SCH stu­dent de­vel­ops mah jongg app

The Review - - OBITUARIES - A press re­lease from Spring­side Ch­est­nut Hill Academy

CH­EST­NUT HILL Zach Schapiro ‘22 was grow­ing im­pa­tient as he waited for his fam­ily mem­bers to fig­ure out their next move in a game of mah jongg when he re­al­ized there was some­thing he could do to help: de­velop a mah jongg app.

Schapiro spent well over a year build­ing an app called Mahjongg Ac­com­plice (avail­able in the App Store), which an­a­lyzes play­ers’ tiles and sug­gests the top five hands they should play. The app al­lows play­ers to se­lect their risk com­fort level, to save hands for re­view later on and to play their “usual hands,” ac­cord­ing to their pref­er­ences.

“I thought I knew how to play the game pretty well,” Schapiro said. “Se­lect­ing the right hand can be the most dif­fi­cult part. I did a test where I would record how of­ten I won with and with­out the app, and it made a pretty sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence. It’s a great way for new play­ers to learn the game and gain con­fi­dence with how they play.”

Amer­i­can mah jongg, which orig­i­nated in China, is sim­i­lar to gin rummy in that play­ers pick up and dis­card tiles from other play­ers or from the deck to get the best hand and the most points. The game uses up to 144 tiles with var­i­ous Chi­nese char­ac­ters and sym­bols.

Schapiro first learned mah jongg when he was 7. The game has been en­joy­ing a resur­gence lately and has been pop­u­lar among his ex­tended fam­ily over sev­eral gen­er­a­tions (in­clud­ing his grand­mother, who hails from Ro­ma­nia).

Schapiro, now a fresh­man at Spring­side Ch­est­nut Hill Academy (SCH), started to de­velop his app in the Cen­ter for En­tre­pre­neur­ial Lead­er­ship (CEL) Ven­ture In­cu­ba­tor pro­gram when he was in sev­enth grade. The Ven­ture In­cu­ba­tor is an ex­tracur­ric­u­lar of­fer­ing that sup­ports stu­dents who are in­ter­ested in bring­ing a ven­ture idea to life. For­mer stu­dents in the CEL Ven­ture In­cu­ba­tor have gone on to cre­ate prod­ucts rang­ing from a babysit­ting ser­vice to a nu­tri­tion and ex­er­cise ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram for un­der­served kids to a web plat­form that con­nects high school stu­dents in the col­lege search process with un­der­grad­u­ates at their col­lege of in­ter­est.

Dr. Vin­cent Day, pro­gram di­rec­tor for com­puter sci­ence and in­ter­ac­tive tech­nolo­gies at SCH, served as Schapiro’s Ven­ture In­cu­ba­tor men­tor, help­ing him learn the ba­sics of how to cre­ate an app, then tai­lor the app’s fea­tures and func­tion­al­ity to his pref­er­ences.

“He has the abil­ity and de­sire to go out and learn on his own, and that’s what makes for a good pro­gram­mer,” Day said.

Day added that Schapiro had to be cre­ative, prob­lem solve and stay re­silient in or­der to com­plete this project.

The two met once a week for an hour; Day also set Schapiro up with an ex­ter­nal ex­pert in app de­vel­op­ment for an hour per week, but he stressed that Schapiro was the No. 1 per­son re­spon­si­ble for writ­ing thou­sands of lines of code and spend­ing over 1,000 hours work­ing through bugs and var­i­ous chal­lenges.

When the Ven­ture In­cu­ba­tor class ended, Schapiro con­tin­ued work­ing on Mahjongg Ac­com­plice, and his app was ac­cepted into the Ap­ple app store right be­fore the 2018-19 school year started. To be ac­cepted, he had to cre­ate a de­vel­oper ac­count, test the app, pro­vide a USB ver­sion of it to Ap­ple and pass the com­pany’s re­view. He is also work­ing on get­ting the app into Google Play.

In the few short months it has been avail­able on­line, Mahjongg Ac­com­plice has been down­loaded by peo­ple from around the world: the United States, China, Ja­pan, Ger­many, United King­dom and In­dia. The app is free, but Schapiro is con­sid­er­ing an in-app pur­chase for new an­nual cards that the Na­tional Mah Jongg League de­signs each spring.

“When­ever I see some­one us­ing it, even if I’m play­ing against them, I al­ways feel happy when they win be­cause of the app,” Schapiro said. “I think, ‘Oh, I just lost to my own app.’ I didn’t really lose to them.”

Schapiro is the cur­rent pres­i­dent of the chess team and is also in­volved in de­bate, sci­ence fairs, golf, ten­nis and math com­pe­ti­tions and also plays trum­pet in the jazz band.

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