“Are you sure you know how to play?”
Rhonda sported a beehive upsweep, and wore cat’s eye glasses on a gold chain around her neck. She squinted through them at me in response to my instantly regretted question about a hand on the 2011 card. This was my first ever tournament: The Cleveland Classic Mahj Tournament, presented by The Cleveland Jewish News. 84 women assembled on a sunny Sunday in a hotel conference room. A handful of us were in our mid to late 40’s, a good number were 50-somethings, and then a whole lot more were senior ladies.
I’ve played for about 5 years and I love this game. We moved to Cleveland a year ago and I haven’t yet found a regular group. I’ve played so infrequently that I don’t know the 2011 card very well. So I happily signed up for this all-day tournament, with the blessing and support of my wonderful husband, who stayed home with our preschooler.
The first hand was fast, very fast. Those ladies played at warp speed, and they picked ahead, even though it was expressly stated that this is not allowed. Before I could even rack my tile, the next player had hers in hand. I’m not at all slow but this was very irritating. Our first game was a wall game. Then, I won the second, third and fourth games.
Yes, Rhonda, I know how to play.
We played 6 rounds of four games, with an hour break for lunch, each round with a new group. The low point came in the second round, when my table included Edith. She was 95 pounds of competitive fury, with a small pinched face and the largest diamond earrings I’ve ever seen. She rushed us through the four games, fearful that we wouldn’t get them all played in the time allowed. She took it way too seriously and was rather unkind and brusque. I mean, I want to win every hand too, but it’s supposed to be a pleasant and social game. She got me so flustered that I threw the winning tile to another player’s hand. Edith scowled at me and said, “How could you give her that, couldn’t you see what she was doing?” No, actually, I was trying so hard to keep up with the blistering pace she set that I really had no idea what hand I was doing, let alone my tablemates.
The other two players and I peeked at each other with sympathy and were glad when that round ended and we could move along to another table (with 10 minutes to spare!). I silently rejoiced that Edith won no hands, or rather, I would have if I were that kind of person.
My proudest moment came just before lunch. I won two hands, one of which was my first closed hand win ever – FF NNN EW SSS 2011. I picked my own winning tile and the hand was jokerless, so I scored 55 points. I took a picture of the hand with my cell phone to show my husband later. He kindly feigned an interest in it, pretended to listen to me babble on about it, and congratulated me on my cunning skill and good fortune.
Sadly, the tiles went cold for me after lunch. I had just one more win, the last hand of the day, with one of the Lucky Sevens. But that’s okay. I had a fun day off, and held my own among players who have been playing for half a century or more. And, two very nice women asked me to play with their group as a fill-in later this week, so I guess you could say that I’m now part of the Cleveland Mah Jongg scene. Look out, Rhonda and Edith, because I’ll be back next year!