xGeo's Mahjong Blog

Experiences with Japanese Mahjong

World Riichi Championship 2017

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Introduction

The World Riichi Championship 2017 occurred October 4-8, 2017 in Las Vegas. There were 224 players in the tournament. The format was 9 preliminary hanchan after which the top 32 players would advance in elimination rounds. I was fortunate enough to participate in the event representing the USA and placed 50th overall.

In this article, I’m going to write down random comments and anecdotes I remember from the event. (I’ve been putting this off for so long that it’s hard to remember).

Pre-event

There was a social event the night before the tournament. It was fun dressing up and seeing all the players gather. Lots of faces I recognized and also got to meet some people I only knew from online. There were some speeches and then music by an Elvis impersonator while people played mahjong or danced.

Round 1

Opponents: SHIGEKAZU MORIYAMA, KENTARO KAKIGI, PHILIP ABDOLLAHI

By some miracle of fate, I would be facing Moriyama in the first round again just as I had in the NYC International Riichi Open of 2015. Although I felt like I had improved a lot in 2 years, Moriyama still proved to be a formidable opponent as expected. Kakigi as well had a strong performance in this hanchan. Kakigi and Moriyama took 1st and 2nd at the table with me 3rd. One hand by Kakigi that I remember is a first row dealer riichi. I had no safe tiles against an early riichi and played a 9m. Unfortunately I dealt into riichi, pinfu, ittsuu for dealer mangan. Needless to say, it was difficult to recover. I don’t remember much else from the match besides going for toitoi a lot due to toitsuba (zero’s toitoi dash theory had recently come out too) and some desperate pushes against Moriyama’s dealer turn in S4 which continued for a few hands. I think I was a little nervous, and it didn’t help that I had a such a tough matchup in the first round.

Round 2

Opponents: SHEILA HANSEN, AKI NIKAIDO, MARK LEMOINE

By this time, I felt more settled and performed better this match. I was quite excited to play Nikaido as she one of more famous female pros and I helped out with the scanlation project of her manga. Again it’s difficult to remember specific hands, but in general it felt like people called a lot especially for honitsu or toitoi. Once someone declared riichi and another player called pon 3 times after the riichi. The player in riichi then went on to deal into the open player for toitoi only. My reaction was just “…” Honestly that’s a play that I would never consider, but it happened to work out this time. I took 2nd place.

Round 3

Opponents: AXEL ESCHENBURG, KENNETH TOKUDA, MATIAS ALLOATTI

I felt good about this match but a strong performance by Tokuda took him to 1st and left me in 2nd. I know Tokuda from a YouTube video where he got an incredible ryanpeikou sanbaiman, so it was quite cool to see him in person. He was also the first person I’ve ever seen who rolls the dice by bouncing them off the top of his wall. He’s probably no the only person to do this, but I found it a little quirky. During one of my dealer turns, I ronned Tokuda for dealer mangan (riichi, tanyao, pinfu, dora) while he was pursuing a chinitsu. However the next hand, he responded with a haneman tsumo causing me to lose extra as dealer. “Sasuga pro” is something I would be thinking a lot during this tournament. I should also mention that the German players were giving out snacks to all their opponents. It was a nice to receive German crackers to eat during the break. Danke!

Round 4

Opponents: PHILIPP MARTIN, JURAJ JERGUŠ, MAKOTO HAYAMA

First, another German so more crackers! XD My hands this match were pretty mediocre and I took 3rd. Philipp Martin is a pretty big name in EMA, so it was pretty cool to see him in person. Hayama was the pro at the table for this round. It seemed like he had a rough game since he took 4th. Nevertheless he as a very jolly personality and made the table more lively.

 

Round 5

Opponents: ANNE-MARI HAAPSAMO, JENN, SIMON PICARD

Starting with people I’m familiar with, there’s Jenn, whom I played before in the PML tournament, and Simon whom I know from FaceBook. I can’t remember much except maybe that Jenn looked a little intimidating with a face mask but I was glad to get a first.

 

Round 6

Opponents: KOTARO UCHIKAWA, SHUN SAITO, VLADIMIR BOGDANOV

Another table with 2 pros! Lucky! Unlike last time, I got the better end and got first. One thing I remember about this table is that we all spoke Japanese, so we did all the scoring etc. in Japanese. Pretty fun mahjong and language practice I guess. (Fun fact: Uchikawa later went on to get an insane comeback in a tournament.)

Round 7

Opponents: RIO TOUJYOU, SAYA AOKI, PABLO FIGONI

2 pros again wow! Pretty average game for myself. Everyone at the table was quite pleasant and nice despite the obvious skill gap between the players. I still had fun.

 

Round 8

Opponents: NICOLE HAASBROEK, KAZUHIKO NISHIJIMA, NAO OGASAHARA

This had to have been one of the toughest games of the tournament for me. Although the score doesn’t really show it, it felt like I got rolled pretty hard. Nishijima is very strong and went on to the final table at WRC and Ogasahara as my kamicha was quite tough. I suppose it’s good to get experience facing pressure and see the “terrifying” side of mahjong 😉

Round 9

Opponents: MAIKO SAITO, MARK HAINES, DANIEL GAHLER

At this point (if not earlier), I was pretty much done. Near the end of tournaments you just go full yolo mode and push everything. I could have had a much higher score but I decided to push against a hell wait shousangen and dealt in lol. That’s probably the most memorable incident from that hanchan.

Side Event

There was a side event for those who didn’t make the top 32. It was tonpuusen with red fives, so quite a change of pace from WRC rules. Out of 182 participants (not all players were WRC players), I got 35th so I’m not disappointed. Again since it didn’t count for much, I just yolo’d and pushed hard. During the last game, the pro at my table had a problem with the way I build my wall. I build 2 rows of 17 and stack them but put the row farther from me on top of the row closer to me. He wanted me to do the opposite (put the row closer to me on top of the farther row) that way it’s a forwards rather than a backwards motion. I don’t really get it, but somehow it looks like cheating (tsubame gaeshi?) so now I just build my wall that way to avoid any potential complaints in the future.

Photos

This article is a wall of text. I’ll dump photos I took in an imgur album: https://imgur.com/a/L4b0jbE

Final Words

Thank you to the organizers, especially Gemma and David Bresnick, for the wonderful tournament. I am also honored to have been able to participate in the 2nd ever World Riichi Championship. Mahjong is a lifelong game, and I hope to keep playing for years to come and maybe in another WRC!

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