Teaching Mahjong – Again

It’s been a long time since I taught Mahjong. First time was in Taiwan when I was still a student. Second time was when I was back in the UK. Third time was last year in Frankfurt. I’ve had mixed successes and failures but I think overall people have enjoyed themselves (or at least they still return my calls…).

After hauling my Mahjong table up to the fourth floor where my new apartment is, I thought it was finally time to get playing on it. Not having any mahjong-playing friends close, my only option was to make some.

With promises of fun and takeout, five people came over. Two already had some experience of mahjong so that made it easier and they switched with each other while the three least experienced played all the hands.

This was probably one of my more successful initial teaching sessions. I think when you’re teaching someone how to play, it’s very easy to forget that some of the things one now take’s for granted can appear rather exotic to others.

Below are the steps in Gemma’s lesson one plan:

Step One: Let them play with the tiles and put together a straight of each suit and a triple of each of the dragons and winds.

This helps them grow accustomed to the tiles. Particularly important if they don’t read Japanese or Chinese. (Pro tip: Remember to tell them that the bird is the one of bamboos. I forgot to tell them…)

Step Two: Show them the shape of a standard hand and allow them to build one themselves.

Again, you come against problems you wouldn’t anticipate as someone who has played for many years now. You forget that people may assume a straight could go 8-9-1. Or that perhaps you could have W-E-N as a set.

Step Three: Show them how to build the wall and get them to do it.

Not too many problems here apart from when your players seem more excited by building things than playing, making you wonder if you should have just got some Lego…

Step Four: Go through an open sample game.

For this part I tend to play with everyone having their hands open so we can see what everyone is doing and discuss how to build a hand.

The most difficult part is trying to explain and ensure the new players go in the right direction when counting after the dice roll, when dealing and the order of discards.

This is also where I introduce the calls “pon” and “chi”.

Be careful when explaining “chi” that the new players understand when calling chi, they miss a chance to draw and the play moves to the player on their right once they discard.

Be careful when explaining “pon” to new players and ensure they understand that it may disrupt the order of drawing.

However, I don’t introduce dora or any hand points. I believe too many rules at once will overwhelm them and (a) they’ll get frustrated (b) they won’t remember. The most important thing is to get them playing. It may be that what they’re playing looks ridiculously dumbed down, but it’s all new to them and they’ll probably be enjoying themselves.

Step Five: Go through closed sample games

I repeat this step until everyone is more or less familiar with the flow of play. However, it is important that you move on to introducing new rules before your players get bored and wonder what all the fuss was about.

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