Rixi Markus - World Grand Master of Bridge and her team
We all know that National Mah Jongg League mahj is not an Olympic sport, but that doesn't mean it should struggle for legitimacy. Why is it that mahj players are looked upon as gossipy grandmas? Why the snickers and raised eyebrows when we say we enjoy the game? Is it because most people are unaware of the level of strategy involved in playing a good game of mahj? Is it because NMJL mahj is seen as a women's game and as such it is viewed as inherently unchallenging? Could it be that there is an aspect of devaluation by a culture that marginalizes aging women? (Can you tell I am about to turn 60?) Bridge and Scrabble players do not face this type of scorn, and does anyone wonder why?
In an attempt to lift the game to a higher level Grand Master Gladys Grad of Mahjongg Madness is working to standardize tournaments and implement a Masters points system. I think this is a great idea. It encompasses all tournament play and is not proprietary to one tournament host. Anyone who is running a tournament using National Mah Jongg League standards (13 tile game) may apply to award Master points. The cost is minimal and it can add value to a tourney and attract more players. Players accumulate points by playing in qualifying tournaments; points are awarded for attendance and all scores. The higher your score the more points you earn and over time you reach a "grand dragon" level which identifies you as an experienced player.
What is the advantage of this system? Identifying levels separate the wheat from the chaff and lends cache to a player, much like being a black belt separates the karate master from the white belt beginner. A high ranking player could become a celebrity in her own right. A database will be kept of rankings so you can see how you rate against other players.
Many players are content never to go to a tournament, but in my opinion attending tournaments teaches you to better your game. Maybe you didn't know a hand could be played in a particular way; maybe your table plays with a misunderstanding about the rules; maybe you need to be competing with people who play better than you do so that the game is more of a challenge. It could be you need someone to teach you that one little trick that will make everything fall into place.
When I go to tournaments I confess I peek at scores. If I know someone is "up there" I play a tighter game. Playing with a highly ranked player raises the bar for me. Win, lose or draw playing against someone who knows what they are doing beats winning as the result of a careless mistake. A grand dragon should play like a grand dragon.
"Oh, but I'm not competitive," is a plaint I often hear. But 'fess up. Mahj is a competitive game. We act so sweet and ladylike while we're taking down an opponent, but even my blessed Aunt Sally, who would titter and look down at the table when she won, allowed the game to free her inner shark. "Oh, how do you like that?" she would declare in feigned startled surprise. "I have mahjongg." In her photo she holds her trophy high.
With the Master Points system everyone wins, because you get points for attending and they don't expire. While the League is silent about tournaments and points, preferring to focus on putting out the card and donating to charitable causes, the opportunity to unify the mahj community should not be lost. I already see groups popping up that advocate not using a card, playing 14 tiles, even making up your own hand! Come on, People! We are National Mah Jongg League mahjongg, which is a very specific, rules-based game. Well-organized tournanments provde a great opportunity to meet people and sharpen your skills - why shouldn't you get credit for it?
So I would urge all tournament hosts, including those doing fund raisers, private invitation only and clubhouse tournaments to register at www.mahjonggmasterpoints.com. The cost is low and the benefit is high. We all benefit by playing by the same rules and being rewarded for our efforts, even if we don't win that first place pot. So the next time you sign up for a tournament, ask if they give points and if not, why not?