Personally, I have found Mah Jong to be really good for mental health. The last year has brought a lot of new things to worry about, and my brain is often occupied trying to process contingency plans, anxiety for loved ones at risk, and the general uncertainty of the world in the current state. When I play Mah Jong, that anxious energy is channeled towards bringing the chaos of the jumbled tiles into organized walls and tidy sets that can be qualified, quantified, and ordered. Julia Roberts explains that really well here.
At the core, Mah Jong is based on pattern recognition and probability calculation combined with social connection. The game is played with 144 tiles comprised of three suits, four winds, and three sets of dragons. There are clear rules (admittedly they are complex rules) of what combinations create points to the thirteen tiles you are dealt, and you need to build a hand with the highest value as quickly as possible. The complicating variable is that three other players are trying to do the same thing with the same tiles. Our friends at SmartShanghai made this quick introduction to the game here.
In the Shanghai international community, one of the contributing factors of the Mah Jong craze has been the democratization of the game thanks to the publication of Mah Jong book by Shanghai Joy Luck Club. Previously, it seemed that every Mah Jong table around town had different rules of play and obscure scoring that was often decided by the host or house based on their interpretation of rules. Now that there is a single source to reference, it makes changing the rules to suit the house more difficult…and the game is more accessible to newcomers.
The Shanghai Joy Luck Club is using International Competition Rules (国标麻将) which were developed by the All China Sports Federation in 1998 and mixes the rules of several regional variations of the game with a strong resemblance to Old Hong Kong Mah Jong.
Do you want to play? Here’s how to start*:
Attend a class: Shanghai Joy Luck Club is offering an Introduction to Mah Jong Class. Spots fill up fast so contact WeChat ID: joyluckmahjong to find out more.
(You can also find them as shanghaijoyluckclub on Instagram.)
Join a group: Shanghai Mamas has a weekly group that plays on Wednesday afternoons from 2-5pm and Friday mornings. Currently there are a few spots available for beginners every week*. Bring your own wine and snacks. Scan the ShMamas QR Code to learn more
Brits Abroad plays every Monday at Abbey Road from 1:30-4:30*. Come at 12:30 for lunch, and then stick around for the lesson at 1:30 and game play afterwards. No Brits Abroad membership is necessary to start, but you need to be a member to join the regular group that plays every week. They will talk you through it if you turn up at Abbey Road on a Monday afternoon.
Start your own group! All you need is a four-sided table, a Mah Jong set, and three friends. Instructions for learning the game are very clear in the book. If you want to get fancy, bring your friends and book an electric Mah Jong table available for rental at many club spaces around town (example Mix Club)
*No gambling occurs at these groups or other illegal behavior. Players play for the love of the game.