A new generation of American mahjong players emerge in Charleston

Groups dedicated to American mahjong are becoming popular in Charleston.


The table is set for American mahjong, friendship, community + giving back.

Photo by @chsmahjsquad

Bring on the tiles, stacks, and sequences. There’s a new game in town — well, American mahjong isn’t actually new (mahjong was created in the 19th century in China whereas American mahjong is from the ~1930s). What is new? Groups around Charleston dedicated to growing the game.

These groups breed fellowship, friendship, and a little competition, and host events like neighborhood get-togethers, bachelorette parties, and community experiences. Over the next few months, we’ll introduce you to some of them.

First up, we’re exploring CHS MAHJ SQUAD (CMS), a group created in 2023 by four friends — Lori Adelman, Julie Hellman, Debbie Rothschild, and Jamee Schlesinger. They play at different levels but all share a passion for the fellowship and friendship that mahjong provides.

CMS began with an idea to throw a mahjong charity event. After creating an Instagram page, the group immediately realized there was a growing mahjong community in Charleston.

We talked with each member about why the game is special to them, about their group, and the game.

  • Lori: My earliest memories include watching my grandmother + mother play mahjong with their friends. Hearing the sound of the tiles and the laughter from around the table has stuck with me. Even now, the sound of shuffling the tiles brings back so many memories of my childhood. I didn’t learn to play until 2004 when I moved to Charleston. I went with a friend to the IOP Recreation Center and took lessons. We then taught all of our girlfriends how to play. I have since taught multiple groups of friends throughout the last 20 years. I look forward to being with my squad weekly.
  • Debbie: The most important thing about mahjong is that it is more than a game; it’s an opportunity to get together with friends and bond over the love of the game. The pause between games is the perfect time to have a little bit of conversation and over time, women build deep and long-lasting relationships.
  • Julie: When I play with my grandmother’s set, it brings me such joy thinking of her sitting around the table playing with her family and friends. For me, it’s a way to stay connected to my past while embracing the present. We are a group of tight-knit girlfriends who love our community and love to play mahjong. Why not combine the two and do some good? Thus, CMS was born. What we realized at that time was that a lot of women were discovering the joys of mahjong. All of a sudden, it felt like everyone was playing or learning to play this addictive tile game. Everyone had a group of girlfriends they played with weekly. We thought how great it would be to connect all these Charleston players under one umbrella allowing everyone to be part of the CMS. Better yet, let’s all have fun playing with our squad while raising money for important causes. We are humbled by the overwhelming support and generosity of local businesses contributing to our event. This speaks volumes about the Charleston community. Whether you’ve been here for generations or just moved here from afar, we hope to build a long-lasting relationship with you, just like the relationships we are building with our weekly squads.
  • Jamee: Mahjong has always been a way to find community and for many of us, it has been a part of our family’s history. Growing up in a Jewish household, it wasn’t uncommon for us to see our grandmothers, mothers, and aunts playing mahjong weekly in a group made up of other women. Many of us have had our mahjong sets passed down to us. It’s a commonality we have all shared in one way or another. Some of us reminisced about our families from New York and going to the Catskills, and others from Charleston, but for all of us, it has become a social thread that has connected us. The way people are positioned at the table, the way the tiles are shuffled, and the ability to play at different levels and ages help create a rhythm that leads to close relationships and connections. During one casual conversation between the four of us, we talked about doing something good for the community and spreading joy. What was having its moment, a resurgence could enable us to achieve that, a mahjong event. Hence, the creation of the CHS MAHJ SQUAD. For many of us new to the Lowcountry, it became a way to connect and form a weekly community.
American Mahjong

The group members share a love for mahjong, their community, and giving back.

Photo by @chsmahjsquad

CMS is holding its first event which is already sold out in February benefiting Reading Partners, a national charity that promotes literacy in underprivileged communities. But don’t fear— CMS is planning more events.

Interested in joining the fun? Buy your set from one of our affiliates
and start playing.

Stay tuned. Next, we will talk to Mahj In the City, a group that travels to Charleston for private and Group sessions and to share their love for the game.