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April 6th

Beating the Chinese mind games at the table.

Mahjong is the national sport of the Cantonese speaking world, so knowing how to play (even if you don’t like it) is a must in my community. I can’t tell you how to play the actual game, since I just got spanked last night so I have no authority to do so. However, I do have five ways to win the mental game so you come out a winner regardless of the outcome.

Everything you say at the table will be known by every Chinese you know in a week or so. If you haven’t noticed, my people are gossip mongers. Every Sunday when we pick up our Chinese-language newspaper, if there’s no gossip rag inside the paper, no sale. But no Chinese celeb gossip is juicier than whatever you spill about your common acquaintances at the table. Modern communication technology only accelerates the gossiping process. Older players have recently discovered e-mail. But if you are playing with my peers, you are one Facebook status from having your dirt all over.

Absolutely no one is allowed to be a backseat mahjong player. I don’t care if your mother is a mahjong master or your girlfriend is threatening you, there is no one for anyone to be at your back commenting on your play. Short of losing, nothing makes you lose your temper more than someone snickering behind your back. Do whatever it takes to drive that backseat player from your zone of play.

No caffeine. Mahjong is a game that requires you to focus on different things at different times. Caffeine will make you focus on one aspect of the game (how your building your hand) at the expense of the rest of the game (what your opponents are discarding or ponging, etc.) So when your hosts asks you what to drink, avoid coffee at all costs, have maybe one green tea, or have a soda or water.

Keep your cool. Sometimes you will lose, either by bad luck or screwing up a hand. Your opponent may punctuate a big win with a back-handed compliment. If you play with your *ahem* elders, nothing makes them more smug than whooping your younger ass and pointing out every screw up you make. When that happens, you need to keep it cool and continue playing. You lose it, you lose.

You will never “win” in the eyes of your opponents. Remember when I said opponents take pride in pointing out your screw ups. If you lose a match an opponent, it’s because you let him win. If you win a match, they’ll dismiss it by pointing out you didn’t maximize your winnings. If you do maximize your win, then they’ll say you got lucky. So while you’ll never win in their eyes, just focus on hitting them in the pocketbook. It’s not as satisfying as wiping the smug off their faces, but you can at least afford an extra round at the bar.

Face it, you will not win every game money wise, but if you keep these tips in mind, you will walk away from the table a winner every time.

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