By Philippe and Julie, ilovemahj.com
It’s that time of year again when we all get to start over! The NMJL 2023 cards are arriving in mailboxes all over the country, and there’s a sense of excitement and anticipation in the Mah Jongg community.
No matter how many years you’ve been playing, or your level of experience, learning the new card each year can be tough and somewhat intimidating. That’s where we step in… Our aim is to make getting to grips with the new card as easy and as fast as possible! Plus, all this learning is absolutely fabulous for our brains!
Before we dive in, let's just clarify the way we'll represent hands in this article.
- Hands will be labeled as <section>/<line><version> (eg: CR/5b represents the second version of Consecutive Run, line 5)
- Hand patterns will be shown by the number of tiles in each meld (eg: pung-pung-kong-kong will be shown as 3-3-4-4)
The 2023 card is a little more conventional than the 2022 card. There's a return of some classic hands and more consistent patterns. But, there are also a few interesting new hands.
Addition Hands are back this year. More on this section later!
"2023" can also be found in the Winds - Dragons category, in addition to the 2023 section of the card, and the "Big Hand" is back in its rightful place in Singles and Pairs.
The Winds - Dragons section is interesting, with excellent flexibility between hands.
Overall, the new card is very playable, with great switchability between hands and sections.
The instructions for each hand on this year’s card are pretty clear. However, there are still a few areas where further clarification would be helpful and we highlight these below:
- 2023/3: The note is a bit confusing, but the League has confirmed that while the dragons can match the suit used for “2023”, the 2 pungs of dragons need to be different suits
- 2023/4: The pair of 2s has to be in a different suit than the 222 33 part of the hand (since this is shown in a different color)
- 2468/2: Both kongs can be either 2s, 4s, 6s or 8s
- Addition Hands: Only the numbers shown can be used
- CR/5: Any consecutive numbers can be used
- 369/5: Both kongs must use the same number, in a different suit (and those suits need to be different from the 3 66 999 part of the hand)
There are 70 hands printed on the 2023 National Mah Jongg League card (4 more than last year). However, when expanded to all permutations for each hand, the total number is 756 hands (around a 25% reduction from 2022).
The Consecutive Run section has the most hand variations. Quints is the second largest (only 3 hands on the card, but 159 hand possibilities).
Hands are 25 or 30 points, unless the hand is in the Quints or Singles & Pairs sections of the card (where points range between 40 and 75). This year there are eight non-concealed 30-point hands, last year there were only six.
Eight hands have been carried over from the 2022 card. These are: 2468/2, CR/5a and b, 13579/1a and b, 13579/3a and b and SP/5
The 13 concealed hands printed on the card translates to 120 potential concealed hand options (~16% of total hands).
This year the use of Dragons, Easts and Wests is much lower than last year. Of the number tiles, 1s are the least used, whereas 3s and 6s appear most often (over 10% each). Therefore, competition for these number tiles will be the highest. Keep that in mind when making Charleston or discard decisions.
Overall, there is a good variety of patterns this year, with a mix of old-faithfuls and some new, interesting variations.
The most common patterns this year are:
- 3-4-3-4 pattern with 9 printed hands, 111 hands in total (2023/1, 2468/3a and b, CR/2a and b, CR/6, 13579/2a and b, 369/1)
- 2-4-4-4 (a pair of flowers followed by 3 kongs). This pattern is seen in 9 hands on the printed card, as follows: AH/1-4, CR/3, CR/5a and b, 13579/3a and b
- No Bouquets of Flowers. Unlike last year, there is no double-pung of flowers on the 2023 card. Actually, there's not even a single pung of flowers!
- Addition Hands are back this year, to the dismay of those who "don't like Math” (tip: if this is you, focus on the numbers and ignore the + and =). They include numbers that fit together in other categories (i.e. ALN, CR, 2468 and 369). This opens up more options to switch to other sections, and makes it harder for opponents to guess the hand you’re aiming for!
- The Winds - Dragons section is very flexible (e.g. WD/1a and b). There is also an interesting ascending pattern with Flowers (WD/5), which is a break from the usual symmetry of wind hands.
- Dragons. When looking at total tiles, Red and Green Dragons are the least used tiles (1.28% of total tiles each), with Soaps being slightly more popular (1.9%), since they're also used as a zero. All 3 dragons are found as singles this year, so watch your discard towards the end of the game.
- The much-loved NEWS pattern is back this year, but it's in a concealed hand (2023/4). It also appears in an expanded form in the WD section (WD/5, WD/6)
- Like Numbers. There are many hands outside the ALN section that also include like numbers (for at least part of the hand). Some apply to only specific numbers (e.g. 2023/1 has 2 pungs of 2s), some may only require a pair (which can grow later in the game, so worth keeping in mind). It would be a good exercise to go through the card, look for them and write them down. How many do you find?
- Consecutive Runs. Besides the actual Consecutive Run section, there are quite a few hands which follow a run pattern. Some runs only apply to part of the hand (e.g. WD/2), some are number-specific (e.g. AH/1). As with like numbers, go through the exercise on locating all these hands and make a note of them.
Subtle Changes and Gotchas
There are carryovers from last year (see above), but there are also hands that are very similar, but different enough to throw you off, should you glance at them too quickly. Below, we highlight these differences, and also list a few gotchas to pay attention to.
- Several hands are similar to last year but now use a 3-4-3-4 pattern, instead of the 3-3-4-4 pattern that was used on the 2022 card (2468/3, CR/2, 13579/2, 369/1, 2023/1)
- 2468/4: Similar to 2468/7 in 2022, but with a 2-4-2-4-2 pattern (vs 2-3-2-3-4 last year).
- ALN/2: This is a concealed hand. In recent years, all Like Number hands have been open.
- Q/2: Can only be made in the numbers shown. This is not a consecutive run style hand.
- CR/1: This year CR/1 follows the 2-3-4-3-2 pattern (last year it was 2-2-3-3-4).
- 13579/7: Similar to 13579/4 in 2022, but the singles have become pairs and the pung of Flowers is gone.
- WD/2: This is a mini-run similar to last year’s WD/5 and WD/6, but keep in mind the unintuitive pattern of the run: 2-2-4. Also, the winds are now pungs instead of kongs.
- WD/6: Similar to WD/7 last year, but the Dragons are now kongs instead of pungs and North/South are now pairs. Plus, it's no longer concealed.
- 369/2: follows FFFF-4-2-4 this year (FFF-4-3-3 last year).
- SP/4: The pattern is 1-1-2-2 (twice) instead of 2-1-1-2 (twice).
- SP/6 (AKA the "Big Hand"): Corresponds to 2022/5, but obviously the year is different.
In this section, we’ll be covering strategy ideas when playing with the 2023 card.
There are a few challenges awaiting you as you play this year's card. These include:
- 3s: Since 3 is the most in-demand number tile, it may be more challenging to build hands using this number. This is true of 6s as well, but to a lesser extent
- 2468/6 and CR/8: These hands include 4 pairs and are concealed. They will be difficult to make, and even if you do, you’ll only get a measly 30 points for your efforts (just 5 more points compared to making a much easier hand)
- SP/6: The "Big Hand" is, of course, always a challenge. It’s a little less so than last year, where so many 2s were required, but this year you need 3s, which are in high demand
This year, there are no single exposures that would give your hand away. Even two exposures could still be reasonably safe. Though, as always, every additional exposure makes it easier for your opponents to identify the hand you’re aiming for, and therefore thwart your efforts.
There are only 4 exposures that will make your hand dead (since they don't exist on the card): Pung of Flowers, Quint of Flowers, Quint of Dragons or Quint of Winds.
As is the case every year, Flowers are plentiful. Therefore, they're always in high demand (though, thankfully, there are 8 of them in the set). We would caution against passing Flowers in the Charleston. Since there are more pairs of flowers this year, discarding them later in the game will be more risky!
There are 3 tiles that do not appear as singles: Flowers, 8s and 9s. So, as long as you can account for three 8s or 9s in a particular suit, or seven Flowers, you can fairly safely discard any of these towards the end of the game (though there's always a chance your opponent could have jokers and claim that tile for a pung/kong/quint).
When considering hands, it's always a good idea to have a back-up plan. Thankfully, there is a generous amount of overlap in this year’s card, offering lots of flexibility between hands, depending on the tiles you receive as the game progresses. In general, there are good opportunities to switch within a given category. So, if you're unsure of the actual hand you’re aiming for, you can always collect tiles for a particular section of the card (such as all evens, all 3/6/9s, etc) and switch between hands within that section, depending on the tiles that come your way. Be sure to also collect Flowers and relevant dragons, if these are included in potential hands you may aim for.
There is also a great deal of flexibility for switching between sections of the card, so be sure to study the card for suitable options. In particular, it would be a good exercise to look for groupings of tiles that are common to various hands and make a note of them.
Learning the Hands on the Card
Learning a new card can seem like a difficult task. Trying to learn the new hands by just playing is not necessarily the most efficient way. It will be frustrating as you will likely miss many opportunities. Careful study of the card and lots of practice will lead to a much more enjoyable and fulfilling game, and significantly more wins.
We recently wrote an entire article on this subject, our Top Tips to Learn the 2023 Card... Fast!. We also cover how to use the I LOVE MAHJ Exercise Room, which is designed to help you learn the card and will make the learning process an absolute breeze.
If you'd like to try I LOVE MAHJ, including the Exercise Room and unlimited game play (with 3 levels of bots), sign up for our free trial and use the code TML to get 4 free weeks.
We hope you enjoyed this article. If you would like to take an even deeper dive into the ins and outs of the new 2023 card, we’d highly recommend reading our full analysis of the 2023 card.
At I LOVE MAHJ our passion is to help players take their game to the next level and we hope we have inspired you to do just that.
If you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We're always happy to help!
Philippe & Julie
Creators of I LOVE MAHJ