games

Playing the seriously addictive — and seriously social — game of mah jongg at the SHOW Bar at the Sheridan Opera House on Monday evenings are (left to right) Laurel Robinson, Cristine Mitchell, Pam Bennett and Don Stricker.

(Photo courtesy of Janie Goldberg)

Telluriders love a little competition, as evidenced on the ski resort, in the backcountry, on playing fields and in the wider world, where local athletes have won Olympic medals, nabbed state, national and international titles, and established world records.

Turns out locals can be a little competitive indoors, too, taking part in a range of table games that are on offer around town each week.

One of those games is mah jongg, a rummy-like Chinese game played with tiles. In the early 1990s, a group of local friends started to play the famously addictive game.

“Years ago, we started playing mostly at home,” said Janie Goldberg, one of the founding members who was described as “the Queen of Mah Jongg in Telluride.”

“It was just a few locals at the start, Elinor London, Audrey Meltzer, Sorina Mocanu and myself, of whom the only ones left here are Sorina and me,” Goldberg said. “We got it started and then it started to grow.”

Goldberg, her friends and an ever-expanding circle of enthusiasts eventually set up their tables and tiles at the Elks Lodge before moving to former wine bar Arroyo and then on to their current location, the SHOW Bar at the Sheridan Opera House, where they “enjoy good company, good wine, hors d’oeuvres and mah jongg” on Mondays from 6-10 p.m. Nowadays, there are about 20-plus people playing, although Goldberg said that number “grows exponentially” in the summer.

The native New Yorker, who has lived in Telluride for nearly 30 years, emphasized that all are welcome to join in.

“Full-timers, visitors and second homeowners are welcome, men and women are welcome, everyone is welcome,” Goldberg said. “It’s open to everyone, it’s a community that welcomes everyone no matter their level of play.”

Indeed, Goldberg and Mocanu provide complimentary lessons to beginners on the second Monday of each month at the SHOW Bar gathering. Beginning in February, Goldberg will also teach a class at the Wilkinson Public Library on the first Wednesday of each month from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Another long-running game in town is the Tuesday night poker table at the New Sheridan bar at the Sheridan. Long-time local Dusty Atherton is one of the participants.

“We’ve been playing poker over in the Sheridan on Tuesday nights for something like 15 years,” he said. “It’s been a long time.”

Atherton added that the group started playing at the Elks Lodge about 20 years ago when the Elks also hosted poker tournaments. Nowadays, he said the size of the group varies a little depending on the time of year and, like the mah jongg group, includes locals, second homeowners and visitors who have become friends.

“On any night, we can put nine people at the table at one time,” Atherton explained. “We probably have five or six people that always play and then we have another group of 10 or so who rotate in depending.”

Have they gotten to know each other fairly well over the years or is there a strict “no talking” policy at the table?

“It’s an extremely friendly game,” Atherton said. “We’ll go out and have dinner, four or five of us, beforehand and people will be having a couple of beers during the game. It’s very social. That’s the only way it would be able to last over the years. If it got too serious, no one would really come and play. ... We’ve got a pretty good cast of characters and we play for fun.”

Atherton said the historic bar at the Sheridan — the group plays on the balcony that straddles the bar and the back room — is a nice fit for the poker game. “You couldn’t draw up a better place to have a poker table in this town and we really appreciate Ray Farnsworth, the New Sheridan’s general manager, and the entire staff’s support of the game. It’s such a cool, nostalgic spot. Sometimes when you are playing there, you feel like this could have been going on a hundred years ago.”

Meanwhile, next door at the Phoenix Bean, Thursday nights are bingo nights. Members of Telluride Theatre oversee the bingo, which takes place most Thursdays, except when the theater troupe has a production on.

“We start selling cards starting at 6:30 p.m. and then we play from about 7 p.m. until 9 p.m.,” said Telluride Theatre Managing Director Cat Lee Covert.

The event is a collaboration between the theater group and the Phoenix Bean, Covert said. “Cathie Seward and Ray at the Sheridan wanted to partner with us to bring something different there and to have something else going on in town.”

Covert described the nights as “a lot of fun” and how could they not be with Covert as caller and Henry Mitchell as “baller” (the person who pulls the numbered balls from the ball cage). Acting as a sort of Vanna White for the evening, Suzanne Cheavens is the “scrawler,” keeping track of the numbers called and dishing out the prizes, which include fun stuff like fake swords, light sabers, balls and gift cards.

Although Telluride Theatre’s bingo nights are relatively new — they only began last summer — they have been successful, attracting 20-25 people a night for about six rounds of bingo.

“I think it’s a fun, inexpensive, different way to have an evening,” Covert said. “It’s definitely low stress and high fun.”

She may be onto something. Increasingly, research shows that these sorts of games serve to help participants de-stress, aid mental acuity and combat loneliness, all in a fun and friendly social setting.

Atherton touched somewhat on this when talking about the Tuesday night poker.

“There have been a lot of friendships far and wide that have been established,” he said. “It’s a good, friendly, regular Tuesday night thing. I can say personally that probably I have two or three friends who I would never have met, but I met them playing poker. We’ve got some younger people playing and some older people playing ... It’s been a really cool thing that has brought a lot of people together over the years. It has meant a lot to a lot of people over the years.”