August 1 – National Mahjong Day

Posted on August 1, 2020

Tiles clicking as they are placed on the table. A sigh of pleasure as strategy pays off. The murmur of other players.

Yeah, no; none of that is part of my experiences with the game of Mahjong, because I have only played solitaire games on my phone or computer. 

But for more than a century Mahjong-the-multi-player-tile-game was what Mahjong was all about.

Developed in China, probably in the early to mid-1800s (so, during the Qing Dynasty), Mahjong was actually illegal in the People's Republic of China from 1949 until 1985! But I am sure some people played it on the down-low...?

And of course, by the time China had outlawed the game, it had already taken root in in the U.S., Taiwan, and elsewhere. It's not just people of Chinese heritage that play the tile game; the founders of America's National Mah Jongg League were all Jewish women.

Mahjong is generally played with 144 tiles. The game is similar to some forms of Rummy; players draw and discard tiles until they form a legal hand with four melds and one pair (or another kind of winning hand). There are a LOT of variations on this theme, however!

The Mahjong I have played is challenging: the tiles are stacked in a variety of ways, and the player eliminates tiles in matching pairs until either s/he wins (pairs up every tile) or gets stuck ("Aack! the other 5-Bamboo tile must be underneath the 5-Bamboo tile I can see!!").

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