An Interview with Gladys Grad   

Sue Pritchard interviewed Gladys in February and shared some of her insights…Thanks Sue!

Gladys Grad is recognized as the foremost authority on Mah Jongg tournaments. She instituted rules for tournament play that helped to clarify and simplify rules and to prevent unscrupulous behaviors; but hurry if you want to attend one of her tourneys, they sell out fast!

In the 80s, Dorothy and Larry Krams, founder of Specialty Cruises and Mah Jongg Madness, started the Mah Jongg tournament business. Their first major Mah Jongg venture was in December 1986, evolving the game from a four person social evening to getaway weekends. Then, with the support of Ruth Unger, the President of the National Mah Jongg League, Inc. they organized the first ever Mah Jongg Cruise. When Dorothy passed away in 2005, Gladys Grad and her husband, Phil Klinsky, took over the business and ran it successfully together until Phil passed away.  Now Gladys carries on the almost 50 year old Mah Jongg Madness business.

Mah Jongg Madness draws participants from all over the country and Canada, making it the largest and most recognized Tournament Host in the United States. Large Tournament events are conducted in Vegas, Reno, Scottsdale, Chicago, and Florida; along with smaller local and charity events and cruises. Gladys’ tournaments are very well run and utilize a computerized scoring system that reduces and eliminates the opportunity for error; and players always play at a table for four.  Since also instituting Master Points, like in Bridge, she has helped to standardize level of play ratings and legitimize them.  Also as the founder of the Siamese version, she is a true innovator and expert of the game.

Sue: “Have you caught the craze of Siamese and Super Siamese (also called Royal Siamese) yet?”
Gladys: “This game, whether you are playing with two people with one set or four people at the table with two sets, can especially make for more strategies in how you play. Now you have 16 Jokers in the game, and 8 of each tile, so getting Mah Jongg can be quicker and instead of a 25% chance of getting Mah Jongg, you have a 60% or even 70% chance of getting one. This can appeal to younger players too. I have been teaching high school and college age people the game and I find them starting to change the rules (more house rules, etc) so they can get faster gratification. Siamese can supply that more immediate win.”

Sue: Gladys wants us all to “think outside the box” and let the NMJL know we would like more creative ways to play. Wouldn’t it be nice if you had more options if you didn’t have jokers?  Or, what if you could exchange and take a needed tile that is exposed and replace it with a Joker?  Not even could that salvage a needed pair, but you would also then have taken a Jokerless hand away from your opponent! Even Super Siamese, playing two racks simultaneously with four players and two complete sets gives so many options. Well, Gladys is “on a mission” to change the game! Super Siamese is just one of her ways to try to accomplish that.

Gladys: “Back in 1971 there were 16 and even 24 flowers in a game and they were wild and you could create 5, 6 and even 7 of a kind!  Everyone started with flowers and they were the Jokers (wild tiles).”
“The Luck Factor: Sometimes people can have an absolutely perfect game but then someone else at the table keeps getting Joker after Joker, taking all the luck.  China and Hong Kong and other than American games have as many as 29 different ways to play. Displaying a Pung, they can add a tile to make it a Kong, they have no Jokers; they will even throw a game if they have 100 points in their hand to a 25 point hand; these are just a few examples of different strategies they will play… so many items that we don’t play in the American game. Wouldn’t it be nice if you had more options if you didn’t have Jokers?  Or, what if you could exchange and take a needed tile that is exposed and replace it with a Joker? You could salvage a needed pair, but you would also then have taken a Jokerless hand away from your opponent!”

Sue: Here are some of Gladys’ ideas
Being able to switch a Joker to an exposed tile instead of the other way around. This can cause someone to no longer be Jokerless, or even get you back a sorely needed tile for a pair.

  • Be able to add to an already exposed Pung or Kong to make it a Kong or Quint even!
  • Have everyone start with a Joker
  • Have everyone be able to “buy” a Joker with points or money from your purse.

Those surely would shake up the game Gladys!

Sue: “How do you recommend someone prepare to play in a tournament?”
Gladys: “If you can play 4 games in less than an hour, you are ready!  That’s it! That’s all there is to it.  Going to play in a tournament, or even just playing with players you don’t usually play with can really ‘up your game’.

I do suggest that you also start with a friendly day tournament; maybe one sponsored for a local charity or at a church or synagogue, where there are more likely to be other Newbie tourney players. After that, just jump in.”

Thanks Gladys for your words of wisdom!