Mesa, Ariz., this week is ground zero for shuffleboard as the game’s largest tournament in the world plays out at three RV resorts, the Arizona Republic reported.

Twenty-four teams of 18 people each from the Western U.S. and Canada are competing in the 2012 annual Western Shuffleboard Association National Open Team Tournament at Good Life, Valle del Oro and Towerpoint RV resorts.

The tourney began Monday (Nov. 5) and ends with a Saturday night banquet attended by 400 or so players.

“No other tournament registered with the National (Shuffleboard Association) or the International has that many shufflers,” said Dale Monday, deputy director of this week’s tournament, which is in its 31st year.

Bob Zaletel, a retired teacher from Las Vegas who calls himself “Shuffleboard Bob,” puts it another way: “If you want to be playing shuffleboard anywhere in the world, this is where you want to be.”

Shuffler Lynn Bell of Alberta, Canada, who began playing 17 years ago when she and her husband became winter residents of Roadhaven in Apache Junction, was drawn to the game because of the camaraderie and her competitive streak.

“I’ve gone to Australia to play,” she said. “I love the game and meeting all the people. It’s just like a big family.”

Laura Smith, activities director at Good Life, extolls the game’s benefits: “It’s a great sport because husbands and wives can play together, and you don’t need to be a physical specimen to play.”

Besides, she added, shuffleboard provides exercise and a chance to get outdoors.

“It’s the ballet of the sports world,” Smith said. “There’s bending and stretching, and you can get out in the sun. It’s a quiet, relaxing sport. It is much more fun than most people know.”

Rob Robinson, the tournament’s director, sees the game’s mental challenges.

“It’s not a physical sport; it’s a mental sport,” said Robinson, who credited the game for his late father’s long life.

“Had it not been for shuffleboard, I don’t think he’d have made it to 90,” Robinson said.

Zaletel has played for close to 25 years and has written three books on shuffleboard, one of them an anthology of stories about good sportsmanship.

His video on YouTube, called “Shuffleboard for the Future,” explains the sport, demonstrates techniques and discusses etiquette.

Zaletel, who estimates he has coached 2,200 individuals in the past 10 years, says the biggest mistake shufflers make is overreaching.

“A lot of people play offensive. They say, ‘I hope I make this shot,’” he said. “Our game is more defensive.”