Mah Jongg weekends with your friends really isn’t something new. Players and their friends have been doing it for decades. “We’re just getting the group together, getting away from the house (and the kids); bringing along popcorn and wine….and going to the lake”, (or the cottage, or the mountains, wherever)….and playing, playing, playing. And then it morphs to, ”Doesn’t a week-long cruise just sound like heaven?”
Lots of unpacking required for a week-long mah jongg cruise
Back in 1986, after hosting many types of themed weekend events and cruises, Dorothy and Larry Krams contacted Ruth Unger, the presiding President of the National Mah Jongg League (“NMJL”). Larry’s Mom, Minna, (a Mah Jongg player herself) had suggested that they consider the idea of running a Mah Jongg cruise with the NMJL. This collaboration with the NMJL resulted in nearly 25 years of successful week-long cruises, aboard the biggest mega liners on the ocean.
My late Husband Phil and I joined Mah Jongg Madness® (“MJM”) when it was a 14-year-old company, whose main focus was several weekend get-away tournaments, and the annual weeklong NMJL Cruise Tournament. In 2005, I simplified and codified the Standardized National Mah Jongg Tournament Rules, based on these cruise tournaments. Later, we introduced the web based Mah Jongg Master Points® system of formulating players’ tournament scores into points and ranking the tournament players (which counts over 10,000 members to date).
Vegas Mah Jongg Tournament "Security"
Vegas Mah Jongg Tournament Mothers and Daughters
A few years later, we became the owners of MJM. Our locations expanded and participation grew, hosting between 100 and 500 guests. We would have celebrated our 35th Annual Cruise Tournament last December 2020 (huge sigh). Thirty-five years of cruising, with our own conference center 24/7, dining, entertainment, touring, shopping, custom made gifts, lasting friendships, and Mah Jongg, Mah Jongg, Mah Jongg.
Weekend tournaments in wonderful locations (Las Vegas, Atlantic City, New Orleans, Chicagoland, Tampa, Atlanta, Sarasota, Ft Lauderdale, Boca Raton, Miami) continued through those years. Friends would gather together for the BIG tournament and minis, making the fun last by playing far into the night; with lots of cash and prizes, custom designed gifts for the players, exhibits, and shopping. The weekends also consisted of visiting local attractions and entertainment, casinos, spas, and restaurants. Of course as part of our mission, charitable donations were always at the heart of each event, from raffles and sales’ proceeds.
Our players consisted of players from all walks of life ….teachers and professors, homemakers, lawyers and judges, nurses and doctors, engineers, students, moms, daughters, and granddaughters (and sons and dads), various other professionals and business owners; different ethnic backgrounds, different life-stylers, ages, economic situations, colors and religions.
We always shipped in all the tables and all the sets, which were exactly the same. No one had to bring their set, and no questions about “Is this tree a flower?” or “What does the 1Bam look like?”; and everyone had racks with pushers. Even before Covid, we provided lots of sanitizers, handy wipes to clean the sets, and even masks for the coughers and sneezers.
Tournament players very often show up in a variety of Mah Jongg paraphernalia….with glitzy T-shirts, tile earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and eyeglass chains; pants, shirts, ties, shirts, skirts, and even a SUIT patterned with tiles; “I heart Mah Jongg” visors and hats, bags, totes, mugs and tumblers. We always invited crafters and vendors to show their Mah Jongg wares. Players like to bring back gifts for their friends at home; and always end up wearing their newest Mah Jongg treasures on the last day. You’ll likely NEVER see a bridge, poker, or chess player with the name of their favorite game on their chest.
The Golden Dragon Winners
We’ve had the occasional accident, where a guest had fallen and injured themselves, gone to the hospital and returned the next morning IN A WHEELCHAIR, on crutches, with a cast on the arm, or sporting a black eye….and continued to play in the tournament. Once a player had a mini stroke in the morning and was out of the hospital and back playing the same night in the tournament. Another fainted in the middle of a Vegas tournament with 450 players. When a voice yelled out “is there a nurse in the house?”….we had a pediatrician, a radiologist, a psychiatrist, an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, and 3 nurses all come running!
We’ve had our experiences with the random shark, or slight-of-hand artist, or dishonest player (omg). But they are ALWAYS discovered, and gently ushered out of the room; never to be seen or heard from again. Our players are smart, observant, vigilant, and feisty. Nothing gets by them.
We also have had our share of “miscommunication” between players; a rare throwing of the tiles or a bit of ice water in the lap; a flipped score card or a flip of the finger; a raised voice when you just know they “threw before they picked”; a roll of the eyes that you can literally HEAR from across the table; an occasional 4-letter word (and it ain’t “MAHJ”).
We’ve had visiting Mah Jongg “celebrities” who’ve joined us in our games, and mingled with the guests: Ruth Unger of the NMJL on the cruises with her family and staff, for 24 years; Tom Sloper, Author and host of sloperama.com; Gregg Swain, Karen Gooen, Jane Flagello, Linda Fisher….well known MJ Authors; Marjorie Troum who was one of the originals to hold tournaments (her Mother, Dorothy was one of the founders of the NMJL!), and Jan Egri an Administrator of the 30k Facebook page ‘Mah Jongg, That’s It!’ We’ve also invited the hosts from other tournament events all over the country; welcoming them to mingle and play, and to introduce and promote their own events. (There’s room for everyone in the world of Mah Jongg).
Mah Jongg "Celebrity" Tom Sloper with Gladys Grad
In 2015, I invented a version of our Mah Jongg game that is gaining popularity every day – Siamese Mah Jongg® Today, Siamese Mah Jongg®, for 2-handed games, and 3, & 4 handed versions (Royale Siamese Mah Jongg® and Siamese Solitaire) – counts players in all 50 States, Puerto Rico and St Thomas V.I., and over 35 countries that play adaptations of this new “Siamese” format in their own versions of Mah Jongg. Siamese Mah Jongg® tournaments are now popping up everywhere that Mah Jongg is played.
Currently, waiting out Covid. Still answering telephone and email questions about Mah Jongg; with over 350 card tables and Mah Jongg sets, and thousands of pre-purchased tournament gifts and merchandise sitting in storage.
Now of course it’s all about the online game. We had the 1st American-style National Mah Jongg Tournament on mahjongtime.com. Since then, there are dozens of tournaments on this and other sites with many players, and benefitting many charitable organizations. Meanwhile, I’m going to be doing my favorite entertainment, hobby, activity, pursuit, business, and favorite pastime forever.
Ms. Grad was featured on CBS Sunday Morning with Bill Geist in 2014 in Vegas, about the “other Vegas March Madness.”
Mah Jongg Masters®
Mah Jongg Master Points®
Mah Jongg Academy®
Siamese Mah Jongg®
Royale Siamese Mah Jongg®
We would love to hear your ideas...where would you like to see a tournament hosted and why? We always love a good story...if you have one from a tournament, please do share.