Debbie Barnett

Mah Jongg Strategies to Live By – Jokers!

Strategy Lesson #3: Oh NO, Jokers!

It is time to learn more Mah Jongg Strategy! I love the Joker strategy we are about to dive into and hope that you will start to put this into play as often as possible. I discuss this Joker strategy as well as others in my book, Unlocking the Secrets of American Mah Jongg. This nifty strategy is another excellent tool to keep in your strategy box.

I also love hearing your stories of how you’ve put some new strategies to work, especially when the strategy has helped you win. A big thumbs up and kudos to you for adding something new to level up your game! Of course, using strategy doesn’t work all the time, but it sure does add texture and depth to a game as well as increase your odds of winning.

The definition of a Joker Tile in American Mah Jongg:

A Joker is like a wild card in card games. In American Mah Jongg a Joker can be used to complete a pung, kong, quint, or sextet but can NEVER be used as a single tile as in 2 0 1 9 or N E W S or as part of a pair such as two Flowers, two Dragons, etc.

 How to Put the Joker Strategy to Work: 

 Let’s say this is what your hand looks like: F 2J22 33J3 4444. You are on call for Mah Jongg and waiting on a Flower. It’s your turn, and you pick up a Joker. What do you do? I can tell you from my observations time and time again with some of the most seasoned players that your answer will be, “I discard the Joker.” If I ask, “Why?” Your answer will be, “Because I don’t need it, I have everything except a Flower.”

My next question is, how do you name the Joker when you discard it? Again, I’ve found even seasoned players name it Joker! Although we know that everyone is responsible for looking at what is discarded, there are times players aren’t paying attention and might miss the thrown Joker. I’ve experienced that myself and of course, I make mistakes, we all do at times. Suddenly, I see a Joker on the table, and I say to myself, “When was that thrown?” Now, I don’t know who threw it . . . my loss and their gain. Instead of taking chances and drawing attention to a discarded Joker, naming it “same” makes the most sense to me.

Let’s get back to the example hand above, it’s your turn, and you’ve picked up a Joker. Instead of throwing the Joker, why not keep it? To help understand this smart strategy, ask yourself this question, “What happens when I or someone else throws a Joker on the table?” Your answer will most likely be, “I know, and everyone else knows that the player is waiting on a single tile or one or both tiles toward a pair!”

Now consider this instead. Place the Joker in one of your already completed Kongs. Rather than throwing the Joker, throw one of the natural tiles instead! And, the result is . . . no one is alerted to the fact that you are waiting on a single tile or one or two toward a pair. Yep . . . Psych out! You just pulled the wool over their eyes with this easy to use Joker strategy.

 Other Joker Considerations: 

  • If you are going for a Jokerless hand, you have no other alternative than to discard a Joker.
  • On the fence about sticking to a Jokerless hand? Hold onto them if you have additional tiles to discard instead. This way, you can decide to switch to a nonJokerless hand if you so choose. Especially if you are not in the Singles and Pairs Family.
  • You have committed to a Jokerless hand and need one tile to get on call for Mah Jongg. As luck would have, but not the type of luck you want, you start picking one Joker after another. Now, what are your options?
    • Count the discarded tiles to see how many of the ones you need are already on the table.
    • Consider the odds of your making the hand. If they are pretty good, I’d be all in and commit to making the Jokerless hand. If your chances are slim to none, you might consider switching to another hand.
  • Have fun with the game. Take chances. There is nothing more exciting than winning a Jokerless hand. Especially one in the Singles and Pairs family. Even more impressive is if the win is self-picked. Then you deserve an even bigger shout out and a WOOT-WOOT!
  • Throwing a Joker might be necessary if it the only safe tile to throw.

 I invite you all to check out the newest in online learning at the School of American Mah Jongg, where you can also learn Mah Jongg Strategy by taking one of my strategy classes.  You can also message me through my website to schedule a free class tour.

Happy Mahjongging, Everyone!

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6 responses to “Mah Jongg Strategies to Live By – Jokers!”

  1. Carol Tuchman says:

    Enjoy this strategy of discarding a tile from your kong and replacing it with a joker. I am at the stage of my play that I really need strategy tips. Thanks Debbie👍

    • Debbie Barnett Author says:

      So happy I can help Carol! Remember it is not just in a kong. It can also be done with a pung! 🙂

  2. Shelly Magid says:

    Great tip…thanks Debbie,

  3. Ray wenneker says:

    Enjoyed speaking with you today. Look forward to our session together. Great strategic move even though only two of our players are this astute.

    • Debbie Barnett Author says:

      OH MY! And, I suppose you don’t want to let them in on this so you can keep the edge?? Looking forward to showing you the classroom too! Feel better Ray!!

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