Do You Need a Teacher to Learn Mah Jongg? -by Ann Israel

There are so many “how to” books on Mah Jongg out there – why bother paying to have someone teach you how to play when you can just look up all the rules in a book?

I believe I have read all of those (or perhaps just about all of them!) books teaching you how to play Mah Jongg and must admit that some of them are very good. Of course, I already know how to play and so reading those books simply reinforces (most of the time) the rules and regulations that I use in my game play.

Reliable instructional books include the bestselling Beginner’s Guide to American Mah Jongg (click on link) by Elaine Sandberg, and her follow-up bestseller Winning American Mah Jongg Strategies (click on link), and don’t forget Tom Sloper’s The Red Dragon and The West Wind (click on link). However, if you don’t have any idea what the game is all about, I can’t imagine sitting down and trying to play a Mah Jongg game simply by reading these books.

Think about the Charleston – I remember when I was taking lessons from my beloved teacher, Linda Feinstein. She was able to quickly point out why the tiles I had picked to pass on were not the best choices and why certain other tiles would be the right ones to pass; reading from a book about passing tiles in the Charleston would never have helped me to correct my mistakes.

Mah Jongg certainly is a game that requires a good deal of luck but the rest of being a winning Mah Jongg player has to do with skill and strategy. How it is possible to learn when and how to use those skills and strategies is not something that can come from reading a book. It comes from playing the game with a teacher there to guide you and show you why you should or shouldn’t pass a certain tile or not to discard a tile that gives someone else Mah Jongg.

I give my beginning students a booklet at the end of their first lesson and tell them they must read it for their “homework” assignment. When they return for their second lesson they all have a glazed-over look in their eyes and, to a one, tell me they have no idea what they were reading. And then I show them what was in those first pages – how to build walls, the Charleston, and how to start playing the game. Oh, they cry out, that’s what you meant!

There is no question in my mind that I would never be the player I am today had I not been taught by a teacher. I still read all the how-to books and I try to imagine being able to understand the game if I had tried to learn it on my own with the helping hand of a caring teacher…I know it couldn’t have happened.

And now, from a teacher’s point of view, I must tell you that there is no better feeling I can get when, around the third lesson, I see the light bulb go on as an understanding of what this wonderful game is all about turns a novice into an addicted Mah Jongg player!

Click here to purchase Ann Israel’s celebrated collector’s book, The Art of the Game.

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