Players from around the globe will descend on Sydney this weekend to compete for $100,000 in prize money in the southern hemisphere’s largest Mahjong tournament.
300 players are set to take part in the tournament, with half of the prize money going towards the overall winner.
Competitors who make it all the way to the final table will have sweated through two marathon days of play, each going for about 12 hours with simultaneous games -- and the constant clattering of tiles that accompanies Mahjong -- taking place all around them.
Gun player Soichiro Suzuki, who took out second place in this year’s World Series, will lead a team from his native Japan to provide stiff competition for other entrants.
“Mr Suzuki from Japan, he came second in the world series, he took home about U.S. $50,000. The Japanese team is very strong,” Mahjong Australia CEO Steve Pesce told HuffPost Australia.
“But the Australians, the Australians are the ones to watch out for because it’s our home town and our home country. The Chinese are also going to be very strong and very hard to beat.”
Last year’s Mahjong Masters at The Star
The tournament will be held in The Star’s Mahjong room, which hosts games every week, from a welcome on Sunday through to Tuesday.
“Mahjong is such an exciting game to be involved in and to watch so we are delighted to host this massive tournament,” said general manager of gaming operations at The Star, Hugh Fraser.
“People of all ages and cultures can enjoy the camaraderie Mahjong brings, it requires a combination of skill, mental toughness and of course at times a little luck,” he said.
The tournament hosts a mix of players, from those in their teens and early twenties, right up to the oldest Australian player -- who’s almost 100 years old.
Pesce said that some people had been playing for 50 or 60 years.
“When you’re involved in these leagues, it’s not just the competition, it’s the relationships you build. The fun atmosphere, it becomes a second family.”
Hundreds of players compete at last year’s tournament
The first physical evidence of the game of Mahjong dates from the late 19th century in China. In the 1920s, the game made its way to the U.S. and from there spread around the world.
It’s a game that’s usually played by four people, and players try to match tiles so they can discard them. The first to discard all the tiles is the winner.
The game is so cognitively demanding and stimulating -- mixing the fast paced movement of game tiles, heavy use of memory, the sound of crashing tiles and their particular designs -- that it can even give people epileptic seizures.
But while just a few people have been affected by seizures, many more swear by the benefits the game brings.
Pesce told HuffPost Australia it contributed to a range of skills among players, especially those who were older.
“Concentration, focus, memory. Memory’s a big thing. It was endorsed by the Alzeihmer’s association, it helps people keep their mind going.”