What happens if you don’t have access to a Mah Jongg teacher, but you want to learn to play?

by Al Stroud

My name is Al Stroud.  I am someone who learned Mah Jongg rather late since I took my first lesson when I was 69 years old, almost 4 years ago. I live in Frisco Lakes, a Del Webb senior community of about 2000 homes, in Frisco, TX, a northern suburb of Dallas.

Not long after my wife and I moved here, we heard that a lot of people were playing Mah Jongg and it sounded like it would be fun to play. Several of my neighbors had learned to play since they moved in; surprisingly, one of these neighbors was a man. I had always heard that only women played the game.

When my wife heard that someone was going to be teaching a class, she signed us up. Our instructor had taught it many times and had an outstanding knowledge of the game, but her teaching style reminded me of what I had heard about strict nuns in Catholic schools. It was an interesting experience. Nevertheless, most of the students stuck it out and eventually found our way into regular games. Shortly after the class ended that instructor left our community so we lost our most willing instructor.

Community interest in Mah Jongg was continuing to grow, however, and eventually another experience player, Simone Armon, took up the teaching challenge. By the time she scheduled her first class, I felt I understood the game enough to help her. After her first class I undertook to create a slideshow presentation to be used during the next class. Those slides turned out to be helpful but we simply could not accommodate everyone who was interested when they approached us.

People would want to learn right away and we could only schedule classes about every six months. So I developed a tutorial based on Simon’s classes so people who were interested in getting started could do so on their own. To make it more accessible, I recently converted the tutorial into YouTube videos. Since I still wanted to make handouts, available I set up a Google website to serve as a download location. While setting up that website, I realized I could actually include the YouTube videos there so people did not have to go back and forth from YouTube.

Although this tutorial started out as something just for use in my own community, I thought that since it was out there on the internet I should make it more available to anyone seeking to learn the game but does not have access to a Mah Jongg teacher in their community. As a result, I have changed the videos by taking out (I hope) all the Frisco Lakes specific references and making it more generic.

I think the advantage of using these videos to learn, especially if the learners have an experienced player to coach them (in lieu of a teacher), is that they can be replayed as many times as the learner wants at their own convenience. In addition, the videos never accidentally leave out any important point. And, I hope, unlike my original teacher, they do not make students feel uncomfortable unintentionally.

My hope is that, for anyone who wants to learn but lives in a community that does not have access to a Mah Jongg teacher, all that person would need is to get together with a group of three friends and learn to play using these videos and the handouts that Simone and I have developed to go with them. Beginning books help, too. And you can find those HERE (click link). The one most people recommend is the Beginner’s Guide by Elaine Sandberg. Of course, if anyone who looks at the videos believes I have left out something that should be included or have erred in some other way, I would want to know that and they should contact me at dkanstro33 AT gmail.com. The website address is https://sites.google.com/site/learnmahjongg101/ (copy and paste link into browser)

I love this game, and my effort creating these tutorials online will hopefully make it accessible to everyone, regardless of location or circumstance. Enjoy!

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