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Thursday, May 24, 2012


So the card has been out how long?  A month and a half now - and I'm still making stupid mistakes.  There are a lot of things I can blame it on; transitioning from full time to part time work, transitioning from being in a relationship to being single (anyone know any widowers?) transitioning into my golden years or my budding cataracts. But the truth is I'm not focusing.  If I were focusing I would know:
  • The hand is 11 222 11 222 3333 - It doesn't take dragons anymore!  Get it through your head!  I have to learn to stop getting excited when I see a lot of one's and two's and dragons.  Grr.....
  • It's 2012 not 2011!  I have to keep telling myself  I don't need pairs of ones to make the Big Hand.
  • The quint is any dragon not any wind.  Having four souths and four flowers means nothing!!!!!!
Today was pretty bad.  I had a great hand.  In fact, I was set, but I didn't know it.  My hand looked like this:
11 33 55 777 9JJ9.  So exciting - all I needed was a 5 bam.  But I picked a 9 bam.  And I put the 9 bam in my hand and threw out a Joker.  DOH!

Even worse, I am ashamed to say, but I will confess - I was set for a great closed hand but then went dead.  Good thing, though - the hand was 5JJ 7 999 5JJ 7 999. The last 7 bam went out and I started whining about going dead when I suddenly realized  DOH!  I pretended I saw another great hand and acted like I knew what I was doing but boy, did I feel like an idiot.

But I realized I was not alone.  I was playing in a senior center with a very nice group of ladies.  It was my first time playing with them but definitely not the last.  And all around me I was hearing things like:
"I gave away my tile"
"Oh, I'm so stupid!"
"What did I do that for?"
"I had the two one cracks but I threw them out!"
"I knew I shouldn't have thrown that!"
So I didn't feel so bad.  We are, after all, only human and mahj is only a game.  So if you play with me and you hear me muttering under my breath "That's not the hand, that's NOT the hand," you will understand it's my way of telling myself to focus and make the transition from the old card to the new - as if there weren't enough transitions going on...(oh, yes, I'm going to be a grandma!  Woo Hoo!)

How about you?  Any DOH! moments you want to confess?  We won't tell!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Getting the Point

Rixi Markus - World Grand Master of Bridge and her team

The new card is here and it seems like everyone is suddenly taking an interest in mahj.  Everywhere I look there are tournaments, Facebook pages, groups, leagues, meetups, etc., etc.  There has been a major resurgence in the game and it is taking hold all over the country.

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  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?