Group adopts standard height for mahjong tiles

Updated: 2011-11-24 07:41

By Wang Huazhong (China Daily)

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CHONGQING - The World Mahjong Organization on Wednesday standardized the height of the mahjong tiles that can be used in official competitions in an attempt to ensure the game will be "healthy, friendly and scientific".

The tiles used in official play can now be no shorter than 32 mm and no higher than 42 mm.

The World Mahjong Organization adopted the standard at the Fifth China Mahjong Forum and Championship, which ended on Wednesday in Chongqing.

The organization also said it will keep revising the rules governing the number of sessions that make up one of the game's rounds and the calculation of scores at international mahjong competitions. Its goal is to make players of the game rely more on skill, rather than luck, to win.

Mahjong originated in China and is usually played by four people. It is similar to the Western card game rummy.

The World Mahjong Organization was established in 2005 and claims more than 20 national mahjong associations in America, Europe and Asia as its members. Yu Guangyuan, former deputy director of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, serves as the chairman of the organization.

"Mahjong tiles that fall outside of the range of 32 mm to 42 mm are not appropriate for use in competitions," said Jiang Xuanqi, secretary-general of the organization.

The World Mahjong Organization went to mahjong associations, clubs, manufactures and professional players from May to October to solicit their opinions about what the standard height of the tiles should be. On the open market, the tiles range in height from 20 mm to 50 mm.

Jiang explained the reasons for the new standard.

"Bigger mahjong tiles mean bigger tables, which are often an inconvenience for older or short players," Jiang said. "Smaller tiles, on the other hand, may give players more opportunities to cheat."

He also said thicker tiles - taller ones tend to be thicker - are not easy to shuffle and thinner ones do not stand up well on tables.

Tina Christensen, president of the European Mahjong Association, said it was necessary to adopt a standard size because China uses tiles that are up to 50 mm in height and Japan uses ones that are shorter than 36 mm.

Weng Guocheng, general manager of China Quanzhou Jingguo, one of the country's most renowned tile manufacturers, said the standards are "meaningful" and will guide not only professionals but also amateurs in playing the game.

The World Mahjong Organization also said it will endeavor to "constantly improve the rules of competition".

"More people are playing the game using simpler rules and fewer tiles and only want to speed up the time that a session takes and to make it easy to gamble," said Jiang. "That's what we don't want to encourage."

Henrik Leth, a Danish delegate to the World Mahjong Organization and a member of the organization's technology and skills committee, said a goal behind the standards is to make the game more competitive and scientific.

From Nov 20 to Nov 23, 124 players selected by local mahjong associations in China, Japan and Europe formed 31 teams that competed in the Fifth China Mahjong Championship. That competition took place on a cruiser floating from Yichang, a city in Hubei province, to Chongqing.

The event's team competition was won by four students who had banded together to form the Beijing Colleges East Virtual team.

And Jiao Linghua, a retired bookkeeper at a local library in Jiexiu, Shanxi province, was the individual champion.

"It let me make friends from everywhere in the country and exercise my ability to think logically," Jiao said.

Even though many people play the game simply for fun, it is often associated with gambling.

Ma Xiaomei, president of the Chinese Promotion Committee of World National Culture Exchange, said the new standards will make the game easier for the public to enjoy.

"Authorities will no longer stop mahjong competitions from being held as they did before," she said. "Many officials still don't support the game, but at least they won't interfere in it."