Mahjong brings friendship and fellowship
By Carin R. Kirkegaard; photos courtesy of Renee Newfield
Parlor games like bunco, bridge, canasta, euchre, pinochle and mahjong have all been catalysts, with waning and waxing popularity through the years, to get a neighborhood social group together. Neighbors gather, of course to play the game, but perhaps more importantly, to meet people, indulge in the host’s culinary creations and when lucky, form a circle of friends who are there through life’s ups and downs.
A group of women in the Castle Pines community meets three times a week for this very brand of fellowship around the game of mahjong. Unlike the ever popular bunco that is played in homes throughout many local neighborhoods, mahjong, a Chinese tile-based game where strategy and equal parts skill and luck are part of the play, takes a bit more time and patience to pick up.
Judy Kleeman, has been playing mahjong for 20 years. She started shortly after moving to Castle Pines in 2001. The (then) community homeowners association sent a request to neighbors inquiring about hobbies and interests in an effort to connect residents. Judy signed up to play mahjong – even though she had no idea how to play. It was with this group that she learned the rules and played for many years while honing her strategic skills. The group dispersed and Judy eventually found her way to her current group that originated in The Village at Castle Pines.
The group meets three times a week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at homes throughout the community. Sallie Daihl has been playing mahjong for 30 years. She started the group in the Village where ladies would meet at The Country Club at Castle Pines for a morning of friendship and strategy.
Over the years, the group has grown and now has 55 members that hail from across all of Douglas County. With the challenges of the past year and the Club’s renovations, the group started gathering in individual homes, according to member Renee Newfield, who hosts players every Thursday in her home.
Mahjong is played with a set of 144 tiles and typically four players, although there are variations that allow for fewer players and tiles. Not everyone is able to play every day, which allows for the group’s flexibility.
“We are an inclusive group,” said Renee. “Everyone is welcome and we are happy to teach newbies and help anyone,” she continued. Judy, Sallie and Renee all consider themselves mentors for new players and are always willing to give advice and teach anyone who wants to learn. On Thursdays, Renee sets up her basement with new, intermediate and advanced player tables to ensure everyone gets the type of play they are looking for. In some groups, money is exchanged for winning hands, but not with these ladies. Instead, the hostess provides prizes for the woman who has the most wins at each table.
Although a large group, friendships have been formed and they all make a point to gather four times a year to celebrate birthdays. “We all need an excuse to go out for lunch,” laughed Judy.