AMARILLO, Texas - The year 2017 is shaping up to a historic year of international competition, as two major global events are set to play out in this event-packed year. The 6th iteration of the Open European Mahjong Championship takes place in the Portuguese city of Povoa de Varzim May 26th-28th, and later in the year the 2nd installment of the World Riichi Championship takes place in the American city of Las Vegas October 4th-8th.
The event in Povoa de Varzim, as the 6th iteration of this event, is the oldest running international competition organized by the Europeans, dating its roots back to the first competition established 2005 in the Netherlands, promoted by Martin Rep of Mahjong News and the Dutch Mahjong League. Out of this historic competition came not only its first champion, Masato Chiba from Japan, but also the first congress of European mahjong players establishing the European Mahjong Association. Since that time, the event has taken place four other times, producing a series of champions including Martin Wedel Jacobsen of Denmark winning the 2007 event in Copenhagen, Kōji Idota of Japan winning the 2009 Austrian event, Ildikó Hargitai of Hungary taking the fourth championship in Italy 2011, and reigning as the most recent champion, Yoshihiro Suzuki of Japan winning the games in France 2014.
The World Riichi Championship, yet another brainchild of Martin Rep, is a newer world competition to arrive on the scene, with the upcoming Vegas event being only the second reprisal of this championship. It's inaugural event being in Paris organized by the Thomas brothers Quentin and Valérian, both founders of the host French riichi club TNT, in 2013 which produced the first ever World Riichi Champion Hiroshi Yamai.
It may not be coincidence that both host cities this year, Povoa de Varzim in Portugal, and Las Vegas in the United States, are both world renowned resort epicenters for gaming and recreation. Both venues have built up around the game table, and the idea of friendly entertainment from combining some skill, some luck, and some energy; all of which suits the mahjong fan just fine.
Las Vegas, Spanish for "the meadows", was once just a popular resting place for nomadic travelers in the Old West of the United States, until in 1855 the Church of the Latter Day Saints established a fort there to offer supplies and security to early pioneers. The church, having long ago abandoned its fort, gave way to a city that continued to grow as a Union Pacific railway stop, key to the construction of the monumental Hoover Dam in 1931. Perhaps to cater to the massive influx of male workers to the site, the region legalized gambling in the same year. This move caught the attention of Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, a New York mobster who realized that this favorite trade of his, while highly illegal in New York, now allowed him the opportunity to continue his business "legit" and legal in Vegas, where he soon became a driving force developing Vegas into the gambling and entertainment mecca that it is today.
Povoa de Varzim, somewhat a European sister city of Vegas, has similar, but much more ancient roots dating as far back as 900 BC, having been fortified to defend trade routes of the ancient Greece and Roman civilizations. In modern times, this coastal region is now better known for its sandy beaches, influential literary culture, music and art; a setting graced for its gentle summers and mild winters. Currently an economy driven by tourism, gambling, hotels and fine dining, there is plenty for a visitor to find and do when not engaged over tiles and tables (you can read more about Povoa de Varzim in another Mahjong News article here).
From Povoa de Varzim in Portugal to Las Vegas in the United States, 2017 is looking to be a whirl wind of world mahjong competition, a year that will no doubt go down in mahjong history as a year to remember.