Mah Jongg Strategies To Live By – Safe Tiles

When you first learn to play American Mah Jongg, it is all about learning, rules, the names of the tiles, the suits, the Charleston, and dragons to suit partnerships. Once you’ve learned the rules it is vital to put some good strategy to work. So, let’s learn Mah Jongg with Strategy. 

Strategy Lesson #1: HOLD ONTO SAFE TILES! 


As a teacher, I not only want to teach the proper way to learn the game but also to explain how to become a good player. If you already play the game, my goal is to show you how to become a stronger player with strategy. 

One of the essential strategies to me is what I refer to as the SAFE TILE strategy. I teach this in my book, Unlocking the Secrets of American Mah Jongg,. This strategy, if used correctly, can give you a powerful advantage towards the end of a game. 

Safe Tiles defined:

Most safe Tiles are ones that you end up with after the Charleston and usually an indication that no one needed them. One example is the Winds that no one wanted.  Safe Tiles can also be tiles picked during the game. In other words, based on what has already been discarded and or is already exposed, it can be ascertained that a tile you pick may be safe. For example, you pick up a 6 Crak and there are already 3 6 Craks on the table. In this case, chances are pretty good the 6 Crak you picked, is a Safe Tile. 

What is the Usual Course of Business?

In almost all the games I play in, Safe Tiles, get discarded as soon as the game begins. I watch as all the winds, one after another, East, West, South, North, another East, West, etcetera, tell a story on the table. And of course, someone will acknowledge, “I guess no one wanted those!” Obviously, right? So, if no one wanted those tiles, so why are you getting rid of them? 

 Consider this?

Plan your Safe Tile strategy early by holding onto them. Give yourself some ammunition so that you have Safe Tiles to discard later on that no one needs?

Teaching the Safe Tile Strategy:

The other day, I was teaching an Advanced Beginner class online at the  School of American Mah Jongg. During day 1 of the 2-class session, I ask, “How many of you know what a Safe Tile is?” I hear a few guesses, but rarely do I hear the right answer. 

From the get-go, the students are confused. One student asks, “But, if no one needs them, why don’t I just get them out right away?” And of course, I proceed to explain this strategy concept again and again until I get a glimmer of, “Oh yes, I think I understand now.” 

Safe Tiles in Action During a Game:

  • Player A saves four safe tiles and is five tiles away from Mah Jongg after the Charleston. She also has one joker in her hand. 
  • During the game, Player A picks a tile from the wall she does not need and discards it (Fresh Tile Strategy covered in an upcoming blog) 
  • As luck would have it, Player A picks a joker and discards one of her Safe Tiles. 
  • The game continues, and at the point, there are approximately ¾ of a wall left. Player B has two exposures up, Player C has 2 Exposures up, and Player D, 1 Exposure up. 
  • It is apparent what Player B and C need based on what’s been discarded. Player D’s hand is not. 
  • Next round, Player A picks again and picks a tile needed for her hand. She discards another one of the Safe Tiles. She has 2 Safe Tiles left.
  • Play continues another round and back to Player A, who picks another tile she needs for her hand. She discards another Safe Tile and has 1 Safe Tile left. 
  • Player C calls and exposes. She now has 3 Exposures. 
  • During the next round, Player B voices she has just picked what could be Player C’s Mah Jongg tiles and openly (against all strategy) breaks up her hand.
  • With approximately 16 tiles left in the wall, and Player D calls a tile and exposes. She then realizes she has only hot tiles to discard in her hand. She takes a chance and discards, she is lucky, no one needed it for Mah Jongg. 
  • Next round., Player A picks another tile into her hand, discards her last safe tile and is now on call for Mah Jongg. 
  • Player D picks another tile; she is pretty sure it is hot. She decides based on what is out she probably can’t make Mah Jongg, breaks up her hand, and discards a Joker.
  • Player A has no exposures up, and it is not obvious what she needs; however, she knows two players have already broken up their hands and now has a shot at picking her Mah Jongg tile or someone throwing it. She reaches for her next pick, praying luck will be on her side, but it is not. The tile she picks is one that Player C would have needed, but Player C already let it be known she broke up her hand. Player A safely discards the tile. 
  • The final round is coming up with Player A’s last shot at picking her Mah Jongg tile or someone throwing it. 
  • Player D picks a tile from the wall, scans the table. She has no jokers in her hand, so she decides to discard a 9 Crak as there were already three on the table. 
  • Player A declares, “That’s Mah Jongg!”

I’m sure you already have your thinking gears moving quickly, and you know as well as I know that this could have played out very differently. Indeed, it could have! Mah Jongg is a game where luck weighs more on the game than skill. The game can change immensely based on one’s picking.

However, using the Safe Tile strategy helped Player A win that game. As with many strategies, they can put the odds in your favor of winning or teach you how not to give another player Mah Jongg. It’s just one more tool to add to your arsenal of becoming a stronger and more defensive player. 

Please check out my book  Unlocking the Secrets of American Mah Jongg where you can learn Mah Jongg with strategy. Also visit the newest in futuristic learning at my online school, School of American Mah Jongg.

Happy Mahjongging, everyone!

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Debbie Colby

    I enjoyed this blog entry about safe tiles because it confirmed that I am using good strategy by saving safe tiles for discarding later in the game.

    1. Debbie Barnett Author

      Good for you! It’s not always going to work but it certainly helps when you have them!

  2. Patricia H

    Thanks Debbie. I just learned my first lesson from you concerning Safe Tiles

    1. Debbie Barnett Author

      I’m so happy! Remember these strategies don’t always work but the more you can put into play the better a player you will become! Wishing you lots of fun around the mahj table!

  3. Helen Jones Fraser

    Really enjoyed the thought process behind you safe tile examples. Please share more strategies.

    1. Debbie Barnett Author

      So glad you enjoyed it! Yes, I will be doing a few blogs a week on strategy! Keep a look out!

  4. Rhiannon Smith

    thank you so much for being a teacher, for this blog, I have your book and have finished most of it. you are an excellent teacher and writer.

    1. Debbie Barnett Author

      Thank you Rhiannon for the kind words. I really appreciate it. I’m so happy you are enjoying the blogs and my book!

  5. Tina

    Love this nugget of information! I remember reading about this in your awesome book. Totally understood the concept and began using it immediately: Thx so much Debbie. It’s genius 😉

    1. Debbie Barnett Author

      Fantastic Tina! Glad you are putting this strategy to work in real life! 🙂

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