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?



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