Slot-machine gamblers need skill only to cheat; but in many games needs skill by the gambler (as well as good luck) to win legitimately.  Most card games belong in this category: chance dictates what cards are drawn, ability governs what is done with them.  But the same principle operates in many other kinds of game-for example, the complex Chinese game of mah-jongg (Which somewhat resembles rummy, although played with tiles rather than cards).

Its proper name is ma-tsiang (“sparrows”); “mah-jongg” is just a manufacturer’s trademark.  But since it is better known than the other, I’ll stick to it.  The game has never satisfactorily translated itself from China, Korea, Japan, and Malaya to the West, but (as the middle-aged may recall) there was a short-lived American and European mah-jongg craze during the twenties.

The tiles used in mach-jongg are about the size of dominoes (but thicker), and are usually made of ivory backed with bamboo.  They are divided into three suits (called bamboos, circles, and characters) card games and each suit has nine ranks.  Additionally, there are four each of red, green, and white dragons, four winds, four flowers, and four seasons, making a total of 144 of these poetically named pieces.  A game begins with a ceremonial arrangement of the tiles into a wall.  Three of the four players then take 13 tiles and the remaining player 14.  the object of the game is to achieve a winning hand by discarding and drawing tiles.

A winning hand is four sets of three and a pair, or seven pairs, or a run of 13 with a pair of any number in that run.  When a player achieves such a hand, play stops and the winner is paid by the losers according to the scores they hold in their hands.  the scoring is immensely complex because of cumulative doubling, which makes totals enormous (sometimes running into hundreds of thousands ) and stakes difficult to fix.  This may be one of the reasons why the game lost popularity; but it seems more likely that the exoticism that was a feature of the twenties  (exemplified by mah-jongg, Russian boots, Spanish dancing, surrealism, Paraguayan maté, and gypsy bangles) faded with that decade into the grim shadows of American and European depression.

Games like mah-jongg (and like some card games or other “parlor” games) are of course played as much for pleasure as for gambling purposes.  Nevertheless, betting can be and often is introduced into these games-usually in order to increase the pleasure.  This is also the case with many games played with a board and pieces, as, for example, Monopoly.

In this game, too, chance and gambling skill are both involved.  According to moves decided by throwing dice, the players shift their representative pieces to places on the board that offer them opportunities to speculate with toy money and toy property.  The winner, of course, is the player who acquires the most property.  Monopoly had a great vogue in Europe and America during the years of depression in the early thirties-mainly because it offered opportunities for vicarious speculation with money and property (the very success anticipated for the game by its American inventor, Charles B.  Darrow, who made a million dollars out of his foresight).  The vogue died at the beginning of the war and was supplanted by the vogue for real speculation and takeover bids-except, apparently, in South Africa, where Monopoly has always been played at a serious level, with real money and real property.  One wealthy South African has told me that, in his home in Bloemfontein, he and half a dozen other property owners would play a Monopoly game every Saturday night, “winning and losing half of Maitland Street and Hoffman Square” between them.  He also told me, by the way (though there is no other evidence for this), that the site of Harvard University’s observatory in Bloemfontein was won in 1847 by Major Wardle, the founder of the city, in a baccarat game.

Skill becomes increasingly dominant in many of the best known board-and-pieces games.  In checkers and chess, for instance, chance determines only which player will have the opening move, and there are no opportunities for gambling except on the result of the game.
The origins of checkers are misty, and it is by no means certain whether it is a later or earlier game than chess (whose history was discussed in Chapter 2).  It seems to be fairly well established that the checkerboard games played by the Egyptians and Greeks were more like backgammon, with pieces begins moved according to the throws of dice.  There are no reliable records of checkers (as we know the game today) being played before the 12th century, when a version using a board with 100 squares was using a board with 100 squares was played by King Bole Slav III of Poland, who divided the country among his three sons according to the strategically ingenuity shown by them in the game.