I was a little late to the game on Friday and as soon as I walked in the door I was greeted with, "We're playing $10 pie and we doubled the card. Is that all right with you?" I'm a good sport, so I dug another $3 out of my bag and proceeded to play high-stakes mahjongg. Now, despite my prattling on about being a gunslinger mahjongg maverick, the truth is I've only played once in an unlimited pie game, played a $5 pie for years and only recently upped it to $7. $10 is a little rich for my blood, and double the card! Well, let me tell you, it changed the whole tenor of the game.
The amount of pie varies from group to group. It refers to the total amount of money that can be wagered in a game. Each player brings their share of the pie to the table, usually in a decorative, fetishistic mahjongg purse. For many years I used my aunt Sally's flowered change purse until it rotted away. Now I use a tiny pink Asian snap-top stuffed with dimes and quarters. It won't hold $10, unless it's two fives.
In a game with a $10 pie with five players there's a constant of $50 floating from player to player. In a game with a $3 pie, it's a constant $15. Hmm...maybe they should call it "pi," and make it $3.14159265.
If you didn't notice, I used a word that hovers above the periphery of a modern American mahjongg game, but is seldom spoken aloud. The word was "wager," as in gambling - the big G. Are we gambling when we play mahjongg? Some players say "yes, yes, yes!" with great enthusiam as they double the card and blow the lid off the pie. Others say "no, no, no" we play for fun, for amusement, the money has nothing to do with it.
For myself, I found the $10 pie double the card slightly out of my comfort zone. I did win $1, mostly from making a couple of good bets since I didn't make too many mahjonggs. But while I do like to play for some kind of reward other than just winning, the raised stakes made me feel as though I was inching closer to the Maginot line between the friendly, sociable game and the Chinese mahjongg parlor where I could lose my house in five minutes. I expect the police have better things to do than to arrest the type of mahjongg players we are, but I need to examine my boundaries and be true to my non-gambling nature. Would I play in that kind of game again? Well, yes, if it weren't my regular game. There's no moral high horse here - just my own internal compass. For me the $7 pie works best. It's high enough to make it rewarding and low enough to meet my definition of "nominal sum," which appears in many state statutes. Maybe if I lived in Vegas, it would be different.
So I tip my hat to the high rollers that spice up their game with a big pot, but it just isn't me. I'm the one that brings $20 to the casino, plays the nickle slots and when my $20 is gone (in about 30 seconds) I look for free food. Vive la difference! And congrats to you, Arlene, for being the first one in our group to get the Big Hand this year - I was honored to pay you double.