Organizers of the Third World Mahjong Championship, which ends Tuesday in Southwest China's Chongqing Municipality, are savoring how the centuries-old Chinese board game has maintained its international flavor.
The championship tournament has attracted 188 participants - 84 of whom are foreigners - from 13 countries and regions to compete for individual and team awards.
"Mahjong is the most interesting game I've ever seen, and the various patterns and characters carved in each tile make it feel like it's from a mysterious, oriental culture," Dan Graham, a 65-year-old Swedish player, was quoted by the Chengdu-based West China City Daily as saying Monday.
At the end of the second day of competition, only two foreigners were in the top 10.
Four players at each table play 16 hands before moving on to face other competitors. The players earn points for winning a hand and for the different combination of tiles they collect. The competition abides by Guobiao Mahjong rules.
Organizers say the winner of the three-day tournament receives an automated Mahjong table.
"The game's elements, including the tiles, are a fun way to get into traditional culture," an American has lived and worked in Beijing for years, told the Global Times.
"We are promoting Mahjong to get onto the list of World Intangible Cultural Heritage, as the increasing popularity among foreigners makes it a global game that originated in China," Jiang Xuanqi, secretary of the World Mahjong Organization, was quoted by the local newspaper as saying.
Not everyone in China is a supporter of the board game that also has a darker side.
"Mahjong is criticized by some for its negative role in leading people into gambling," Zhang Yiwu, professor with the Department of Chinese Language and Literature at Peking University, told the Global Times, adding that because of this Mahjong is not qualified to be listed as a World Intangible Culture Heritage.
The first Mahjong championship was held in 2007 in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, with 144 players including 50 foreign competitors. The second competition took place in 2010 in Utrecht, Netherlands, with 110 players joining the competition.
In January 1998, Mahjong was declared a sport by the General Administration of Sport of China.