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Dead Mah Jongg Hand: Tips to Make It Easy to Change Your Hand

Abby Slutsky has been playing Mah Jongg for more than 25 years and has been teaching it for 14 years. She has also organized tournaments.

Select a hand that allows you to use jokers in all parts of the sequence. If a number goes dead, you may get additional tiles that keep your hand alive.

Select a hand that allows you to use jokers in all parts of the sequence. If a number goes dead, you may get additional tiles that keep your hand alive.

During the 14 years I have been teaching Mah Jongg, my students constantly struggle with how to change their Mah Jongg hand when their hand becomes dead or virtually impossible to complete. Sometimes their tiles are discarded by others before they can pick them, and other times someone else may expose the tiles they need. No matter why the hand becomes dead, it can be challenging to find a new one. Here are some tricks to make it easier to change your hand when it becomes dead.

Depending on the tiles picked, this player can play this hand two ways. Thus, there is some protection against the hand  becoming dead.

Depending on the tiles picked, this player can play this hand two ways. Thus, there is some protection against the hand becoming dead.

Select a Hand That is Easy to Change

When you are initially dealt your Mah Jongg hand, it is unlikely that a hand will jump out at you to play. More than likely, you will feel that you have been dealt trash, or you may have a few loose possibilities that may become potential hands. New Mah Jongg players do not tend to think about the possibility of needing to change their hands when they initially select them. However, if you are a new player, you should think about your ability to change your hand when you select it. Advanced planning makes you better prepared.

Qualities That Make a Mah Jongg Hand Easy to Change

1. Hands Offering Flexibility to Change Numbers

Look for hands that give you the flexibility to change numbers. In particular, card categories ‘Like Numbers’ and ‘Consecutive Run’ hands offer many tile sequences that allow you to change numbers to complete the hands, Often it will just be a matter of changing one additional number to revitalize your hand.

2. Choose a Joker-Friendly Hand

In other words, choose a hand that permits you to use jokers in every part of the sequence. If another player exposes the number and suit you need or the tile becomes dead, you have given yourself the possibility of choosing extra tiles (jokers) to complete that part of the sequence.

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3. Don't Limit Yourself to Choosing Just One Hand

At the beginning of the game, you are not obligated to choose just one hand to play. Often new players are so focused on the hand they initially pick that they do not bother to choose an alternate hand. If your hand is not very strong, keep an eye on your Mah Jongg card to identify more than one hand option. You may not need to commit to a single hand until you become certain that you can complete it.

After the mish, when play begins, try to keep tiles that will work for an alternate hand even if you are initially playing one hand. It is easiest to play two hands in the same section, but your chosen tiles will dictate which hand you decide to play as your alternate. Delaying your decision about which hand to play makes it easy to decide on a new hand because you will already have a foundation for a second hand if your Mah Jongg hand becomes dead.

Other Suggestions That Can Help You Change Your Mah Jongg Hand

1. Unless You Are Exposing a Natural Sequence, Don't Commit Too Early

Committing too early can encourage other players to throw the tiles they think you need at the beginning of the game. Sometimes it may be better to wait, especially if you will be giving other players the opportunity to exchange for a joker. Of course, if you have a very strong hand, committing early may not cause a problem.

2. Don't Disregard Pairs and Quint Hands When Finding a New Mah Jongg Hand

Many new players assume that quint and pair hands are too difficult, so they ignore those parts of the Mah Jongg card. However, if you have some jokers and you have multiple tiles of some consecutive numbers, you may be able to create a quint hand. Similarly, if you have a lot of pairs in your hand, and your hand goes dead, you may be able to switch to a pairs hand. If some of the tiles that you need are out, you only have to pick one or two to meet the requirements of your new hand.

Remember, it is important to keep practicing Mah Jongg in order to improve. These tips and tricks boil down to thinking about the possibility of getting into trouble with your hand before you do. As you watch your opponents, increase your familiarity with the Mah Jongg card, and open up your hand options, you will find that it becomes simple to change your Mah Jongg hand.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Abby Slutsky

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