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Monday, February 6, 2017

Annual Meeting of the National Mah Jongg League

Larry and David Unger (left/right in suits) joined by colleagues and members at NMJL headquarters
Today I had the privilege of attending the annual meeting of the National Mah Jongg League, to mark the beginning of its 80th year.  The annual meeting is held on the first Monday in February and all members are welcome to attend.  I understand that back in the day, the League would rent a meeting room in a hotel, as the office couldn't handle the crowds.  Attendance has been sparse in the last few years, but this year's meeting showed an uptick in interested aficionados.

Those who attended represented many the many sides of mahjongg.  There were tournament directors, teachers, tournament goers, organizers and just plain players.
The theme of the meeting, as put so eloquently by Larry Unger,  President, was "Friendship and Charity," and the many ways the League has provided opportunity for just that - through its donation program and by giving so many of us the chance to take the card and run with it, so to speak, and create spaces, virtual and concrete, that allow us to connect with others of like mind.

An interesting discussion ensued about issues that have been brought to the forefront in online forums, rec rooms and classrooms.  One such topic was the distinction between tournament rules, "official" rules, and what the League considers "recommendations," i.e., good practices that are not enforced.  An example of a recommendation is that you not look at a blind pass.  There is no penalty if you do, but it is good practice not to.  After all, you may see a tile that you need, but must give away, and that is penalty enough.  However, in tournament play, directors are unanimous that looking when you "steal," is a mandatory 10 point deduction.

A question came up about demographics and it quickly became apparent that the exact number of players is difficult to determine.  The League keeps records of those who order online or by mail - indeed, to be considered a member, you need to purchase your card from the League.  If you buy through an organization, in order to register as a member the organization should provide a list of each person buying.  The League keeps a database of registered members, but as there are many retail outlets (both online and brick and mortar) it is impossible to say for sure how many players are out there.  A few things we know for sure:  Mahjongg is spreading into more towns and cities than ever, particularly in the south - Texas and Tennessee were two states that came up.  And, of course, as more people retire and move to communities across the country, this trend will continue.  There are even expat retirement communities in places like Ecuador that are seeing an influx of players.

The League has a busy, very structured year, as the boxes all over the office could attest to.  (Sadly, we were not treated to a sneak preview of the new card).  Orders are coming in and it's time to ramp up to get ready to mail!  The League is every bit as excited to send the card to us as we are to receive it - and they look forward to our reaction.  We know they will not disappoint.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

It's That Time!

The Latest Newsletter
Year's end means one thing to a mahjongg player - time to receive the yearly bulletin from the League and to put in an order in for the new card and other necessaries, such as plastic holders and table covers.  This year's bulletin heralds the League's 80th year, observed with pride by Lawrence (Larry) Unger, League President.  In keeping with tradition, the bulletin is filled with testimonials of gratitude from charitable organizations and satisfied players from all walks of life along with a generous sampling of Q&As both general and specific to this year's card.  The list of "Collectors" (those who send in 35 or more memberships) has grown considerably.  And there is also a loving tribute to Ruth Unger, Past President, and Marilyn Starr, Past Secretary, reflecting on the core values of the League.  Although they are no longer with us, be assured the League remains committed to crafting a card that is "challenging but fair".

I would certainly agree that this year's card is challenging.  Receiving the newsletter reminds me that the days of playing the 2016 card are waning and I must confess I haven't completed it as of yet. 
I know this because for the first time this year I marked off the hands I have made and it is eye-opening to see which ones remain unmarked.

Although people think I do nothing with my life but play, according to my unofficial calculations I have only played about 1,000 games since the card came out 36 weeks ago.  (1-1/2 session per week, four hours per session, four games per hour) After all that mahj, I am still short in three sections of the card:
  • 11 hands
  • Quints
  • 13579
For some reason that I can only attribute to the aging process, it took me a long time to switch from 7 hands to 11 hands.  I recently realized that 9 + 2 go together this year, as do 8 + 3, but I have only made half of the 11 hands so far.

In the quints section, although I have made the first hand several times in previous years, this year it has remained out of reach.  I have not yet made the new 1+6+7 hand.  I know I am not alone in this, but, shame on me, I also haven't made the consecutive run quint.

I have in the past made fun of people who only go for certain hands.  I know one woman who exclusively plays the "big hand" no matter how far from it she is.  Others shy away from closed hands.  But the process of marking the card has confirmed what I have long suspected - I am odd-number averse.  Yes, I have made all the pairs hands - even the "big hand" twice - but not the 13579.  Of the 11 odd-number hands, I have only made six of them - in 1,000 games!  I am sure someone can write a thesis on oddphobia and perhaps develop a pill to counteract it.  If so, please contact me for a clinical trial.

Marking the card has proven to be a wonderful exercise in self-discovery.  And it has spurred me to make a New Year's resolution to broaden my horizons and beat the odds!  Here is hoping my card will be filled with Xs before the new one comes along.

Happy New Year, everyone!