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Tiles and Smiles: Mah Jongg Mania

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Lauren Dickie, Yasi Micek, Arabella Hibbert, Rebecca Adler

Lauren Dickie, Yasi Micek, Arabella Hibbert, and Rebecca Adler (pictured, from left) enjoying a game of Mah Jongg outside at The Houstonian. After attending the introduction event, the friends started a Mah Jongg group.

Do the words bamboos, dots, winds, dragons, plum blossom, orchids, or chrysanthemums mean something to you? If so, you must be familiar with Mah Jongg, the Chinese-originated game played with tiles. If this sounds more like a strange shopping list to you, do not worry, you are in good company. Many people have heard about Mah Jongg, but do not know the details. The popularity of the game among Buzz neighbors, and their winning excitement to learn how to play, is growing by stacks and racks. 

If you are a total rookie to Mah Jongg (sometimes called Mahj), here is an unofficial cheat sheet. The game is usually played with four people at a table. Players draw and discard tiles (that resemble dominoes) and set them onto racks (à laScrabble). Players create the best winning combination like in Rummy, but instead of a 52-card deck, Mahjong is played with a 144-tile set. 

Southside Place resident and local realtor Kristine Martinez knew very little about Mah Jongg. “All I knew about it was the name!” She thought learning more about the game with others would be a fun way to meet new people and learn more about it herself. 

Introduction to Mah Jongg event

Ladies eagerly listening to the Introduction to Mah Jongg hosted by Kristine Martinez at the Southside Place Clubhouse. 

In September, Kristine hosted an “Intro to Mah Jongg” get-together at the Southside Place Clubhouse. There were two options to join, a morning or evening session, each with space for 30 people. 

Within a few hours after Kristine posted the open invitation on the West University Information Exchange site, she had an overwhelming response of 270 comments including 100 RSVPs. 

“I was aware people liked Mah Jongg, and its increasing interest with more people playing and forming groups with friends, but was amazed and surprised at just how many!” Kristine shared.

Kristine recruited Mah Jongg enthusiast and River Oaks resident Michelle Shapiro to lead the Mah Jongg presentation. Michelle shared, “I have fond memories of growing up in New York, and my mom loving Mah Jongg, but I never learned how to play. About seven years ago, I decided to learn the game so she and I could play together.” Michelle and her mom participated in lessons and game-playing at the West University Senior Center and Michelle has been hooked since. 

Michelle Shapiro

Michelle Shapiro loves Mah Jongg and is happy to see people’s growing excitement about the game. 

“I am not sure what has created all the current interest in Mah Jongg, but I love it!’ Michelle gushed. ‘There was such a variety of people, and everyone was so nice. Some had played before, but most were new to the game. Kristine’s Mah Jongg-themed door prizes were a bit hit.”

Michelle knows learning the game can seem challenging but encourages interested individuals to try it out and not take it too seriously. “Remember to laugh! Like most games, you just need some strategic moves, skills, and a lot of luck! It is worth the effort. Over the years, I have met lots of great people and formed numerous friendships, plus it is a nice way to support each other through life’s ups and downs.” 

Rebecca Adler, who loves being the mom of school-aged children and baking macarons, has added Mah Jongg to her list of favorite things.

Intro to Mahj class

Michelle Shapiro gives pointers on the rules of Mah Jongg. 

“The lesson came at the right time for my circle of friends. Some of us had played a time or two before while others were starting the game from scratch. We all were intrigued by Mah Jongg and jumped on the post offering the class.” 

Since attending the event, Rebecca and her friends Lauren Dickie, Arabella Hibbert, and Yasi Micek have played a couple times at Arabella’s home in West University. The group’s varying Mah Jongg skill levels have helped all of them by teaching and learning the game with each other.
Arabella commented, “It’s an easy way to bring people together while using critical thinking skills. Mah Jongg is stimulating and social at the same time.” 

Rebecca’s interest in the game has come full circle. “I asked my mom for a Mah Jongg set for my birthday. Now she wants to learn too!”

Arabella Hibbert

Arabella Hibbert excited to have a winning Mah jongg. 

Maybe the tiles are calling your name? Just beware! If you catch Mah Jongg Mania you could find yourself traveling East, South, North, West, during Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter to play! If you do not get the pun, no worries. There are plenty of Mah Jongg enthusiasts who would be happy to share their knowledge and love of the game with you! 

Find more information at The National Mah Jongg League website. The group has overseen the rules for the American version of Mah Jongg since 1937. (There are different rules for the Chinese version.) 

Editor’s note: Read more about Buzz residents buzzing about mah jongg here.  

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