Since receiving a gift of an antique Maj Jongg game from a friend (See prior blog post “A Most Unexpected Gem” ) I’ve decided that it might be a good idea to actually learn how to play Maj Jongg. The only version that I’ve ever played is the one online where you are timed to uncover matching tiles. I would soon learn that this is nothing like any real Mah Jongg game.
I decided to go to our local senior center where they have a weekly group of ladies that play Maj Jongg. The write-up indicated that they welcome anyone from beginners to experts, but that they appreciated it if you would commit to at least three weeks to learn.
I was soon to find out that the version these ladies play is the modern American one which was created in 1937. The object of the game is to discard all of your tiles based on various combinations from a printed card showing all possible legitimate variations. This card is called the “Official Standard Hands & Rules” and is available to dues paying members of the National Mah Jongg League, Inc. (see www.nationalmahjonggleague.org for further details). This card is updated on a yearly basis.
I sat out the first game while observing how the game progressed. It’s been said that if you are familiar with gin rummy, that you have a basic understanding of the game of Mah Jongg. I guess on a very basic level that is true, but I found it very daunting. They encouraged me to play the second game, but I declined, wanting to continue to just sit back and watch. They actually made me join the third game, though, telling me the more that I sat out the harder it would be to learn. I am not sure about that, lol!
There are more than 40 known variants of American and a dozen Chinese varieties of Mah Jongg. The modern American version that we were playing happens to be the hardest to learn of them all, lucky me. Only the American versions use a card to determine allowable hands, all the others are freehand.
The ladies kept remarking how they felt that I was getting the hang of the game by the questions I was asking. I really was, but when I started to actually play I was very bothered by the lady who had given up her place for me to play. Instead of sitting back and letting me learn by playing and arranging the tiles on my own, she stood over my shoulder and kept pointing out what I should or shouldn’t be doing. This only made me more flustered and really didn’t allow me to sink or swim on my own.
I’ve decided that I will attend at least the next two sessions with those ladies, but I will try to be tactful and ask that I be able to play my own hand, but have them available if I have any questions. In the meantime I went to the library and picked up the book, “A Beginner’s Guide to American Mah Jongg How to Play the Game & Win” by Elaine Sandberg.
It’s been very helpful thus far, actually clearing up some questions that I had written down to ask the ladies at our next session. There are also several exercises that I have found to be very informative, getting me more familiar with the card with it’s variations on it. I’ll keep you posted in my next blog how I am progressing.