How To Run a Successful Tournament

By Gladys Grad of Mah Jongg Madness, who runs the largest tournaments in the US. Every year, thousands of people play in her tournaments.

Tournaments are the natural evolutionary step in this game we love.

They are smart, friendly, and fun. Who wouldn’t want to get a group of friends together for a day of food, fun and Mah Jongg?

And further, we believe that your game will never improve if you don’t play with other players. Not better players. Not more experienced players. Other players. And where do you meet all those other players, you might ask? At tournament, of course.

That said, if you’ve already enjoyed these events, how about conducting your own?

After checking out the daytime tournaments close to home or the larger weekend hotel-centered events, you likely have experienced well run, smooth events, (and maybe a few – not so much). This will give you an idea about what you like, and what you want to improve upon.

Over the last 15 years, Mah Jongg Madness® has helped literally dozens and dozens of hosts create their tournaments. Here are some hints to get you started on your own.

Decide if you want the event to be three hours, four hours, five or six hours, a one day event, or a weekend event at a hotel. You can do a cruise, a charity event, a social event, or even a commemorative event.

All you need is at least 8 players. The more you have, the more exciting it gets. (If you have 16 players, you can also offer them Mah Jongg Master Points. (More about this later.)

Tournaments are held in Community Club Houses, Country Clubs, Churches and Synagogues, Senior Centers, Friendship Centers, Fraternal Organizations; restaurants, hotel meeting rooms and ballrooms, cruise ships, and conference centers.

Some will require agreements/contracts; which will cover amenities such as meals, breakout areas, display areas, and equipment (perhaps for a fee). Some restaurants and country clubs require you to order a meal; some hotels require you to book accommodations to compensate for the use of their conference facilities. Some halls may ask for a setup or cleanup fee.

Based on your tournament size and type, choose a location that appeals to whom you wish to include:
-Are you holding the tournament for local guests and commuters?
-Is the playing room well lit and heated/cooled comfortably?
-Are restrooms comfortably near the playing room?
-Do you want to appeal to travelers?
-Do you want to offer room accommodations to travelers?
-Will your guests have access to free or paid parking?
-If it is a weekend event, is traveling to and from the event convenient? Will you need airport shuttles for out of state travelers; does the hotel offer shuttles to nearby shopping and restaurants?
-Can you hold the tournament in another place-other than where the guests are staying (perhaps have people staying at a hotel, and playing in an outside conference center;

Does your selected venue have tables, or will you have to borrow, rent or provide your own?

Do you have enough Mah Jongg sets available, or will you ask your guests to bring along theirs? It’s a good idea to have a list of your guests who are going to bring their own sets. If you have a flyer/registration form promoting your event, have a place on the form for your guests to indicate that they will bring their own Mah Jongg set. Encourage some to bring along an extra if they have one, because sometimes a guest will forget.

Don’t forget the time clock, too.

Name tags are a must. Some may have just the first name. Others go as far as to include what city they’re from, what their web on-line-player’s name is, their tournament player’s number, and their starting table and position (East [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][A], West [C], South [B], North [D] ).

All you need is at least two tables. And make sure to rotate players at the tables after every ROUND of four games so everyone plays with different players.

Don’t differentiate between who is better than the others. It’s a good idea to mix it up.

IMPORTANT: Please try to give friends and traveling partners the same player’s POSITION at DIFFERENT TABLES. This helps to prevent them from playing with one another or one friend helping their friend to get a Mah Jongg. We don’t like to think about complicity, but it could happen.

These are standardized guidelines we’ve found work best.
East (A) moves Up 1 table number
NOTE: If scoring is not computerized, sometimes East (A) remains at the same table throughout the tournament, while others rotate around them. This is because East can be designated to keep score, and usually plays at the same table as her set.
West (B) moves Down 1 table number
North (C) moves Up 2 table numbers
South (D) moves Down 2 table numbers

There is NO elimination. Winners are determined by TOTAL SCORES
Keep score. You can copy the (paper) score sheets from the website. They are clear and easy to understand, and have a short version of the rules and scorekeeping information right on them. Or, develop or adapt the score sheets to suit your own requirements.

Remember to include in your budget enough money for paper and pens (preferably RED).

Some larger tournaments have a computerized scoring system, similar to marking ballots or test papers when we were young. The score cards are then scanned directly into a formulating software program that calculates and updates the totals.

HELPFUL HINT: On your score sheets, make sure you advise your players to write out their scores; i.e. +10, and “plus ten;” if their score is Zero have them print a red “X” and write “zero.” MAKE SURE ALL SCORE SHEETS ARE INITIALLED AND SIGNED before turning them in to the scorekeeper.

Don’t be intimidated by the breadth of the rules….there’s more there than you’ll ever need. Click on the link below to view the National Mah Jongg Tournaments Sanctioned Tournament Rules.

Have a few copies on hand during the tournament for reference

Charge your guests an amount sufficient enough to give out several cash prizes, to pay for lunch or brunch, and to cover your supplies. And if applicable, make sure you have enough to donate to your named-Charity. 50/50 raffles are a good idea for donating to charity; half goes to the charity, the other half goes to the raffle winner. If you wish to make some money for your own hard work, include this in your fee – or it’s another use of the 50/50 raffle.

You can also have everyone bring a small grab bag prize to use as your supply of awards. Where The Winds Blow has many door prize ideas, including lower pricing for bulk orders of door prize gifts. Contact them directly for their door prize list. Likely, you can also get several prizes/awards and gift certificates from stores and shops in your area, and from members’ business to add to the prize pool, especially if you plan a charitable event.

If a TIE occurs, add up the closest two prizes, and divide in half (or thirds). For instance, if there is a tie for 4th place, then add it to the prize for 5th place; and divide that total in half.

If you are hosting a tournament, and wish to play in your own tournament, don‘t apologize. Up front, tell your guests that you are running this tournament, because you also like to play (and win) in these events. You can indicate that your scores will be tabulated by another player for accuracy. Remember, you put in all the work to create this event; and you are also entitled to win. Guests who are rude enough to complain about this are rather ungracious.

It’s not easy to find people who will wait around to see if they are needed to fill in at a game. The larger tournaments usually have subs available, either volunteers or paid staff. Small tournaments don’t have that luxury. Merely advise your guests that in the event there are tables of 3 players, you will endeavor to make sure these players only have to play one round with 3. Although some players don’t like it, they actually have an advantage of more tiles from which to pick to make a Mah Jongg. The odds are on their side.

Flyers, emails, social media (FaceBook, Twitter, Craig’s list, etc), blogs, direct mail, web sites. We don’t recommend paid advertising for the tournament events. Take advantage of the options listed above. There are apps and computer programs that can help you design wonderful brochures, flyers, and websites. Remember to include a registration form, location, dates, times, charity (if applicable), fees, meals, bringing a set, and contacts.

If a question arises during play, the Director’s ruling is final.


Based on the first tournaments conducted by the National Mah Jongg League (NMJL) together with Mah Jongg Madness (MJM), Tournament Rules have evolved too. We began publishing standardized Tournament Rules in 2009, with the intent of making the existing rules clearly explained, rational, and logical.

These Rules don’t just interpret things in black and white. They also consider the so-called grey areas. They even help to explain situations that may occur in our home games that sometimes result in a dispute. We like to believe that if you play by Tournament Rules, you will avoid those issues….and those “debates.”
© Copyright 2016 Gladys Grad

Gladys Grad
5750 Carriage Drive
Sarasota, FL 34243

Visit our website for information on Tournament Rules, Tournaments and Cruises[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

2 thoughts on “How To Run a Successful Tournament

  1. Dixie Bassett says:

    We are planning to have a tournament to raise money for St. John’s Episcopal School in Abilene, Texas and the surrounded area. We will have to get lots of help!

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