SPRINGFIELD, NJ - The game of Mah Jong is a relatively simple one. Match tiles to create the necessary patterns to win. For those who play it, the game is extremely enjoyable.
Sunday morning through the afternoon, 80 participants came to Sha'arey Shalom for a Mah Jong tournament. The tournament usually draws more players, although there were other tournaments going on simultaneously that lessened the number of people in attendance.
Dottie Shtafman, a Springfield resident and tournament organizer has been helping to run the event for the past four years. Speaking with TAPinto Springfield, she said that there is a friendliness found at this tournament that might not be present at others.
"It's a friendly tournament," Shtafman said. "We play by tournament rules but we play friendly."
As for the skill level of the players, Shtafman offered her take on the subject.
"I don't really call it [being] good, I call it [being] seasoned," she said. "A lot of players that have been playing for 40, 50 years, and then we also have some people that have just learned, and then they come in and they play. It's really 70 percent tile luck and then 30 percent what you're going to do with it."
The one-day event pulls in competitors from all over the region. Some come from as far away as Syracuse or Baltimore. This year, one of the participants flew up from Puerto Rico just to play.
Jackie Haug used to live in Maplewood before settling down on the island. She heard about the tournament from her two nieces and her sister-in-law and said she just had to come up and play.
"I return to New Jersey for my annual doctor visits every year, so I scheduled my visits around the tournament," Haug said with a chuckle. "I've been playing Mah Jong for almost 50 years, and I don't have a group in Puerto Rico. So any chance I get to play, I take advantage of it, no matter how far I have to go."
Distance is one factor, but the age of the players is another. Although to hear them say it, their enthusiasm is not dampened as they get older. The honor of being the oldest player in this year's tournament went to 95-year-old Lillian Zack from South Orange.
She said that time has only deepened her love for the game.
"I love it," Zack said. "I've been playing it for over 70 years. I moved here from Boston, and I got into a game on Wednesday with some women here which I love, and just like that, I'm playing."
"It's good for the mind," she added.