I haven’t been playing as much mahjong lately, due to a combination of lack of time and a desire to distance myself from it for a little bit, but every so often I decide to sit down for a couple games. When I do, I inevitably get clobbered, unable to handle the assault of my fellow tile slingers. To some extent, I know that this is due to rust on my already meager skills, but I think that there is another factor involved. When I stop playing mahjong for a while, my mind becomes unaccustomed to some of the psychological rigors of the game, and it takes a while to adjust back to normal. In this period, I’m especially vulnerable, so if I just come back to the game every few weeks I end up never quite leaving that mindset.

“So why not just keep playing until you get back to where you were?” you might be asking. I ask myself this too. The “problem” however, is that mahjong can be an incredibly nerve-wracking game in a way that few others are. The combination of luck and skill, where everyone is planning something and you can’t quite tell where luck ends and decisions begin, and the fact that the difference between winning and losing can come down to one unfortunate dealing of a tile, makes for an intense and mentally exhausting game, especially when you’re playing on the competitive Tenhou ladder and people mean serious business.

That tense do-or-die feeling is also why mahjong is fun in the first place, so the dilemma at hand is simply this: do I devote that amount of energy to playing it, knowing that while it’s a great way to really challenge myself and test my ability to handle luck and the machinations of others, it can also be a very powerful source of frustration?

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