Jenn’s Corner #4: Professional Mahjong

Ok, I’ve been busy trying to get the calendar updated (it’s getting there!), preparing the next chapter for the “Rules” page, putting together Garthe’s links (check out the “World Associations” section of the “Links” menu!!) and studying up on poker, which is what Garthe and I spent most of our time doing in Las Vegas. We also looked around for promising venues for a future Mahjong Tournament!! Yay us! So yes, someday we would like to hold a Mahjong tournament in Las Vegas. Anyone interested in joining us?

By the way, we also posted our first Professional Interview with Takki (short for Takizawa) and it is definitely worth checking out! We haven’t gotten a picture to go with it yet, but we will soon (did I mention that he is HOT?) and we will also be interviewing more professionals and other great people in the Mahjong World so make sure you keep looking at our website and not just the blog!

Speaking of which, what exactly is a Professional Mahjong Player? What a strange concept… So, let’s enter the world of Professional Mahjong. Garthe and I are considered to be professional Mahjong players to many people. This word is used in Japanese and in English, but I have found the meanings to be so different, that it seemed a worthy column subject.

In English, to be a professional at something means that you accept money for doing something. If you play sports for money, you are a professional athlete. If you play sports for competition, you may retain your amateur status. In the gambling world, it is a bit different. Since there are no teams to pay the players, in the limelight, it is the sponsors and the prize money bankrolling the pro’s.

In Mahjong, there are very few ‘real’ pro’s in the world. Most of the people that play mahjong for a living and not for a hobby, reside in Japan. Even within Japan the term “Pro” has been so loosely transferred to their language and so loosely defined that Garthe and I, as the only Americans in this business full-time, have found a lot of frustration and confusion. So let’s look at what professional mahjong seems to be, and what it could be.

Every “Pro” in Japan must pass a test and join a league. Once you are a member of a league, you may be considered “Pro” by the layman, but, not necessarily by fellow “Pro’s”. Actually, the term “Pro” to many league-members in Japan, does not have anything to do with money. They believe that “Professional” is a word based on a person’s skill level. This creates double-standards and confusion for native English speakers like us who now have to be careful not to pronounce ourselves as “Professional” to the “wrong” people, but still appear as professional to people who want to give us money.

The way I see it, Garthe and I make a fair amount of our living by appearing in Mahjong Fight Club (Konami) and making guest appearances as Professional Mahjong Players, I strongly believe that we are considered professionals. Yes, we took the test, went to the monthly study sessions and we pay the dues, but there are 300-500 members of our league who did that same thing at any given time and play Mahjong full-time. What sets us apart from the other members of the league to make us professionals? In my opinion, not much.

To me, Mahjong is not only my favorite thing to do and an important passtime for me, it is also my job. When you get a job, it is all about what you can bring to the table. So what do I personally bring to the table as a Professional Mahjong Player that made me appealing as a candidate for this position in the Japan Professional Mahjong League, on Mahjong Fight Club and Mondo 21? Personality is a huge part of any job interview. My dedication, my willingness and desire to learn new things and work hard were definitely big factors. Selling points may include my uniqueness (what other blonde 23-year olds speak Japanese and play Mahjong in Tokyo?) and my ability to speak a couple of languages. How is my ability compared to the other Professionals in our league? Not the worst, and not the best (yet), but it is all about making yourself appealing to the employer. So here we are, starting in D2 (the current lowest) League and working our way up.

So what is a typical day in the lives of us Pro’s? Well, I’ll tell you about mine, although everyone is quite different. I wake up and when I’m trying to be cool, I do some yoga. I also try to get at least one website update (on my personal website or on Reach Mahjong: The Only Way to Play) and then head out to play some Mahjong Fight Club. When Garthe and I have time, we go play some casino-style mahjong together and when we don’t then I might go by myself or go home and play online or do more website updates. The first weekend of each month is League tournaments. We have 5 in each season and 2 seasons per year. The top 10 or so usually move up to the next league. It lasts for 2 days because of all the various leagues and when we have time we go watch the other leagues. Three days a month there is also a Champion’s League, which is kindof like a practice league. We have to play 5 times per season and the top 15 are eligible for titles. Other than that there are 3 or 4 tournaments hosted by JPML per year and we participate as much as we can. On Monday nights we participate in an international Mahjong club that plays once a week and on Wednesdays we participate in a mini-poker tournament. Free time is usually spent playing Mahjong Fight Club.

So that’s it in a nutshell. Any questions?

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