Photo courtesy Gemma Sakamoto: Dave is working on the schedule for the WRC... it's actually going well despite what his face is telling you.

LAS VEGAS - For the hundreds of riichi mahjong players that will soon be converging on the desert city of Las Vegas to attend the second iteration of the World Riichi Championship, October is rapidly approaching, and for host and organizer David Bresnick, it is a milestone day that has occupied his mind and energy for the better part of a year. Mahjong News sits down with David to learn about the man behind the mission.

Mahjong News: How did you come to be playing mahjong?

David Bresnick: A very long time ago I stumbled across a fansub of Akagi and went from "This should be good for a laugh" to "Hey it looks like that game might be interesting" in short order! However, this was around 2005 or so and at that time there was very little information available in English concerning Riichi mahjong. Most of what there was existed on Reachmahjong.com, run by Jenn (Barr) and Garthe (Nelson). In a way, I might never have really gotten started if it wasn't that difficult to learn - I thought to myself "We're living in this future-world where we have access to all sorts of information from all over the planet and yet I can't find clear instructions on how to play a fairly popular game?" It bothered me; it bothered me a lot!  I became pretty determined to figure out some way to learn, so I got some tiles, hiked myself down to Chinatown and purchased a mahjong table (a hand-shuffle table, to be clear), called my friends over and sat them down saying "OK we're going to play this game now." For some reason, we've never stopped.

MN: Did you have any mentors to look up to and guide you, and did you have any inspirations to help move you forward.

DB: Jenn and Garthe were definitely very influential via Reachmahjong.com, but I'd say that what I had was the astounding luck of starting with a fully-formed play group. We all like to compete, and this was a way to do so while relaxing and enjoying each other's company. It's a bit of an odd story - I think that most western players got their start online or during time spent in Asia. I'm very thankful for the tolerance of my friends, the fact that they just rolled with that crazy idea I had and kept going with it for, literally, years! They've all become excellent players too, in their own right.

If we're just talking about my "getting started" years then the answer is definitely "friendship" for my primary motivation. I owe a huge amount of thanks (or blame!) to Tom, Allon and Mike for helping me get to where I am today. Since then so many great things have happened and I've met so many wonderful people, I'm not sure if there's room for all of it here!

MN: You founded the USPML. Can you tell us about the inspiration, and how that process went.  Can you share with the readers how that organization came together, and what role you played in that.

DB: To be honest, it all started as a bit of a joke. We were, of course, very aware that there were a number of serious leagues in Japan, but none of us had had any real interaction with JPML other than hearing what Jenn and Garthe had to say about them online. However, as we'd been competing together regularly for so long I thought it might be kind of interesting to try making our own league here in the US.  In case it's not obvious, the name was patterned as a local analogue of the "JPML", and that got us all sorts of flak from the online community at the time. Despite that, we pushed ahead and had our first meetup in January of 2010, with about four tables worth of players if I recall.

NYC is a great location for something niche like a fledgling Riichi organization; there are so many people here that you can always find at least some population for whatever you want to do. But at the same time it was a little difficult learning to deal with some of the pitfalls of managing people and growing an organization. It was difficult, especially when trying to evangelize for a new hobby, to know when to be inclusive and when it was better to exclude people who were being negative or disruptive. I think that one of the things that was always helpful for us was the same reason I put the word "professional" in the organizations' name - we always had an image of ourselves as a group that assembled to play a game we love as seriously as possible. Attempting to act a serious league, regardless of our skill level, helped us avoid a lot of issues that might have been more pronounced without that guiding precept.

It seems to have worked for the past seven years, and we're still going strong!

Cruising the Las Vegas strip.

MN: Vegas is the announced venue for the upcoming WRC, which the USPML is hosting. Tell us more about Vegas, the decision to host the Championship there, and what you think Vegas offers the competition.

One of the biggest challenges when organizing something like WRC is aligning the wants and needs of the many groups involved. When we first started looking for a venue for the event, NYC was the obvious choice - it's where USPML is based and a local venue would be easy for me to coordinate with. However, after doing some preliminary cost analyses and chatting with a few venues it became clear that NYC was extremely expensive and would render the event very financially difficult for most of our target audience.

This would not stand! It's been important to all of us throughout the planning process that WRC remain an event that everyone can aspire to attend - having a severe financial barrier wasn't in the spirit of what we wanted to build. So we took a step back and rethought our constraints. We needed a location that would be affordable. At the same time, we needed a location that would stand out. Somewhere well-known and exciting for people to visit. Finally, it was very important to us that the venue we partnered with have some experience hosting international guests, as we wanted to make sure everyone had a positive and welcoming experience no matter where they were traveling from.

The more we investigated, the more we found Vegas to lie at the crossroads of all our requirements. Everyone's heard of Vegas, it's an exciting, iconic city famous for its vibrancy and panache. At the same time, Vegas has grown immensely as a destination for conventions, which means reasonable costs and a partner venue with expertise in hosting events like ours. Finally, as a major international tourist destination we are confident that Vegas has something to offer everyone who comes to WRC, no matter what they're looking for.

View from the infinity pool, Sky Villa at the Palms.

MN: As the events in Vegas continue to develop, what are some things you’d like to ensure become an enduring part of the WRC?

DB: Something we're bringing to the event this time that I'd like to see endure is the social playtime - at all the events I've run, the tournament itself has been important but the players all really enjoyed being able to just sit around and play casually after hours. Social time is when people get to really engage with each other and meet their fellow players, it's where friendships are born and how communities get strengthened. I'd like to see that become a continuing tradition at WRCs in the future.

MN: In the process, are there any pitfalls the WRC needs to avoid, or are there any particular challenges that the WRC needs to overcome to make this event succeed and endure into the future?

DB: I think there will definitely be some growing pains, and the biggest challenge that WRC faces is one of vision and effort. Riichi isn't a full-time job for any of us, it's a beloved hobby, and that means we can't always put in as much as we'd like. I think there's always going to be this temptation to make the next one a little smaller, a little more casual, a little easier to handle.  But I think that the whole point of WRC is that it's none of those things - it's the pinnacle of Riichi mahjong play world wide. If any event deserves to be big and serious it's this one, and maintaining that is going to be the key to its continued growth into the future.

MN: What comes next for David, in life, and in mahjong?

DB: At this point, with everything going on, it's hard to have a clear picture of what might come afterwards - my first objective is surviving the next few months and really pouring my heart into making this event as amazing for everyone as I possibly can! But overall, what I see is very positive. I think that hosting a World Championship is a huge step forward for North American riichi, and I'd love to keep cooperating with the other organizations here in North America to grow the scene and bring in new players. In life, well, is there life outside of mahjong? I'm keeping my options open at this point!

MN: Any other words you’d like to share with the readers?

DB: Mostly I'd like to thank you all for reading this and for being a part of the mahjong community! Capstone events like WRC wouldn't be possible without the effort, dedication and unflagging support of our fellow community members and I'm hoping to see as many of you as possible there so I can thank you in person!

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