Three Lessons From A Singaporean Favourite Game

Apart from red packets and delicious snacks, there is one other thing that everyone look forward to during the Lunar New Year. It’s Mahjong! On top of being a good game to stimulate your brain and catch up with your relatives and friends, this household favourite game yields many lessons about investing and life.

Lesson 1: You can’t win it all

The first lesson is a tough pill to swallow. No matter how skilled you are at reading the cards of others or how disciplined you are at playing defence, you cannot always win in Mahjong. Sometimes, people just keep winning from 自摸 (drawing the tile themselves). Disgusting! Trust me, I understand how frustrating this is (been on the receiving end of that multiple times). Unfortunately, this is something that is completely out of our control. You win some, lose some. Sometimes you are lucky, and sometimes you are not.

Thankfully, doing nothing is perfectly fine! Luck comes and goes, but in the long run, over many repetitions, what gives one an edge is skill and the right mentality. Thus, by directing our efforts to the things we can control, we can poise ourselves to seize opportunity when the tides turn.

This is very applicable to investing and anything that involves a mixture on luck and skill, even life. Given the infinite number of factors affecting the outcome, there is a infinite possibilities that could occur. Even if we have done everything we can to the best of our ability, some things are just out of our hands. In investing, we should expect a third of our decisions to not work out. With that in mind, we should have a sound plan and take precaution to ensure that we can remain financially resilient. Eventually, lady luck will once again shine on us.

Lesson 2: Take calculated risk

Mahjong also teaches us a thing or two about risk, something that is hard to understand simply by reading or listening. This makes it challenging to learn anything much about risk from our formal education. Yet, risk is pervasive in life. At every step of the way since birth, luck and risk is at play regardless of whether we are aware of it, and arguably much more so in investing. In my opinion, the best way to learn about risk is to learn from experience, and playing Mahjong is an excellent opportunity to do that.

Take for example a situation where someone is calling (waiting to win) a 满台 (the maximum “points”, usually 5 in Singapore) and the best you can do with your hand is 三台 (three “points”). In this case, the downside if you throw the winning tile is huge while the potential gain of winning a 三台 is relatively small. So, what would you do in that situation? As rational players we should play defence when we draw a tile that we think may be the winning piece for the other player. While doing so may mean that we submit to fate that we won’t win this round, we do not risk losing more. We much rather wait for another round where the reverse is true, when we are calling a 满台 and others are calling only two or three 台. These situations where the payoff is skewed in our favour present excellent opportunities to play aggressively.

In investing, we want to “bet” big on situations which has a huge upside and minimal downside. Or in the words of Monish Pabrai, “heads I win, tails I don’t lose much”. The converse is also true. We should ignore investments that have small upside but could potentially lead to large permanent losses. We much rather wait for the low risk high reward opportunity. Following this logic, I never short a stock. This is because the upside is at most a 100% while the downside is unlimited. When we invest in a company, the upside is unlimited. Why would I take the first bet? When we make rational decisions based on this sound principle, they cease to be bets. Instead, they are strategic moves involving calculated risks. Such opportunities are few and far between so when we are lucky to find one, make sure to capitalise on it.

In both Mahjong and investing, there are many nuances that writing cannot encapsulate. However, the idea of looking for “bets” with huge upside and minimal downside remains the core of a winning strategy. As mentioned above, the best way to learn about risk is by experiencing it. In order to truly appreciate how luck and risk come into play, one has to put themselves through those situations, and one of the best ways to do so is playing Mahjong.

Lesson 3: You can’t know everything

Building on the concept of risk, the next lesson drawn from Mahjong applies to investing and life as well. Picture this:

You are calling a 满台 and it is your turn to draw. You look at the tiles on the table and know that another player is gunning for a 清一色 (full suit) 索子 (bamboo). You pray to god to draw anything but a 索子. As you draw your tile and slide your thumb across the face of the tile, you feel sticks… and you heart drops. You know that he wants 索子 but you are not sure which exact piece he needs (unless you have a PhD in mahjong like the Aunties and Uncles). At this point in time you face a major dilemma. Do you throw the 索子 and risk losing a lot of money? Or do you play defence and miss out on the potential of winning a lot of money? In such situations, there is no easy way out. Neither is there a correct answer. It all depends on you.

Similarly in investing, you cannot pinpoint what the future beholds. The best you can do is assess all available information and make a decision that you are comfortable with based on your current financial situation, risk appetite and goals. If you think that the risk-reward ratio is attractive after thorough assessment of the available information, you just have to take the leap of faith. As such, we can expect that unknown unknowns may occasionally derail some of our theses. This makes the case for a certain degree of diversification, never put all your eggs in one basket.

That being said, I am not promoting gambling. We all have to take responsibility of our actions and know our limits. Sometimes before making a big decision, a certain friend of mine will look in his drawer to count his chips. In both investing and Mahjong, we only risk what is reasonable. And what is reasonable, depends on a variety of factors such as our risk tolerance and financial resilience. I simply hope to share that there is value we can gain from playing intricate games such as Mahjong that formal education cannot offer us. So, the next time you play Mahjong, pay attention to the life lessons that this Singaporean favourite game has to offer.

Resources I Use to Improve My Financial Literacy

In today’s digital age, there is a wealth of free information online, available to everyone who has an internet connection. This makes it possible to learn almost anything on the internet. As a firm believer in independent lifelong learning, I will be sharing about the resources I used to improve my financial literacy in this post. These are all resources that I have used and have proved beneficial to me. I will never recommend anything that I have not tried or do not believe in.

Before we begin, I would like to share a little bit about how I improved my financial literacy. Personal finance is not something we can finish learning overnight. It takes time for knowledge to build up and compound. It is through continuous exposure to educational content that we accumulate knowledge. By learning bits and pieces everyday, we slowly piece together a more complete picture. For instance, we may occasionally come across articles on the CPF and through these we may learn about the CPF accounts, their interest rates and their use. On other occasions, we may learn about roboinvestors and ETFs. There will also be other times when we come across articles on credit cards and loans. These information collectively will allow us to make more informed decisions on spending, saving and investing. Thus, for those who wish to improve their financial literacy, I recommend that you start by exposing yourselves to educational content on personal finance (such as this website and my telegram!). This post serves to provide some great avenues to increase our exposure to such content.

For all websites and YouTube channels, I have included links to the respective pages at the names to save you the hassle. I would like to emphasise that it is not necessary for you to use all these resources, just pick those that you think will be useful. For instance, there is no need to read the resources on stock picking if you prefer to adopt a passive strategy. Instead, there are other resources that have very useful content regarding basic personal finance that will be applicable to everyone, such as housing, CPF, Credit Cards, saving and many more topics. Additionally, this is by no means a comprehensive list. Thus, if u come across something useful please share too! You can contact me here and I will share it on The Dollar Sapling Telegram channel.

Resources for improving financial literacy


This is an extremely useful platform to learn about everything related to personal finance. This platform consists of blog articles, opinions and also a forum where you can ask and answer questions. This is the perfect starting point to build up your financial knowledge. Just download the application on your phone and browse during your little pockets of time. They have a very warm community and the moderators are very friendly as well. If you find yourself struggling to make a financial decision such as buying insurance or how to fund your first home, simply search it up on Seedly or post a question on the forum! They also have an Instagram page where you can receive updates.

This is one of my favourite platforms and I am on it everyday. I enjoy reading their articles and interacting with people on the forum. You may be able to catch me answering questions with the handle CTKS.

The Woke Salaryman

This is another platform that I use to learn about personal finance. They also talk about basically everything related to personal finance in Singapore (HDB, CPF, side hustles). However, their differentiating factor to me is that they have very unique content on topics such as workplace harassment, upskilling and how to stay relevant without coding. Their opinions and articles are very insightful. Their philosophy is to work on increasing their earning power and adopt a passive investment strategy, perfect for the layman!

Personally, I follow their Instagram page and simply just browse their feed and story. Occasionally, they will have Q&As as well where you can ask questions as well.

The Psychology Of Money” by Morgan Housel

This is a book that I will recommend to everyone who wants to learn how to manage their money. In an ideal world, people make rational decisions that are based on mathematical calculations, data and formulae that tell us what to do. However, this is not the case in reality. We, Humans, are beings of emotion and we make decision based on our personal experience, views of the world, ego, pride, marketing and many other factors. This book sheds some light on how people think about money and distils lessons on how to better make sense of life’s most important matters.

Resources for all investors (active and passive)

The Intelligent Investor” by Benjamin Graham

This book by the founding father of value investing and Warren Buffet’s mentor, Benjamin Graham, has been seen as a stock market bible ever since its publication in 1949. While some content and data may be outdated, the lessons and philosophies here are timeless and will prove useful to anyone who wishes to be a successful investor. I will recommend this book to any beginner who wishes to learn more about investing. Do take note that the language used here is very classical and can be hard to understand at times.

Resources for those passive investors

The Little Book of Common Sense Investing” by Jack C. Bogle

The Little Book of Common Sense Investing is the classic guide to getting smart about the market. John C. Bogle reveals his secret to getting more out of investing: low-cost index funds. Bogle describes the simplest and most effective investment strategy for building wealth over the long term: buy and hold, at very low cost, a mutual fund that tracks a broad stock market Index such as the S&P 500 (these are called index funds).

In essence, this book talks about passive investing in index funds to achieve results close to the market average (which are not so average because 90% of investors fail to beat the market). If you’ve read my other post, you know why I am a huge proponent of ETFs (I understand that ETFs are not the same as index funds but I find it a suitable substitute). He also originated the 3 fund portfolio, which is a simple portfolio consisting of 3 funds (US stocks, international stocks and US bonds) designed to provide average returns. However, I have adapted that idea to the Singapore context which you can read more about here.

Resources for active investors

5 Rules For Successful Stock Investing” by Pat Dorsey

This is one of the first books I read and remains one of my favourite books on stock picking. It consists of the basics of how to read financial statements, how to value different companies, as well as understanding the driving forces behind different industries. In my opinion, it is perfect for starters.

The Fifth Person

These are the people whom I first learnt how to invest from, they produce excellent content. While their courses are paid, they have a website with free content such as guides on how to start investing and many articles about investing and personal finance.

They also have a YouTube channel where they have discussions about stocks and investing. Some of their older videos also talk about how to invest, read financial reports and more. Occasionally, they also have free webinars. Click here to join my telegram group if you’d like to receive more updates on such free lobang!

Learn To Invest

This You Tuber is very honest and informative. His channel is very educational and he explains the concepts very well, making his content easy to absorb. I learnt a lot of the technical aspects of investing from him such as reading financial statements and calculating intrinsic value of a company.


The Swedish Investor

If you are lazy to read books or want a sneak peak about what a book is exactly about before reading it, you can check out his YouTube channel. He makes excellent book summaries. His channel has summaries of most of the books I mentioned and more.

To end this post, I would like to urge everyone not to procrastinate. Many will close this page and comfort themselves by saying they’ll do all this when the time is right. However, we all know the odds of that happening is close to none as you will simply forget all about this post. So, do not procrastinate! Join my telegram, follow the Instagram pages and download the Seedly application and start exposing yourself to more educational personal finance content today!