By Kristen Miller
DASSEL, COKATO, MN Whether it’s a Monday at the Dassel History Center or Thursday at The Grounds in Cokato, women can be seen playing a unique game known as Mah Jongg.
Developed in China in the late 1800s, the intellectually challenging game of tiles and patterns is a growing trend in the US.
Bonnie Oster, former Dassel resident who recently moved to Cokato, winters in Surprise, AZ, which was where she was first introduced to the game four years ago.
Oster enjoys the complexity of the game and that it gives her more time to develop strategies. She noted that she is more interested in playing games like hand and* foot or canasta, versus euchre or poker. Mah Jongg is about as complicated as bridge, she commented. It can also be compared to the western card game, rummy.
When she came back to the Dassel-Cokato community in the summertime, she wanted some people she could play the game with. With the help of her friend, Gayle Ernst, she was able to get a small group of ladies together and teach them how to play.
Oster noted that it wasn’t until she started teaching others how to play that she fully understood it.
Three or four people can play a game, each with their own tile rack.
Tiles are dealt out upside down, 15 to each player, with varying numbers and Chinese symbols.
The objective is to make any of the combinations of numbers and symbols shown on a Mah Jongg, card that has 52 different hands to choose from. New cards can be purchased each year so that consistent players have different sets of combinations to work with, Oster explained.
Mah Jongg sets can cost around $70, which is why Oster recommends learning to play before purchasing a set since the game isn’t for everyone.
“There are people who learn to play and don’t enjoy it, and then there are those who want to play every day,” Oster said. Eleven women had come to play the game last Monday at the Dassel History Center. Some days there are as many as 20 players.
“It’s addicting,” said one player.
Another said that the complexity of the game is good for the mind.
It’s also very much a social gathering, Oster said. It’s a way to meet new people, since some players come from other surrounding communities, such as Litchfield, to play.
These women play just for fun, however, one can play for money, or keep score, Oster noted.
The game has been very popular among men in Asia, Oster noted, though they have yet to find a local man willing to join their group.
Anyone is welcome to come and learn to play to decide if it’s something he or she would like to do, Oster said.
Mah Jongg is played year-round Mondays at the Dassel History Center starting at 10 a.m., and Thursdays at The Grounds on the Greens in Cokato around 12:30 p.m. Contact the Dassel History Center, (320) 275-3077, for more information.