Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A New Year Begins!

The Mah Jongg Doctors wish you the best in 2015!

May the New Year bring you Mah Jongg that knocks your socks off!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Searching for Bubbe Fischer

A Great Read

Karen Gooen passed along to us a review copy of her new book Searching for Bubbe Fischer. 

(you've got to love the title!) It's part memoir/part manual, about her search to find the quintessential mah jongg mentor, and also includes information and strategies relevant to beginners and advanced players alike. 

As she chronicles her experiences from first learning to play through becoming a teacher of the game,we recognize and identify with her path to Mah Jongg wisdom. She is totally honest about her frustrations and her victories, and her candor is both attractive and appreciated. We particularly enjoyed her recounting of her tournament experiences.

This book has something that each and every Mah Jongg player can relate to.  A must read for anyone on their Mah Jongg journey!!

You can find the book on Amazon or through Karen at:

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Happy Holidays and a request from a reader.

We hope you're all doing what you love best at this holiday time...and playing mah jongg to keep you stress free!

Alice from lower Westchester County in NY asks:  My friend and I have been in a regular game for a few years that seems to be falling apart.  Do you know of any games that might be looking for players?

If you know of a game that could use two more players in this area please email us at: and we'll pass the information along to Alice.

We hate to see anyone without a game!!

Relax and play mah jongg during the holidays!

~ Barbara and Susan

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Doctors are Back!

We have been busy!

We just wrapped up our fall semester Beginning Mah Jongg Class offered through the Lakeland Central School District Continuing Education Program. What wonderful, enthusiastic students they were. We wish them luck as they join the ranks of Mah Jongg lovers!!

And, we have been playing in tournaments.... what fun! 

In October, we were in Atlantic City for Four Season's three day tournament at Resorts Casino. As always, Joanne Bourne's careful planning and attention to details made for a super tournament. 

In November, we stayed closer to home and attended one-day tournaments at the JCC in West Nyack and Women of SSTTE in Scarsdale.  Both tournaments were wonderful and we look forward to their next events. (Susan came in third place in the West Nyack tournament)

All these tournaments vary a bit in the rules they set forth, their scoring techniques, and the prize structure. But what remains consistent are the players...all are good, fast players...all would like to win!! To that end, we know that some players hope to channel good luck through:
  • lucky socks
  • special jewelry
  • lucky shirt or sweater
  • mah jongg themed apparel
  • lucky manicured nails
  • family picture or talisman
  • lucky pen for scoring
And then we observed people engaging in rituals designed to bring good fortune their way. We've seen some players knock on the table before picking up their tiles, and others who slide their tile away from the wall and rub it on the table before they look at it.  But, by far the wildest ritual observed was that of a woman who after throwing in her tiles and mixing them around in preparation for building new walls, would sift through the tiles looking for 2 jokers.  She would take a joker in each hand and gently rub them against her chest!!

Whatever it is that you do, may you always have good luck and good mah jongg!!

~ Barbara and Susan

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A gem of a tournament in East Meadow, Long Island

We traveled to East Meadow early Sunday morning to participate in a "new to us" tournament.

What a find! Gail organizes this tournament as a fund raiser for her synagogue and does a lovely job.
This particular one was the biggest she has run as news of this lovely tournament is spreading.

Everything went smoothly. The day started with a continental breakfast.
Then we played four rounds. We broke for lunch which on this day was a barbecue. Four more rounds after lunch with a short break for coffee and cookies.

By 5 PM the tournament was over and prizes were being awarded. Gail gives many prizes during the tournament, also.  Even one for the first person to make Mah Jongg on the last tile.  NOT the last tile in the wall, but the player's last pick in the game.  Fun!

We had a great time. The mah-jongg world gets smaller and smaller. The more tournaments we attend, the more people we  recognize.  We feel like we're on the 'mah jongg circuit'!

So at this tournament, Susan made two hands she has not yet made on this year's card:

222 888 DDDD DDDD
FF 11 22 11 22 11 22
(Yes, I'm keeping track this year of each time I make a new hand.)

And Barbara made this hand jokerless..and she picked it herself!

1111 22 22 22 3333

Gail  runs a tournament every month. For details you can email her at or read our last post to see the upcoming schedule for the year.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

We Love Tournaments!

We mentioned that we discovered some new tournaments from friends at the Piscataway tournament last weekend.

Gail from East Meadow in Long Island sponsors a one day tournament almost every month to benefit Temple Emanu-el.  You can participate by sending a check payable to Temple Emanu-el in the amount of $45 to: Temple Emanu-el,  123 Merrick Ave, East Meadow, NY 11554.  Attn: Gail

Here is the schedule for the next year:

September 21, 2014
October 26, 2014
November 16, 2014
December 21, 2014
January 11, 2015
March 15, 2015
April 12, 2015
May 17, 2015
June 14, 2015
August 2, 2015

You can reach Gail for details at:  or  (516) 221-4802 if you have any questions.

We'll be at the Sept. 21st event.  Hope to see some of you there, too!

~Susan and Barbara

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

ALMOST a Mah Jong doesn't count!

Here's another interesting situation that occurred to me in a recent game.

I ended the passing like this:

 What a beautiful start to this hand:  
3333 44 44 44 5555
I do need a few more jokers or 3 and 5 dots....but the pairs are all there!

Then, after just a few rounds of play, I start picking 3's and I have this!

Now it looks better for this hand, because I'm still quite short on 3 and 5 dots.
33 44 333 444 5555

And finally I am 'set'!  The hand has come in beautifully!  I just need someone to throw a 3 BAM.

 BUT.....someone declares Mah Jongg before me and the game is over.  

It happens.  You think you're on the brink of winning.  There are many tiles yet to play....but who knows how far down the wall that 3 BAM resides!


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Piscataway Debriefing

Home Again!

This weekend's tournament was exceptional!  What a great time....and not because either of us placed in the competition.**  But we were winners in every other way.

  • We reconnected with old friends
  • We played pick-up games between tournament sessions
  • We discovered new tournaments we'd like to attend
  • We reaffirmed that tournaments are a great place to play lots of fast Mah Jongg and meet interesting people
**See our score cards below.  One of us started strong, collected points early in the tournament yet stalled in the final rounds.  The other did not win a hand until the 5th round yet saw success in the closing rounds.   In the end our scores were 5 points apart! That's Mah Jongg for you!

Looking forward to the next Four Seasons Tournament:

Atlantic City, October 19th - 21st, 2014

Hope to see some of you there!

~ Barbara and Susan

Friday, August 22, 2014

Piscataway here we come!

It's time for another Mah Jongg tournament.  The doctors leave on Friday for a full weekend of play in Piscataway, NJ.  Run by Joanne Bourne of Four Seasons MJT it's one of our favorites. 

Held in an Embassy Suites, we get a lovely 2 room suite, see lots of MJ friends we know and play 12 rounds of Mah Jongg.  That doesn't count the mini tournaments if you choose to opt into those, too.

What could be better for die hard players like us! 

We'll debrief when we return.

~Barbara and Susan

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Time to Fly....

We've been teaching a private class for the past 6 weeks and its time to send our nine new players out into the world of Mah Jongg on their own.

We've had such fun teaching them the game that we love!

~Barbara and Susan

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Mah Jongg Reunion

Years ago a group of casual Mah Jongg friends thought it would be fun to have a monthly Mah Jongg party and pot luck dinner.  We met for several years and as often happens the group slowly fell apart and we have been out of touch with each other for quite awhile.

We had occasion to run into a couple of people from the group and decided it would be fun to organize a reunion.
We were fortunate to find a date when everyone could come and set about to organize a day that could offer the opportunity to socialize and play Mah Jongg.
Here was the schedule we came up with:

10 AM  Arrive for coffee and cake
11AM  2 rounds of Mah Jongg
1 PM Sit down lunch (more about that later)
2 PM  2 more rounds of Mah Jongg
4 PM  Dessert and coffee

There were 8 of us; two tables of Mah Jongg.  We spent a good deal of time assigning the players to tables so that each person got to play with every other person for at least one round.  We had prizes for special hands as many tournaments do.

We planned the lunch menu with an Asian theme.

Vietnamese Spring Rolls
Sesame Noodles
Honey Dew Melon Balls with Coconut Milk

And for a special Mah Jongg dessert:

Sugar Cookie Bars decorated as Mah Jongg Tiles

It was a perfect day and so wonderful that such an eclectic group of women came together and enjoyed each other ......and we owe it all to Mah Jongg.

Here we are at the end of a lovely day.

Sunday, August 10, 2014


I do.  But many times in a tournament, I hear people say:  I HATE this game.

They can't mean that....maybe it's the dilemmas that frustrate them.

The Dilemma.  Here's one.

 I am in good shape for either of two hands:  55 77 555 777 9999  OR  77 88 777 888 9999

I just need to pair either the 5 or 7 crack.....or the 7 or 8 crak.   I don't want to call the pung of 5 bams or 8 bams until I have one of my pairs.   Just hoping the next tile I pick will show me the way to go...

But no!  My next pick is a joker.  Still no direction.  I have a dilemma.  Which way to go.
I just have to make a choice.  Which would you do?  And how would you decide!

I think the dilemmas that occur in the game make it more interesting and constantly new.



Thursday, July 24, 2014

Switching Hands

I love the transformations that take place in a Mah Jongg hand during the course of a game.

Here's an example from a game last week.

When the passing ends I have a nice start on the FF 222 444 666 888 hand.  I keep the soap, and the 1Crak just in case I want to switch to a 2104 never know what you might pick up.

Now I've given up on the 2014 hand because the 2s, 4s, and 8s are coming in.  But when I pick a red dragon I keep it, just in case I can do the 22 44 666 888 DDDD hand.

Uh I've added another joker!  So close to both hands!

I think:
For the :  22 44 666 888 DDD:  I have the pairs.  I can call for the 6 and the 8 AND the red dragon.

For the :  FF 222 444 666 888:  (it's concealed)  I would have to pick either a 2, 4, 6, 8 or joker to discard my red dragon and then I would be on call for the Mah Jongg.

It really depends upon which tile I pick next that fits into one of these hands.

My next pick is a RED DRAGON.  I discard a flower and wait for a 2, 4, 6, 8 or dragon to call.
I pick a 6 crack, discard the second flower and wait to call MJ on either a 2, 4, 8 or dragon.

My chances are can see in the last photo that we are pretty early in the game.

And, yes.  I made the Mah Jongg.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Dead or Alive?

A former student of ours writes:

" Recently I was mistakenly called dead when I called an exposed a pung.  Does my opponent who called my hand dead then become dead?  I thought I remembered this being the rule from your class but my opponent disagreed.
Thank you.

P.S.  I enjoyed your class and have become addicted. "

You are RIGHT.  If a player calls another player dead in error, that player becomes dead and ceases play while the other player continues to play.  That's why players are so careful when they call another dead.

I believe that if there wasn't a penalty for  that, players would be much more liberal in calling others dead, even possibly in an effort to determine which hand they are playing.

Comments or differing opinions?
BTW....we love the Mah Jongg addiction!

Susan and Barbara

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

6 degrees of separation

Mah Jongg is a culture unto itself.  We could go to a Mah Jongg tournament almost anywhere and make connections with someone we know...or at least within 6 degrees of separation!  It's like  Mah Jongg Geography.

You can walk in to a room full of players and know what to do without giving it a second thought.  You sit and chat with folks you don't know and soon you find that you know people in common.

In Atlanta in May, I met players I knew from Texas, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
On our cruise in March, Barbara met a woman who had played Mah Jongg with her aunt in Greenlawn, NY in the 70's.  And, if not someone you know, you will certainly find that you have friends in common.

When I met Michele in Atlanta she told me about Mah Jongg and Me:  a blog I had yet to find written by Ann who lives in Manhattan.   As soon as I got home I looked up the blog and went back to read all of the posts from the beginning. They are filled with wonderful information related to the game.  Be sure to check out her blog.

We've connected to Ann through her blog and emails....and have plans to meet with her in the city in a couple of weeks.  Can't wait to talk Mah Jongg with another avid player. 

All things Mah Jongg become special.  The sets and tiles we use.  The food we serve.   And the people we play with.  I wonder if Kevin Bacon plays Mah Jongg?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Sometimes One Mah Jongg Set is Not Enough...

When you love Mah Jongg as much as we do, the set you play with is important.
Barbara plays on her mother's set.  It's a good feeling to handle the same tiles your mom did so many years ago.

I didn't grow up in a family that played MJ, so when I began to play I bought a new set.  It's a lovely set, but it has no history!

 I played with it for a few years but I longed for a set that was old and beautiful.  I started looking at auctions, flea markets and on eBay and finally found this on eBay.

 The auction had many photographs that showed ALL of the set.  All of the tiles both front and back.  It's important that all are the same color and belong to the same set.
This one had a tag that marked it a Royal Depth Control set from A & L Mfg. Co. in NY.

But what sold me on the set were the jokers.  First of all there were 8.  Many older sets have only 6 jokers or less.  (It wasn't until 1971 that the NMJL began using 8 jokers and 8 flowers) 
I don't know why this has 8...unless someone got them from another identical set.  But they are beautiful!

The flowers and dragons are also lovely and the tiles are all full of color and very smooth to the touch.

There are five racks with betting chips.  Also a sign of an older set.  New sets only have 4 racks.

And, of course the instruction booklet, dice and a bakelite bettor!
This is my set of choice when I play!'s something else about avid Mah Jongg players...sometimes we collect sets.
The tiles that we photographed for our header at the top of the page are part of a set that my daughter's boyfriend bought at an auction for me.  It has no jokers but the tiles are beautiful.  There are 16 flower/worker enough to make 8 jokers and have a set that can be used for play.  I have some joker stickers on order and am finally ready to restore it.
What good is an antique set if you don't use it!


Monday, June 30, 2014

From Westchester to Pearl East

Chinese food and Mah Jongg go together.  This afternoon the Mah Jongg Doctors took a road trip from the northern reaches of Westchester County to Pearl East in Manhasset, NY.  We tucked into some of the best Chinese food we've had in a long time.

The owner ordered a variety of dishes for us and we dined on:

  • Rice paper shrimp rolls

  • Crabmeat and pork Shanghai soup dumplings
  Each dumpling is served on its own spoon.
(these were so good, they were gone before we could photograph them)

  • Thin sliced beef with leeks and hot peppers 
  • Barbeque jumbo shrimp with scallions, ginger and mixed vegetables
  • Young Chow fried rice with Chinese sausage, chicken and shrimp

We shamelessly photographed our meal and left totally satisfied.  Only a game of Mah Jongg could have made the afternoon better!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Looking Back on 50 Years of Mah Jongg

A few days ago I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to speak with Annelise Heinz. She is working on a doctoral dissertation related to the history of Mah Jongg in the US from 1920 to 1960.  We had a lengthy conversation about my memories of Mah Jongg …the game itself, the people who played it, and life as it was at that time.

And, like a bucket filled with fish hooks, as we pulled out one memory it linked to another. It is amazing to me that there are times I cannot remember the items on my shopping list as I enter the supermarket, but, clear as day, I was able to pull up names and events from 50 years ago. 

The summer of 1964 kicked off as we packed up our car and headed to the Catskills for our traditional bungalow colony experience in Mountaindale, NY. And, always the last item to be slipped into a narrow space left in the trunk was my mother’s Mah Jongg set, because, summertime was Mah Jongg time. My mother and her friends would play Mah Jongg for hours every afternoon while we were in day camp, and then again in the evenings when we were happily catching fireflies or playing ring-a-levio. 

Campers by day…Mah Jonggers all the other times!
After day camp we would stand around the Mah Jongg tables and watch as our moms played their last hands so that they could then turn their attention to preparing dinner.  We felt so lucky to be able to pack up the sets for them, always making sure that the tiles matched evenly in the box so we knew all of them were accounted for.  Soon we began to play around with the tiles before we packed them up. Building walls and picking tiles, putting them on the Mah Jongg card, and flippping them up just like our moms did.  We practiced that tricky move many times!! We even picked and threw, naming the tiles (which we must have learned from years of watching and listening) and racking the new ones. The only thing we didn’t do was actually try to make a hand because we didn’t know how. Our faux Mah Jongg games were wonderful!! 

And then, I’m really not sure if it was their idea or ours, but our moms told us that they would teach us how to really play.  There were times we each shared a rack with our mom as she explained how to read the card, pass the tiles, and form a hand.  Other times, as we became more competent and independent, one mom would stay with us to guide our play. It was such a seamless, natural learning experience for us all! We looked for every opportunity to play and practice. I was totally hooked…and I remain so to this day.

Here’s to the next 50 years of Mah Jongg.
And…thank you Mom!!

~ Barbara

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Fastest Gun in the EAST....(and debriefing from CT tournament)

Barbara and I spent the day at a tournament in Danbury, CT.  It was a benefit for AAUW and run by Libby Kasimer.  It was a great tournament and a lovely day, held at a lakeside venue with an outdoor area where one could chat between games.

To top off this enjoyable day Barbara made the following hand: (click on the photo and it will enlarge)

OK.  It's a pairs hand....FF 4B4B  5B5B  6B6B  7B7B  8B8B  9B9B  GG
Not SO unusual..... BUT....she made this hand as EAST before the first tile was thrown.

This can only happen when one is EAST.   After the last right on which Barbara made a blind pass....she optioned one tile with WEST and received the tile that completed her Mah Jongg.  So...instead of throwing the first tile....she exposed her Mah Jongg!

Have you EVER seen this happen?   It was a first for me...and Barbara, too.

An exciting day all around.  BTW....Barbara came in first at the tournament.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Debriefing from Piscataway

The tournament is over and we're home from Piscataway.  We didn't win but we got to play lots of Mah Jongg with great, fast players.  Thanks to Joanne for arranging another super tournament!

When we arrived on Friday the tournament room was buzzing with activity as 41 tables got ready for the 1st round of play.  (That's 164 players.)

Barbara and I surveyed the room as though we were in a Mah Jongg Museum!  Each table has a different Mah Jongg set supplied by the East at that table.

As we photographed some of the sets we asked if the owners would tell us about their set. 
 It became apparent that players are very connected to their sets and were happy to tell us about them. 

 Many are chosen for the color or design of the tiles. 
 Often players want their jokers personalized.

 Sometimes sets are passed from one Mah Jongg player to another and have developed special meaning given the people who played with them before.
 Some sets reflect the personalities of their owners.
 We saw so many beautiful sets.  Too many to put up here. 

But if you're looking for a new've got lots to consider when choosing!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Off to Piscataway, New Jersey.

The doctors are off to Piscataway, New Jersey for a tournament this weekend.  This tournament is organized by Joanne Bourne of Four Seasons Mah Jongg Tournaments.  We love Joanne's tournaments and try to go as often as possible.

The games go from Friday night to Sunday at noon.  The tourney is held in an Embassy Suites hotel where players stay.  The hotel is great, the games are fun and most meals are included (except Sat. night dinner, when you're on your own)

We are looking forward to great, fast-paced mah jongg, and schmoozing with friends. We also look forward to playing with the variety of mah jongg sets that are used during the competition. Each set tells a story, and like fashion, each makes a statement.  My mah jongg set is vintage 1950’s and was my mother’s. I love the worn tiles, the stickered jokers, and the Bakelite racks and dice. The sets we will see this weekend have tiles that are often multi colored, glittered, striped or layered, even jumbo sized! The jokers are often engraved with names, initials, or sayings.  At many tables the racks are enhanced with pushers. And the dice…often sparkled and spangled. In the course of the weekend we will play with 16 different sets. I hope my favorite set, the one with the calming seafoam colored layered tiles will make an appearance! 

We know we’re in for a fun time! We will give you our play by play once we return.

~ Barbara

Saturday, May 31, 2014


That's what we call the last hand on the card.  On each new card it's based on the year hand.
This year:

FF 2014 2014 2014

I hear people talk at tournaments about how they've made the hand 3 times this year....or twice last month.
Someone at a tournament usually makes it...there's a bonus if you do.  

Well.  This doctor has never made the BIG HAND in the 12 years that I've been playing.


I ended the passing with this:

I decided not to option the 2 dragons because if I picked jokers I might do the
FF 2014 DDD DDD hand.

I picked 2 soaps in quick succession...and then waited until a player threw the 4BAM.  Voila!

It was fun...and I feel like I've joined the BIG HAND CLUB.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Mah Jongg Tournaments come to Atlanta, GA

This doctor is in Atlanta this weekend for Mah Jongg....(and to visit daughter Jessica and 5 month old Finn!)

Gladys Grad of Mah Jongg Madness held a tournament here this weekend at the Crowne Plaza Ravinia and I was here for her first foray into Atlanta.

It was a lovely hotel and a great tournament.  I'm sure she'll do others here in the future.

Check out Gladys' website at the link above for more tournament information.

So, I came by myself and thought I would not know anyone here.  But it's always fun to meet new MJ players.

But there is a kind of 'circuit' in the mah jongg world and who do I  see upon arrival the first night but Karen and Helen. (from Texas)  Barbara and I met them on the Mah Jongg cruise both that we took in March.  That was a 14 day cruise to Barcelona with 9 sea days...and 9 days of Mah Jongg!  Oh, and we loved the port stops, too!  It was sponsored by Lois Madow of the American Mah Jongg League.

Later I played with Eileen (from Philadelphia) who plays in the Four Seasons Mah Jongg tournaments sponsored by Joanne Bourne in New Jersey,  Atlantic City and Lancaster, PA.  So there...a third person I knew. more...Beryl (from NYC) was there, too.  She also plays in the Jersey tournaments.

I met some lovely players and had a fun time.  No prize for me this time.

If you happen to be in Atlanta and want to learn Mah Jongg, I met Michele Frizzell who teaches in the greater Atlanta area.  You can reach her at the link above.

On another note,  the doctors are teaching private lessons this summer in Westchester County.
We have a group of eight all ready to start in July.  If you and some friends have always wanted to learn, email us for details!

~ Susan