 8
  • All middle numbers of one suit: 16

The following bonuses automatically give a player a "maximum score" for the hand. The amount of a maximum hand can be established by the players before the game, but a good rule-of-thumb is 3000 for East (the dealer) and 2000 for all other players. Note that one of these "maximum hands" is 4 Kongs, though I earlier said 4 Kongs causes a game to draw. Actually, I should have said 4 Kongs causes a draw unless one player makes all of them; in which case, if any other player gets an additional Kong, the game draws. Some of these "maximum hands" represent out-of-the-ordinary ways to win, but believe me, I've kept these to a minimum.

  • All 4 Flowers or all 4 Seasons
  • East wins with his first 14 tiles
  • Another player wins with East's first discard
  • 3 Dragon Pungs
  • 4 Wind Pungs
  • 3 Wind Pungs and a Wind Eyes
  • All Pungs and Eyes made of 1's and 9's
  • All honor tiles
  • 4 hidden Pungs
  • 4 Kongs
  • Player holds a Pung of 1's, Pung of 9's, and 2-3-4-5-6-7-8 regardless of suit, then draws a tile making Eyes with one of the middle numbers.
  • Player holds 7 different honor tiles, plus 1 and 9 of each suit, then draws a tile making Eyes with any of the above.
  • Win 9th Renchon game (see final section below).

Here are some penalties that can be taken from a player's score for playing in bad form:

  • Renege on Mah-Jongg (declaring oneself the winner), unless corrected before other players show their hands: pay 250 points to each player, except East pays or is paid 500 points.
  • Renege on declaring a Pung or Chow, unless corrected before another player draws: unable to win
  • Delcared a Pung but did not expose it: 100 pts. to the winner
  • Impure hand (incorrect number of tiles): unable to win
  • Your discard is used by another player to win: pay other players' share to the winner
  • Your discard used by East to win a Renchon game: pay double the ante (see last section below)
  • Declared Riichi but did not win: 100 pts. to the winner
  • Win by failing to declare Furi Tem: half of maximum points (see last section below)

And finally, here are a couple of additional "kinks" that I found in the Japanese rules, and that seemed reasonable to me - if you're ready for them!

  • FURI TEM: This literally means "sacred discard." When a tile that you discarded earlier turns out to be the tile you need to win, you must declare “Furi Tem” in order to warn your opponents against discarding that tile. If you fail to make this declaration and then win by picking up the same tile when another player has discarded it, you forfeit half the Maximum Points as a penalty. You can avoid making this declaration if (a) you decide to win by drawing from the pile (without picking up discards) or (b) if you decide to look for a different tile to add to a different group of tiles. But even if you can choose a different tile to complete the same group of tiles, you must declare Furi Tem.
  • RENCHON: This is when the East wins, and continues his turn as East. Each successive hand after his first win, he places a chip on the table (as a counter only) and each of the other players bets an "ante" of 100 points per counter. So during the first Renchon game the losing players pay the winner 100 points each; during the second Renchon, 200 points; during the third, 300 points; and so on; the stakes go up as long as the same player continues to win. A player whose discard East uses to win must pay double the ante. If East wins the ninth Renchon game, he receives the Maximum Points. However, after the first game, East must have at least one bonus to win.

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