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a3geffen's Hints and Pointers – first discard

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There are quite a number of manuals on the basics of how to play a game of mahjong. The amount on strategy and tactics however is limited. Mahjong Time has asked Adrie van Geffen (a3geffen) to share his views in that territory. In the year 2011 he will publish a series of articles with hints and pointers having to do with strategy of mahjong in the different styles (except American): Hong Kong (HK); European Classic (EC); Mahjong Competition Rules (MCR); Riichi Competition Rules (RCR); Taiwanese (TW). Below part 7 – first discard

You are (sitting) at East and you have fourteen tiles. The question has been put to me: which should be discarded? The one sentence obvious answer to this is of course: ‘That depends’. Logical subsequent question: ‘On what?’


There are several aspects to take into account: your chances to make mahjong; near sets; scoring chances; flexibility; defense; variant (or style). And perhaps some more.

When you are playing EC then everything goes. But you will take into account that winds and dragons score more heavily than other sets. Therefore you will discard a loose tile, one not immediately to be used in a pung or chow. In HK you will have to take other things in consideration. Playing for half flush is popular if not necessary. Discarding a color gives information to your opponents. Besides that players tend to copy discards which will mean that in the end everyone is on the same color and using valuable winds and dragons to complete the half flush hand. Chances on how you will get your 3 fan are becoming important. So you will have to check the distribution of flowers immediately. Next thing is the check on your winds and dragons: are you going for a hand with a pung of them or not. If so, then choose your color. Is it a hand with lots of doubles then go for all pungs or 7 pairs. The loose tile is the one to discard, preferably a colored tile between 2 and 8. When the player next chows, that will be valuable information (half flush, all chows with flowers or self drawn). Playing TW you have the same problem and the same solution, albeit that in TW the chances that a discard will be chowed are a little higher. More tiles to make sets with and only 3 points required in the hand to make mahjong (other 3 points are automatically available for making mahjong and having none or one flower).


RCR and MCR hang on patterns. But RCR gives the opportunity to make the demanded yaku by getting a pung of seat wind, prevalent wind or a dragon. Usually one or more players are waiting for that chance, although the score will be low most of the time. (As a note: the one who can use this wind or dragon may be wise not to do so immediately but wait for the last one to be discarded; besides that the pair could be used as closing eyes or even as safe discards further on in the game). In MCR the number of combinations with winds and dragons is limited and pungs of them certainly limit the flexibility. Also from defensive point of view – showing your opponents which way you are going – the early discards will be dragons and winds, both in RCR and MCR. If another player claims them then you at least you know you haven’t waited for a next one in vain, you have information about what your opponents are up to and you haven’t discarded it to find out it was the winning tile. So whenever in doubt what to throw first: lose the dragons and winds, especially those that will give less (MCR) or no (RCR) score.

Written by Adrie van Geffen

To comment visit Mahjong Time's blog:
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