While rules are a necessary part of any game, sometimes they get in the way of the main objective — to have fun!
In Mah Jongg, the rule conundrum is more complicated than in most games, largely because of the complexity of Mah Jongg, but the real confusion lies in the fact that the game really has three sets of rules — the National Mah Jongg League Rules, Table Rules, and Tournament Rules.
When there are three different sets of rules floating around, of course there is confusion, and until we understand which rules belong in which category, we will probably continue to argue over certain recurring situations.
Using a political analogy, the National Mah Jongg League rules are like Federal laws—laws created at the national level that apply to all U.S. citizens. The U.S. Constitution forms the basis for federal law and preserves the basic rights of every citizen. In Mah Jongg, this is analogous to the NMJL card, their Mah Jongg Made Easy Guide, and any of their official Newsletter publications (those could be considered constitutional amendments if you want to take it that far…)
Then there are table rules—I liken them to state laws. Individual states create their own set of laws which apply to residents of that particular state. In other words, the table rules observed by your Monday night group might be very different from the table rules imposed by your Thursday afternoon group. It’s like crossing from California into Arizona. You better know if the speed limit has changed, or you might be pulled over and given a very expensive ticket.
A state law can afford more rights to its residents than federal law, but is not meant to reduce or restrict the rights of a U.S. citizen. In Maj, table rules can be added rules, possibly to make the game more interesting or challenging, but when a state law (table rule) is in direct conflict with a federal law (NMJL rules), the federal law prevails.
Now Tournament Rules are an entirely different animal, sometimes resembling a medieval monarchy, where laws are so stringent that you better watch your back at all times. In Shakespeare, when Richard III shouted “Off with his head” to Lord Hastings in the Tower of London, I could definitely relate. It reminded me of the time I played in a home tournament, and I touched the wrong end of the wall as I started to pick a tile, and was declared dead. I hadn’t even moved the tile—only touched it when the declaration of death was upon me. I felt like my guilty verdict was handed down by a kangaroo court.
And for such a small crime…
Now if Lord Hastings really was plotting to destroy Richard III, the King probably had a good reason to order his beheading. But I was simply trying to enjoy a day of Maj. I must say that after that incident, I realized that the stakes were high, and Maj tournaments were not for the faint of heart.
My next post will contain some specific examples of National Mah Jongg League Rules, Table Rules and Tournament Rules.
Bottom line, just have fun. If you find yourself taking the game too seriously, try singing some Broadway Tunes during your next Maj game. You might be amazed that you can play and sing at the same time!