Forget March Madness. A different kind of high-stakes competition took over Las Vegas this past weekend: Mahjong Madness. Hundreds of mahjong fanatics from across the country have convened to go big or go home in the mahjong tournament of the century, CBS News reports.
“This is the most wonderful game in everdom!” said Gladys Grad, host of the tournament and renowned ‘Grand Master’ of the sport.
“There’s something about it that just, I don’t know—sexy,” one participant told CBS reporter Bill Geist. While ‘sexy’ is not the adjective most commonly associated with mahjong, there’s no reason not to start now.
The game, involving tiles decorated in characters and symbols, originated in China between 500 B.C. and 1875 A.D. From its home in the far east, the game migrated into the synagogue circles of New York, peaking in popularity during the 1920s. But the game of mahjong didn’t always enjoy the trendy status it now enjoys.
“For non-mahjong players, there’s still a stereotype that it’s your mother’s game, but that may be changing,” said Marvin Pinkert, the director of the Jewish Museum of Maryland, which is currently hosting a traveling mahjong exhibit.
But, just like the mysterious game itself, Mahjong Madness can only be described up to a point. You have to see it to believe it.
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Hannah Dreyfus is an editorial intern at Tablet.