On the first day of yaku, my love gave to me…riichi! Today we will take a look at a yaku connected to riichi.
The Basics: Ippatsu (一発) is a yaku worth 1 han. In English, it is also referred to as “One Shot.” It is awarded for a player winning on the first go around after riichi either by claiming a discard (ron) or drawing the wining tile (tsumo). However if any call is made after the riichi (chii, pon, or open/closed kan) then ippatsu is nullified. As one can see, achieving ippatsu is purely luck. When playing in real life, people often get suspicious of players who get ippatsu because tile stacking and other forms of cheating. For example, a player who knows which tile he is about to draw may make a “tsumogiri riichi,” declaring riichi on the tile just drawn meaning that the player was already in tenpai. Thus by unfair means, the value of one’s hand can be increased. I once riichi’d and made an ippatsu tsumo for a big hand, and someone though I cheated. (I swear I didn’t.)
Although ippatsu is purely luck based and requires no skill, I still believe that it has a place in Japanese Mahjong to balance the game. Some rulsets, especially among pros, do not have ippatsu to take out the “luck element.” Mahjong is fundamentally a game that has elements of skill AND luck. While I prefer Japanese Mahjong because of the skill element, I think that ippatsu should be kept as part of the luck element which makes the game so thrilling. Furthermore ippatsu makes riichi more powerful as a high risk high reward mechanic. If you open your hand by calling a tile, you lose the ability to riichi and the possibility of ippatsu. With ippatsu, the potential points that could be scored from riichi increase.
A note on some yaku combinations: It is possible to get ippatsu with Chankan (which will be discussed on a later day) if a player melds an added kan in the go around after you riichi. Since the kan was incomplete, the ippatsu is not cancelled. Also it is not possible to score rinshan kaihou (also to be discussed later) and ippatsu on the same hand. This would require you to draw a closed kan and then win on the supplemental draw. Even if you draw the kan on the go around after your riichi, it is still not technically considered ippatsu.
In Mahjong Media: If you read/watch mahjong media, it is inevitable that you will see characters make frequent ippatsu wins. It’s an exciting element of the game that can be linked to cheating, “the flow,” or special powers. You might be led to believe that ippatsu is really common, but in reality it is situational.
Ippatsu is a yaku that cannot be scored without riichi. It is the first of many luck based yaku that we will examine this month. To me, ippatsu is an exciting part of the game that can cause both unexpected surprises and upsets. Either way ippatsu further reminds us of the fact that mahjong requires both luck and skill to win.