Tiles hold all the clues
A ROOM of 132 mahjong players is surprisingly quiet, apart from the "twittering of the sparrows".
For those who don't know the rules of this ancient Chinese past-time, that's when you shuffle the tiles before starting a new game.
The 20th annual Mahjong Festival was held at the Ballina RSL auditorium this week.
Ballina Mahjong Club spokeswoman, Susan Allan, said it was the second time Ballina had hosted the event, which draws players from across Australia and New Zealand.
"Only three of our players are men," she said.
"In China, mahjong was traditionally a men's game, but here it is mostly played by women.
"After the game is set up, you cut the walls and each player gets 12 tiles.
"In a way, it's like cards; there are certain hands you can play.
"The tiles are bamboos, circles or characters.
"Mahjong does seem confusing at first, especially when you're learning to play, but once you pick it up, it's a good game.
"The Chinese play it very fast, and they play for money, but we just play for fun.
"Mahjong is a combination of luck and skill.
"You can be a very good player, but unless you get the tiles you need, you can't win."
Margaret Coffey, of New Zealand, came all the way to Ballina for the mahjong festival, and said she was having a great time.
"But I'm not playing well," she said.
"I can't get any good tiles."
Ms Allan said the Mahjong Festival also provided a boost to Ballina's economy.
She said most people brought their partners to town with them and they spent money on accommodation, food and shopping.
An overall winner was expected to be announced at a dinner last night.
HOW TO PLAY MAHJONG
A dealer is chosen by the roll of the dice. There are 16 rounds
To set up the game, four "walls" of tiles are built (36 tiles placed 18 across and two high). The square represents an ancient Chinese city or garden, with the edges touching to "keep the devil out"
Object of the game is to organise your hand into a combination of tiles, with chows, pungs, kongs, and a pair