The 8 Immortals playing Mah Jongg
I received an old Japanese Mah-Jongg set the other day from Orcrist. After some initial investigation it appears that the set was made in the 1950s or earlier. It was missing a couple of tiles so I’ve sent out some feelers to see if I can replace them. I can replace them with stickers made on my computer from scanning the other like tiles but I would prefer not to if I don’t have to. There were a whole bunch of papers stuffed underneath the tiles. I initially removed the tiles to count them and match them into groups so I could see if any were missing. I came upon a page from what appears to be an old encyclopedia page. I’m going to try to read it to you. Although some of the words are missing, they have been cut off, I will do the best I can.
MAH JONGG, MAH ZHONG, also spelled mah-jong, is a game that is been played in China since around 500 BC. It is now played in many parts of the world. Mah-Jongg is similar to many card games. But small rectangular tiles engraved with Chinese drawings and symbols are used instead of playing cards. The “deck” consist of 136 standard tiles and several additional tiles. In the Orient, players use 8 additional tiles. In the United States, the number of additional tiles varies from year to year, as determined by the National Mah-Jongg League in New York City. 4 persons usually play Mah-Jongg, but 2, 3, 5, or 6 can also play. Players try to form winning combinations of tiles by drawing from a pile of tiles, exchanging tiles with other players, and by discarding tiles. A rule book list point values for the winning combinations. Usually, each player begins the game with chips equaling 5000 points. Losers give chips to the winner equal to the value of the winning hand. Play may continue for a set number of rounds, or until a player wins a certain number of points.
So there you have it.
I also found an article from the SYRACUSE POST – STANDARD written by Anita Altman for the August 21, 1975 edition.
“Four Dot,” “Two Bam,” “Crack,” “West,” the clicking of tiles and the “Woo” – the sound of Mah-Jongg (which sounds a little unusual for the person who is never played this version of a Chinese game).
But to many women, these sounds are characteristic of getting together with friends and engaging in an individual competition.
Starting the 1st Thursday of September. There will be a Mah-Jongg Tournament, sponsored by the Syracuse section of National Council of Jewish Women. Groups of 4 women will play 10 games once each month throughout the year. All the players will rotate with each other as well is the home where the game is played, says Mrs. Gerald Reback, Chairman. Winners of each game receive a set number of points, depending on the value of the hand played (as determined by the National Mah-Jongg League), whether the player picture winning tile or whether the winning tile was thrown by another player, and whether the hand was concealed or exposed. The scores for all players are tallied for each month and these are published in the Council’s monthly bulletin. The top players will be recognized in June. Monies raised through this project help fund NCJW Research Institute for Innovation in Education at Hebrew University, Jerusalem; Annual Schools for Community Action; and other group activities. The Mah-Jongg Tournament is open to all intermediate players and interested women who may contact Sheila Reback Manlius for more information.
The game of Mah-Jongg is played with 136 or 144 tiles (or P’ AIS) that resembled dominoes but are instead engraved with Chinese symbols and characters which are divided into suits and honors.
A fad in this country in the mid-1920s, the game was revived after 1935, but never regained its initial popularity. The Chinese origin dates back to the 19th century, but it was an American resident of Shanghai, who introduced Mah-Jongg to the west after World War I. Joseph P Babcock wrote a modified set of rules, gave English names to the tiles and added index letters and numerals familiar to Western card players. The pieces are named and numbered as follows:
– Bamboo (Bam), numbered 1 to 9, with 4 of each number, resulting in 36 tiles.
– Circle (Dot), numbered 1 to 9, with 4 of each number, adding up to 36 tiles.
– Character (Crak), numbered 1 to 9, with 4 of each number, hence 36 tiles.
– Honors, 4 Red Dragons, 4 Green Dragons, 4 White Dragons – 12 tiles.
– Winds, 4 East, 4 South, 4 North, 4 West, which equals 16 tiles.
These add up to 136 tiles.
– In addition: Flowers and Seasons, 4 of each, or 8 of either and when added to the others equal 144 tiles.
The game, played with 4 people, is done so without partners the object of play, similar to Rummy, card games, is to obtain sets of tiles.
There are 3 kinds of sets: “Chow,” a run or sequence of 3 tiles in the same suit in numerical order; “Pung,” a sequence of 3 like tiles of the same suit and number, 3 Dragons of the same color or 3 identical Winds; “Kong,” a Pung plus the 4th matching tile.
To begin a game, the tiles are divided evenly and placed face down in double rows or walls in front of each of the 4 players. The stacks tiles represent the Great Wall of China and the player who leads “breaks” the wall by selecting 4 tiles. Each player, in turn, takes 4 tiles until East (who leads) has 14 and the others 13. Next is the Charleston, a series of passes. Each player passes 3 tiles to the person on her right, 3 to the person a crossed, then 3 to the person on the left. This is followed by a 2nd Charleston – left, across then right.
The actual play, then begins. The 2nd “wall” is broken (? I think this might be an error by the reporter) and East begins the play by discarding one tile reducing her hand to 13. Then each player, in counterclockwise rotation, picks a tile (either from the wall or the last one discarded) and then discards one. Any player, regardless of whether it is her turn, may claim the previous discard. If it completes part of her hand. The play continues until a player completes a “Woo” or winning hand, or until all wall tiles have been used. It is a game of luck and skill and even now, after explaining it as simply as possible and sitting in on an afternoon Mah-Jongg game, I believe that I could play – very slowly, though.
I found another article from 2007 basically saying the same thing. It did mention there were places on the Internet where you could go to find out if there were players in your area. Just for fun, I checked to see if any of these websites were still up and running.
– http://msoworld.com/mindzine/news/orient/mah_jong/history no longer exists, however,
http://msoworld.com does. It is called Mind Sports Olympiad. It is very cool, go ahead and check it out.
–http://mahjongtime.com is a website called “Mah-Jongg Time”. It is a place where you can play Mah-Jongg. It appears to have free sign-up to play. When I get done with my blog, I will check it out further.
–http://amja.net is the official website for the American Mah-Jongg Association. It is up and running, and another place. I will check out.
There are a couple of other websites that I suggest you check out if you are at all interested in learning about the game of Mah-Jongg.
–http://www.mahjongtreasures.com is a wonderful site with an area where you can go to read about the history and see some of the vintage Mah-Jongg sets. The owner is also working on a history of Mah-Jongg.
–https://www.nationalmahjonggleague.org/ is the official website for the National Mah-Jongg League. They are the folks who make the official rules and hands card that so many players use.
In case you are wondering, I know how to play by Chinese rules, Japanese rules, National Mah-Jongg League rules, and Wright-Patterson “military” rules. I have, obviously a Japanese set, 2 Chinese sets, and 4 American sets of tiles. 2 of the American sets are new. The other 5 sets are all vintage, which in American terms can means whatever you want it to mean in terms of age or era. In terms of age, they are all from the last century. I might be classified as retro, while Orcrist is definitely vintage.