Twin mah jong champions
If you know how to make a punh, chow or kong you are probably one of an elite few who play the Chinese game of mah jong.
It is not that well-known in New Zealand but that did not stop two Papakura sisters taking top prizes at the Australasian championships last month.
The four-day tournament saw 104 mah jong fans converge on Bundaberg, Queensland - 98 Australians and just six Kiwis.
Despite those odds, two of three on the podium were from here, with Papakura's Judith Robb in first place and her twin sister Maureen Amies in third.
It was a close finish, with Ms Amies on 58 points at the start of day four and Ms Robb tied in first place on 60 points. She later snuck ahead to win by two.
The Australasian tournament runs every year in a different town. The twins have attended for the last 10 years, partly as an excuse for a holiday.
They and other members of the Papakura Mah Jong Club consistently place highly, with Ms Amies winning four years ago in Gympie.
And it is not just genetics - Ms Robb says it is generally accepted she is a better player than her sister although she does not want to brag.
The twins are pretty humble about the whole thing, but that belies the many hours of practice they put in.
Every Tuesday afternoon the local bridge clubrooms are filled with furrowed brows and the click-clack of plastic mah jong tiles.
There are 27 women and one lucky guy in the club, all in the "older age bracket", Ms Robb says.
Mah jong takes a mixture of luck and skill. You also need a good head on your shoulders to learn the thousands of possible combinations, she says.
"You don't have to be analytical - most people will get it. But there are slower tables."
She says while learning the combos is "on a par with bridge", it is not as hard to play because you do not have to read the mind of your partner as well.
"And it's less strategic because there's more luck involved."
HOW TO PLAY Mah jong is a four-player game with ancient Chinese origins. Similar to the card game rummy, it involves picking up and discarding tiles with the aim of gathering sets of the same suit, or numbers in a certain order. A basic mah jong set costs more than $100 and consists of a board, four wooden racks and 144 tiles decorated with dragons, the four winds, bamboo and other symbols. But you don't need your own set – it's all supplied at the Papakura Mah Jong Club, which meets on Tuesdays between 1pm and 4pm. Beginners are welcome to come along and learn from the club's experienced teacher. It costs $2 a session including afternoon tea or $50 for the year. All are welcome – just turn up to the Bridge Clubrooms at Chapel St, Papakura. Call club president Elizabeth on 298 6358 for more information.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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