There are some who dream and some who do. I am a dreamer. There are so many things I would like to do, but fear prevents me from taking the first step. But there is one member of my family who is a true champion, a real Rocky Balboa. Despite being an underdog, this person is not afraid of facing the toughest, most steely-eyed competitors in her field. Yes, for three full days, my mother has taken off from work so she can do battle in a Mah-Jongg Tournament at the Trump Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City. How this ancient Chinese game became popular with Jewish women of the last generation is a long story, and you can read some of the history of Mah-Jongg on Wikipedia.

Although my mother plays in her weekly “dollar” game in her apartment building, this is her first sanctioned tournament. When her friend invited her, I would never expect my mother to say yes. But something has changed in my mother since my father’s death and her trip to Spain. She has surprised us again. She joined the American Mah-Jongg Association and paid the $150 entrance fee. Now, if my mother “plays her tiles” right, she can win thousands of dollars.

The competition is three days, for at least three hours each day. There are dozens of tables set up, and after a certain amount of games, there is a rotation to different tables. The champion is the one who wins the most games. According to my mother, most of the women at the tournament are Jewish women over 55. Mah-Jongg is also popular in the Asian community, but supposedly, their tournaments have slightly different rules. I was disappointed to hear this. I was so looking forward to a Jewish-Chinese showdown.

My mother promised to call me up several times a day, so I could “live blog” about the big tournament. For some reason, ESPN isn’t covering it yet (although the Discovery Channel is doing some taping tomorrow for some documentary). Is Celebrity Mah-Jongg the next big thing?

Day 1 Highlights —

My mother and her friend, Shirley, took the early morning bus to Atlantic City from Penn Station. My mother said most of the bus was filled with “lowlifes and gamblers” who travel to Atlantic City for the day. During the trip, my mother and Shirley talked about whatever the usually talk about, when they noticed “some gambler in a pea-coat” moving away from them. My mother said “a guy who smelled of cheap liquor” also moved to the back of the bus. After my mother asked what was going on, a third gambler explained that the “regulars” usually sleep on the morning bus and their “loud yakking” was keeping them up. My mother apologized to the drunks and gamblers, and everyone went back to sleep.

My mother made it to casino. She described the Taj Mahal as “large and unfriendly, but they gave us a free buffet, so I guess it is OK.”

As for the first day of the tournament, my mother played at tables 39, 40, 41, and 42 — and didn’t win any games today. Shirley won one game. My mother said that the women played too fast for her, so she felt rushed. I think my mother is being intimidated by those tough-as-nails Jewish women from Long Island, like a NBA rookie in a room of Kobe Bryants.

Tonight, my mother was going to the buffet with Shirley and some of the other women. As my mother’s “coach,” I strongly rejected this idea. I suggested that she stay in her room and watch videotapes of today’s games, so she can strategize for tomorrow. My mother just laughed at me. Would Rocky Balboa do that to his coach’s face?

Are there any athletes out there who can offer my mother some proven techniques so she can better focus tomorrow on WINNING IT ALL?

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