Miles of tiles: Tracing the global rise of Rummikub

This year’s World Rummikub Championships - held in Jerusalem this November - welcomed representatives from 32 nations from across the globe. Today, it is estimated that more than 50 million gamers play Rummikub around the world.
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In Norway, the locals take a day off work to watch the World Chess Championships. The competition is usually won by one Sven Magnus Carlsen, a Norwegian model and chessmaster and quite possibly the biggest reason why the event receives national coverage when it is played out for 20 days strong in November.

Travel a straight line down through the centre of Eastern Europe, and you’ll find cognitive ability is lauded as the original rock and roll. Swap chess in Norway out for the likes of Catan in Germany and it’s true that for anyone with a mind for vanquishing foes through strategic board game play, living can be kingly.

In Switzerland, the game is Rummikub. In fact, the region has been highlighted as the largest for sales of the tabletop game per capita at around 40,000 a year. However, more than this, Rummikub has become a global affair with a fan base growing not only in Switzerland and Central Europe, but on an industrial scale across the world.

Don’t believe it? Just take a look at the growth of the World Rummikub Championships for evidence. The first World Rummikub Championships took place at the Hyatt in Jerusalem back in 1991. It was devised in memory of Mr. Ephraim Hertzano, the creator of Rummikub, by his children Micha and Mariana. 12 countries took part.

This year’s World Rummikub Championships - held in Jerusalem this November - welcomed representatives from 32 nations from across the globe. Today, it is estimated that more than 50 million gamers play Rummikub around the world.

Rummikub - Round 1

“In the past five years we have seen a growth in the number of countries that joined the Rummikub family, such as online, from the Ukraine, China, Indonesia, Philippines and more, as well as in the number of games sold,” Mr. Micha Hertzano told ToyNews.

Now in its tenth event, the World Rummikub Championships is held every three years in a different iconic location around the world. Previous Championships have taken place in the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Hamleys in London and a bullfighting arena in Spain. This year, it was held in the heart of Jerusalem.

“In Israel, there must be at least one game per household, based on overall sales,” continued Mr. Hertzano.

This would make sense. Hertzano was, after all, a Romanian-born Jew who immigrated to Israel in 1950 and subsequently made a living selling his hand-made tile game door to door. Over the years, the family licensed the game to other countries and it became Israel’s number one export game.

In 1977, it became a best-selling game in the US. However, despite the love for the game across the Atlantic, the US is yet to produce a World Rummikub Champion itself. But then again, competition is fierce, with each of the 32 countries sending its own champion to this pinnacle of Rummikub-ing every three years.

Holland has won four championships, Japan has taken three while the oldest Rummikub player in the world is a 101 year old lady from Hong Kong.

The UK isn’t without its own Rummikub champion, and this year it was 41 year old mother of two, Liz Rumble from Bracknell in Berkshire who pit her wits against the world’s elite. Rumble joined 32 winners from countries including New Zealand, France, Hong Kong, Czech Republic and Holland to finish in 11th place.

She secured her place at the World Championships after winning the UK National Rummikub Championship Tournament in June. At this year’s big final however, she lost out to Japan who emerged as the overall winner, with Israel in second place and Holland in at third.

“I am delighted to have had the opportunity to take part in the World Championships,” said Rumble. “I have been playing Rummikub since I was a child and only registered for the UK tournament as something fun to do. I didn’t think for a second that I would win and that I’d be travelling to Jerusalem to play against other winners for the world title.

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“It was a brilliant experience and I am really proud of how I did. My friends and family have been really supportive helping me to practice over the last few months and I think this will still continue as we enjoy the game and I have also taught my two girls how to play, too.”

As for the future of the game and the Championships, Mr. Hertzano can only see it growing and expanding on the world’s stage. Let’s just try and keep it a secret from Norway’s Magnus Carlsen - just for now, at least, to give us all a fighting chance.

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