Doing It Like the Viennese

Kasu & Lena Weinguny

Mahjong has formally existed as a community activity since the 1980s beginning with a club meeting in Baden, Lower Austria that played by local rules pieced together from various Chinese sources. Following the formation of the European Mahjong Association (EMA) in 2005, the Austrians founded the Österreichische Mah Jong Verband (Austrian Mahjong Federation) and joined the EMA as a member organization. Several other clubs were established throughout Austria to join the national federation.

The first club in Austria to promote riichi came in 2008 with the founding of Kasu, a name taken from one of the club’s favorite games. Based in Vienna, Kasu is self-described as “a colorful troupe of Japanese games enthusiasts.” Players engage in Japanese mahjong, shogi, hanafuda, and a variety of other modern Japanese table games played in a healthy environment. Growth in the club was stimulated by teaching at conventions and events taking place in the area. As a result riichi has spread across the country and several additional riichi clubs have since opened in Styria, Carinthia, Lower Austria, and Tyrol. In order to effectively represent and promote riichi within the Austrian Mahjong Federation, the Austrian Riichi Mahjong Association was founded in 2016.

During Kasu’s founding year organizers also hosted the first EMA certified riichi tournament in Austria, and has since seen attendance more than double across the 11 international tournaments they have hosted annually. The 12th Vienna Riichi Open is taking place March 9th and 10th, 2019 and Kasu has also taken on the monster task of hosting the 2020 World Riichi Championship next fall.

Kasu Leadership Team

(From back left) Verena Berg, Peter Hamilton, Lena Weinguny, Marco Kretschmer (Front) Chang Xue

Lena Weinguny, as many of you will likely remember, made big waves in 2017 as the top Western contender in the World Riichi Championship making the top 8 semi-final round against a play-off field dominated by Japanese pro players. She has since placed first in the 2018 riichi tournaments in Graz and Vienna.

From: Vienna, Austria
Club: Kasu
Favorite Tile: “I like the red dragon best because it looks the most aesthetic to me.”

As chairwoman, Lena is leading Kasu in preparing for the Vienna Open with lots of support from club members.

“They help with Shopping and baking cakes for the coffee break buffet, doing the seeding of players, refereeing, keeping everything tidy during the tournament, and providing sets.”

How has Riichi mahjong and your experiences with this game impacted your life, for better or worse?

I enjoy playing the game very much and still find it very thrilling every time, although I’ve been playing it for 10 years. I met a lot of nice people through mahjong and some of them became good friends. I also think it helps me keep my brain fit!

For the worse, since I’m very involved in the clubs activities and organization, I sometimes lack time to do other things I enjoy. But mostly I can keep a good balance, so it doesn’t bother me too much.

Specifically, how has your experience at the 2017 WRC changed your outlook, your game, and your place in the community?

I think my performance at the WRC 2017 made me better known among the international community. Before, I was just some girl from Austria and only the people who have met me at tournaments some time knew me, but afterwards it seems even the Japanese took some notice of me (at least that’s what Gemma told me^^). Also, the Vienna tournament increased in popularity pretty rapidly after only growing in small steps the years before.

I kind of feel a little more pressure to perform well now because I feel people are expecting that. I’m lucky that so far I’ve been doing fairly well in tournaments. I think my game has changed since WRC. Sometimes when I play at the club I try out some new strategies to see which ones suit me and which don’t. You could say I’m trying harder to find my individual style.

What kind of groundwork and preparation has gone into plans for the next WRC held in Vienna?

So far, we have made a budget estimate, prepared a presentation for potential sponsors and venues to tell them a little about Mahjong and the WRC. We also visited some potential venues and did research on where to get everything we need. We also had the logo designed by a very good friend of mine, who is a graphic designer and built a first version of the website. We are also in touch with the City of Vienna to find possibilities how they can support us. Currently, we are working on getting sponsors and finding the best venue!

What has been the largest obstacle so far?

The largest obstacle so far has been finding an affordable but still representative and nice venue. We want WRC 2020 to be a wonderful experience for all participants and work hard to achieve that goal!

How are you personally, and the club as a whole, been handling the responsibility?

It’s really stressful for me to make WRC 2020 what I want it to be because I’m a perfectionist. Of course, not everything goes as I want it to. Fortunately, lots of people from the club are very willing to help out in any way they can and that helps me deal with all the stress. If I didn’t have the support of Gemma and my club, I would probably have quit already!