by My childhood, and perhaps yours, holds the special memory of the sound of clicking tiles and laughter coming from the kitchen as my mother and her friends gathered around the table every week to play Mah Jongg. But the kitchen was “off limits” to a youngster and my attention soon turned elsewhere. Now as an adult I look back to this treasured recollection and want to find out more about this game and so I recently spoke to Karen Gooen, a Mah Jongg enthusiast and author of “Searching for Bubbe Fischer: The path to Mah Jongg Wisdom”.
Mah Jongg originated in China as far back as the 18th century and was introduced in the United States in the 1920’s. The American version developed with its own rules and tournaments into two distinct versions, one adopted and often played in Jewish social circles and one originated at Wright Patterson Air Force Base and played by military families around the globe. The object is to modify fourteen random tiles taken from a pool of 152 colored tiles, into one of several very specific patterns by trading tiles and then picking and throwing away others as one transforms a chaotic hand into something that makes perfect sense.
Karen was introduced to Mah Jongg in 2003 and was immediately drawn to both the intellectual stimulation of the game as well as the social aspect. As she sought to improve her skill, Karen discovered that there was very little written about the fundamentals and the strategy of the game. So she set out to write a book, half memoir and half instructional, and in 2014 self published her book, “Searching for Bubbe Fischer: The path to Mah Jongg Wisdom”.
Karen shared the lessons she has learned from playing Mah Jongg that I think are relevant to all of us in both our personal and financial lives regardless of what game we are playing.
“Mah Jongg is 70% luck and 30% skill. Learn the strategy and you can capitalize on the 30% you can control. Luck favors the prepared mind. You need to understand the goals. And you always need a back up plan.”
Karen has been invited to lecture and teach the game she loves to Mah Jongg enthusiasts across the country. American Maj Jongg is attracting a wide gamut of bright new players, from retired school teachers to engineers. Although Mah Jongg is not a “quick study” and requires patience and skill, there is joy to be found in a game well played. As Karen ended our conversation she noted, “Always play your best and don’t give away the game.” And that is advice we can all live by.