Mahjong madness: The ancient game’s growing popularity in Baton Rouge

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Walk into The Crown Bistro at The Royal Standard on a Thursday afternoon and you’ll feel as if you’re in a scene from the hit movie Crazy Rich Asians. No, not the crazy bachelor trip scene—the mahjong showdown between the protagonist and her boyfriend’s mother.

Mahjong, a Chinese tile game developed during the Qing Dynasty, is now played across the globe. The goal is to be the first person to declare “Mahjong!” by correctly creating a sequence that matches a sequence on the scorecard.

Although centuries old, the game is constantly changing and challenging players to become better at their skill. Every April, the National Mahjong League issues new scoring cards with new sequences to play that year. Local mahjong guru Sherry Brisco says she doesn’t bother memorizing the sequences because just when you think you’ve learned all 62, it’s time for the new ones to be introduced. But even though mahjong seems a little tricky, with Brisco’s help, it is finding a fast-growing audience here in the Capital City.

Known by the ladies in her playing group as the “mahjong queen,” Brisco began playing over 14 years ago and quickly fell in love with the fast-paced, yet detail-oriented game. Seven years ago, she began offering private and group lessons. That turned into a playing group of sometimes more than 30 women who get together every Thursday for “Mahjong Game Days” at The Royal Standard. Anyone is welcome to attend the free-play event. No need to be a mahjong master to get involved—beginners are welcome. The women in a recent Thursday group ranged in age from their 40s to 100 years old.

“Most people who decide to give the game a try end up becoming devout players and invite their friends to come and learn to play, so our group is always welcoming new faces,” says Brisco.

Brisco has even found a way to merge her enthusiasm for mahjong with her love for jewelry by collecting vintage playing tiles and turning them into necklaces, earrings and key chains. Many of the women in the playing group support her by wearing pieces of her handmade jewelry each week.

Each Thursday, the group gets together for lunch at 12:30 p.m. at The Crown Bistro and begins playing at 2 p.m. They usually play five or six games, ending at 4 p.m.; however, if it’s really intense, the ladies say they could play for several hours. “Mahjong is the most addicting game I’ve ever played,” says group member Elena Santos.

“Although mahjong is a game of skill and strategy, it also involves a degree of chance,” says Brisco. “So the best way to get better at your game is by practicing and playing as often as you can—and praying you grab a joker tile!”

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