May the Mah Jongg Gods be With You:  A game of skill and luck

May the Mah Jongg Gods be With You: A game of skill and luck

I’ve always found the question of skill vs. luck in Mah Jongg a fascinating topic.

While numerous articles and books have been written about luck vs. skill in many areas of life, particularly sports and business, this juxtaposition between luck and skill seems to be particularly relevant in Mah Jongg.

Mah Jongg is certainly a game of skill.  It’s not an easy game and there are many complex thought processes that are used when playing.

Luck is the tricky part: it’s that unexplainable force that brings either good fortune or adversity. As defined in the dictionary, Luck is a combination of circumstances, events, etc., operating by chance to bring good or ill to a person. And Chance is the absence of any cause of events that can be predicted, understood, or controlled.

So when was the last time a good Mah Jongg player – you, for instance, went the entire day without winning a game? It was only yesterday that you were saying: “I can’t win a hand!” Or, “I can’t pick a tile!” Conversely, your friend Karen ‘was on fire’ winning almost every hand. Is she a better player than you? Not at all. Is she a luckier player than you? She was on that day. What about the player who seems to win more often than the rest of the group? Is she both good and lucky?

I like to use tournament play as an example of how luck comes and goes. Let’s go on the assumption that most people that play in tournaments are very good players. Barbara is no exception. On a lovely spring day, Barbara plays in a Mah Jongg tournament and, wouldn’t you know, she wins the tournament!! A couple of months later, she decides to play in another tournament. It’s a warm, summer day and she is looking forward to this one as well. At the end of the day, her score is 5th from the bottom. Yikes!! Was Barbara distracted that day? Was she not feeling well? Did the warm weather make her sleepy? Or were her brain synapses simply not working properly? The answer to all of it is no – she was as sharp and on top of her game as she was when she came in first place at the tournament two months before. The difference? The luck wasn’t with her (or maybe the ‘force’ wasn’t with her), but otherwise, all things were probably pretty equal. Why wasn’t she lucky this time?

We cannot understand, predict or control why someone has good luck one day and bad luck the next (here again is chance). Or, is it possible that we can make our own luck if we have a positive attitude? Now we’re getting into philosophical questions that can be pondered indefinitely.

When we talk about luck vs. skill in Mah Jongg, my feeling is this: you always want to be the best player you can be, because let’s face it, skill is an important part of the game. However, luck will always play a large part in the game of Mah Jongg. A less-skilled player ( honestly–not everyone has the same abilities), can still win against better players because when luck kicks in, the tiles just seem to come! If you are a very good player, and you don’t win, well…it just wasn’t your lucky Maj day. Better luck next time!

I’ve often said Mah Jongg is 30% skill and 70% luck. What do you think?



  • Marie G Posted January 10, 2016 6:30 pm

    Great article, I totally agree with your assessment.

  • marcia berman Posted January 11, 2016 10:24 am

    Perhaps we could have an afternoon game?
    Could idea to communicate with us all.

  • Evie Posted January 11, 2016 10:29 am

    I have had the honor of playing with Tracey. The game is always fun, interesting conversation and we all know that we are playing with an expert! Congrats on your web site. I cannot wait for your next blog to inspire and provide food for thought. FYI-last game I was lucky to get 5 jokers but not able to maj:(.:(:(. I know that many of you know that feeling well.

  • Sandy Ritter Posted January 11, 2016 11:39 am

    Love your article, Tracey. Yes, at least a 30%/70%. Maybe even a 20%/80%. It is amazing how luck changes from day to day and sometimes even with games on the same day.

  • Laurie Posted January 11, 2016 11:49 am

    Great article, I totally agree…we have all been in both situations. Looking forward to your next entry. See you for our next game. We will have to see how the luck part plays out.

  • Louise Poss Posted January 11, 2016 1:50 pm

    Thanks for including me!Congrats to getting this off the ground !

  • Marlyn Posted January 11, 2016 7:56 pm

    Great article and very well written . Look forward to your next one.

  • Marsha Posted January 11, 2016 8:41 pm

    Congrats Tracey on a great and fun blog! I agree about your assessment of skill and luck, but playing
    defensively is also an important skill to be considered when its not your lucky day!

  • Julie Griffin Posted January 11, 2016 11:26 pm

    Tracey is the bomb! Great defensive player. Now that is another idea for your blog! Congratulations!

  • Loretta Posted January 12, 2016 8:41 am

    Great Article 😀🀄️

  • Kathy Posted January 12, 2016 10:35 am

    Terrific blog. I also agree on luck and skill. Some games you’ve “got it” and some you don’t!

  • Jackie Posted January 12, 2016 10:52 am

    Well written. I agree about luck and skill. Looking forward to your next blog

  • Ellen Posted January 12, 2016 11:52 am

    I actually think it’s more like 51% luck and 49% skill because no matter how great you play, luck can bring u down! Not to mention being impacted by the other players! Love the mahj blog!! Great idea so I’m signing up!!

  • Sandy Locks Posted January 13, 2016 11:38 am

    I would say it’s 90% luck and 10% skill! Yesterday I was on call for several rounds and the on the very last tile of the game I picked my Mah!!! Great Skill!!! Ha-Ha

  • Allison Posted January 14, 2016 8:31 am

    Way to go ,Tracey !
    Great idea to do a Mahj website and blog!
    Keep it going, really enjoyed all the input !

  • Laurie Posted January 14, 2016 11:42 am

    Not a maj player, but your take on skill and luck can be said of many situations in life. Congrats on getting your blog up and running Trace!

  • Abbey Clark Posted January 15, 2016 11:23 am

    I agree about luck vs. skill in Mah Jongg. Great new blog Tracey!!

  • Rennie Posted January 15, 2016 1:37 pm

    Right on! luck is the biggest part of it and that makes it frustrating and fascinating

  • Roni Posted January 16, 2016 6:55 am

    Any time you have random cards, tiles or dice there is an element of luck. I believe when the same people continue to win skill plays a larger part than luck. Getting tiles is one thing. Knowing what to do with them makes the difference between players and winners.

  • Linda Posted January 17, 2016 3:40 pm

    This piece on Mahjong sounds almost like symbolism for the meaning of life and manifest destiny! You are a great writer. I may have to find a place to learn this game so loved by my mother. Cheers!

  • Lisa Leib Posted January 18, 2016 12:15 pm

    Great website. I am so proud of you for making it!

  • Anita Mullen Posted August 13, 2016 10:58 am

    Well written blog. Look forward to reading more.

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