Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Chinese Mah Jongg

Apparently, there's American Mah Jongg, presided over by Jewish ladies in Florida (according to my teacher), and there's Chinese Mah Jongg, taught to me this afternoon by a more-than-an-acquaintance; she's a reporter who covered January 8th and beyond and she's married to the professor who taught the small class I took the semester before.

We run into one another at lectures and plays and events; it's one of the wonderful, small town, advantages of our community. She's fairly reserved, as reporters go, but the same cannot be said for her as an instructor in this ancient tile game.

"You CAN'T do that!" 

"Write it down if you can't remember it but REMEMBER IT!" 

"It's character, not crack.  That's offensive... like someone's butt...."

It was almost worse when she looked around our table of 4 newbies and, smiling wickedly, wondered "Who has the deal?"  

I ran through the options - who won the last hand, in which direction does the deal pass, could I hide under the table and wait for someone else to answer?

And someone else did answer, and then I knew what to do with the rolled dice and how many tiles to grab at a time.  I felt pretty good about that.  I think it's the kind of muscle memory part of the game that allows for a rehash of the previous hand; it doesn't require thinking once you've played for a while.

Feeling fairly sanguine, I stretched and then was brought back to reality. After noticing that we were flashing our tiles as we drew them from the wall (don't ask... just go with the flow), our teacher gave a demonstration of dragging a tile across the table. Then, she showed us how to cup the tile in our little fists, only opening them when our hands were close to our chests.

It seems there are style points in this game.

Actually, I know that there are some points, because our teacher was called to consult at other tables during the course of the three hours we were gathered in the Himmel Park Library's meeting room.
"Does she have enough points to...."   I didn't hear the end of the question, but the beginning proved what Scarlett had been saying throughout the games: "We still have lots to learn about this game."

American Mah Jongg is won by matching the tiles in your hand to the winning combinations sold to you - on This Year's Card - by the National Maj Jongg League.  It costs $8; which also gives you membership in the League itself.  Much of the game revolves around the strategy of choosing the hand you think you'll make.

Chinese Mah Jongg is like rummy - groups of three or four (and one group of two) which match in sequence or exactitude of suit and number.  There are honor cards, winds and flowers just like in the American version; I'm not sure why they are important.

I think that's what Scarlett had in mind when she reminded me that I wasn't as smart as I thought I was.

I don't know why she'd think that.

I won all but two of the games we played.

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