Tichu Strategy, Part II: Using the Mah-Jong

Not too long ago, I was playing a hand where the opponent after me had called Grand Tichu. I passed him a 3, then played the Mah-Jong and wished it out of his hand. Why was this a bad move?

There’s certainly nothing wrong with the pass; that’s standard according to the usual passing convention. Wishing for what you passed is standard as well; the reasoning is that the card you passed might have improved your opponent’s hand by making a pair (or worse, a straight) and you avoid possible disaster by making him play it as a single; additionally, since you know that he has that card in his hand, you avoid the risk of forcing your partner to play it.

All of that is true..but there’s one more factor at work here. Your opponent called Grand Tichu!

Different people have different rules about when they feel a Grand Tichu call is justified, but it’s generally safe to assume – particularly after the pass – that his hand contains as least one ace. In this case, he’s likely to play the low card you passed, then end up winning the trick with the ace (and that is, in fact, what happened).

On the other hand, suppose you wish for the ace! It was going to get played anyway, but this time he doesn’t get a chance to play the low card, and again you don’t have to worry about hitting your partner (since it’s very unlikely that your opponent would have called Grand Tichu without an ace in his hand, and his partner will be passing his best card as well). There’s also the possibility that he has all of the aces and will do something dumb like playing an ace bomb…which is exactly what happened the last time this situation occurred, when I did wish for an ace!

Now, suppose we’re in the more usual situation where nobody has called Tichu or Grand Tichu before the Mah-Jong is played. In this case, you usually do want to wish for what you passed, with a couple of exceptions. If this isn’t the first hand and your opponent already played what you passed him, you may want to refrain from making a wish to avoid the possibility of hitting your partner. More importantly, if you’ve called Tichu and then used the Mah-Jong in a straight, you should never make a wish. Why? It’s likely that you’re not the only person to have a straight, and your opponents will be playing over yours if they can anyway, but by making a wish you can force a straight out of your partner’s hand…and it really sucks to force your partner to screw up your Tichu call! If nobody has called Tichu (or better yet, if your opponent has) you can make the wish, but recognize that you do risk messing up your partner’s hand. Of course, the nice thing is when you suspect your opponent has a long straight, and you force him to play a smaller straight, leaving him with a bunch of singles…very useful!

The Mah-Jong can be a bit of a pain if you get stuck with it – the only way to get rid of it is to lead it, as either a single or part of a straight – but it played correctly, it can really mess up your opponent’s plans. Tichu!

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