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Monday, February 13, 2012

The Standards of the League

Whenever anyone asks me what is the difference between Chinese mahjongg or Asian mahjongg and the type of mahjongg that I play, my first response is usually "Well, we play with a card and the others don't," or "We use jokers."  But on reflection it occurs to me that the correct response is "We play by the standards of the National Mah Jongg League," and I learned just what this means when I attended the annual meeting on February 6, 2012.

The meeting itself was without fanfare; the reading of the minutes followed by the report of the president, Ruth Unger (above right).  The membership was represented by five players, including Jerry Goldman, pictured above, who has been playing for 62 years.  Board members Marilyn Starr, Adele Strano (above left and center) and Mrs. Unger's two adoring sons, David and Larry, were also present.

The word "standard" has many meanings.  It could mean usual or customary, such as the standard layout of a business letter.  It could mean morals or ethics, as in the standards set by a parent or teacher.  And it can mean recognized excellence, as in a standard for achievement.  In speaking with Mrs. Unger, I knew I was in the presence of a woman who set the highest standards not only for herself, but for the League and its 500,000 members. In many ways she could be compared to the likes of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg in her leadership style.  Like these celebrated CEO's, Ruth Unger has narrowed her focus and devoted her life to the mission of the organization.  For the League that is two things:  The Card and Philanthropy.  Half the year is spent developing a card that will please the members - and I learned what a balancing act that is.  It must be easy enough for new players yet challenging enough for experienced players.  The other half of the year is spent distributing the proceeds to charitable organizations; $500,000 to St. Jude's Hospital as an example.

Some may rail at the traditionalism of the League.  "Why don't they open up more hands?"  "Why don't they have more of an online presence?"  "Why don't they market themselves more?"  In my opinion the reason is that Ruth Unger is a purist, in its most complimentary usage.  It is her effort that we see when we open the new card, and her love and devotion is evident by the extraordinary growth of the membership.  500,000!  How many lives were saved by each humble $8 card purchase?

Some readers may have gleaned from prior posts that I am a very strong proponent of corporate social responsibility.  The National Mah Jongg League, with Mrs. Unger's leadership, invented it - and we love them for it..


  1. Linda, I hope your next quest is to play a game with Mrs. Unger and the other board members. Invite them to your house and put out a big dish of M & M's! They would probably win most of your quarters but it would be worth it to watch them in action and get to quiz them about their favorite hands. Thanks for this very interesting post about the league and the meeting.

  2. My friends and I are playing in our first MahJongg Tournment next week... Is there anything you can share with us as far as what to expect... will there be a time limit to each game? How is it scored?
    Can we count on the tiles to be similar in design to the ones we are playing with... sometimes it can be confusing getting accustomed to other sets of tiles... don't you agree?
    Thank you for any help you can give us. VeroYorkie

    1. Hello Vero - I have done a couple of blog posts on tournaments. If you look in the archives for February 2011 you will see a whole post on tournaments which should answer your questions. If you are playing with an unfamiliar set, ask to see the flower and the 1 bam, which may be different in design. You may want to see a green dragon as well. Otherwise the suit and wind tiles don't differ much.
      Good luck!