xGeo's Mahjong Blog

Experiences with Japanese Mahjong


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World Riichi Championship 2017

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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“How to Avoid 4th on the Joukyuu Table”

This post isn’t so serious, just something I found funny. It’s a translation by Mai (Discord ID#7743) of an old Baidu post and I got permission to share the translation.

S4. Our player is oya and 1500 points behind the current first place. Riichi nomi secures first therefore our player decides to riichi.

E/N This picture has a different background but is from the same game.

Here, shimocha decides to oikake riichi. This is in fact a poor play because dama ron on a genbutsu is already enough for last avoidance.

Toimen discards 7m, another play that makes no sense because 7m is neither optimal for defending nor pushing…

Are they really bad players though? We’ll see about that when we reveal the walls!

Shimocha, blessed by the grace of the Houou Gods, is actually about to make a huge gyakuten with their riichi + ippatsu + tsumo + pinfu + sanshoku + dora 5 = sanbaiman!! Well of course, now we see that there’s absolutely no reason to not riichi with a hand like that.

However, toimen anticipated this and escaped last place with a 2000 point 7m sashikomi! A truly magnificent play indeed!

Original: https://tieba.baidu.com/p/2899137441?pid=46816049892#46816049892

E/N: Original post may be gone but this was the original link.


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Quick Update Fall 2016

Hi everyone,

xGeo here with a quick update. On October 1st, I finally got to 6 dan for the first time!

6-dan-promotion

It took me quite some time since I don’t have time to play a lot. This is my very first account on Tenhou meaning that I’ve been playing on it since I started playing Japanese mahjong. I’ve learned a lot from the online mahjong community and am grateful to them for the help they’ve given me in improving my game. A fellow player who used to be 7 dan but is not 6 dan like me told me, “Now the real fight begins.” At 6 dan, the rates for ranking points become very harsh. If I want to advance, I’ll have to work harder and clean up my game. がんばります!

In other news, ASAPIN achieved Tenhoui again on the same day…

(For those who don’t know, Tenhoui is the highest rank on Tenhou and is really hard to achieve. At the time of writing, only 10 people have become Tenhoui in 4 player mahjong on Tenhou. ASAPIN is the 1st Tenhoui and now the 11th Tenhoui.)

Furthermore the International Online Riichi Mahjong Competition (IORMC) 2016 will be happening in November. Last year, I played for the US, but that’s a story for another time… (I’m quite overdue on an article for IORMC 2015).. This year I’m playing in the first every online qualifiers for the 4 team slots, but there’s a lot of stiff competition for the slots. When I’m not busy, I’ll try to have more updates on mahjong-related things I was/am involved in (namely IORMC 2015, Osamuko Invitational 2016, and Lion’s Ridge). Also maybe I’ll try to write more on strategy and how to play the game lol.

Until next time,

xGeo


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Thoughts on the PML Riichi Mahjong Open 2016

Hello everyone! I’m back with another article. And this time I would like to share the coolest mahjong experience I’ve had in North America. The Pacific Mahjong League Mahjong Open 2016 occurred on September 10-11 in San Francisco, CA. (Better late than never, right?) The Pacific Mahjong League (PML) is a mahjong group located in California. PML was associated with the Bugmoney tournaments, which I commentated for a few years ago, and they’ve been growing quite a lot recently from what I’ve heard. First of all, I would like to thank them for running such a great event and look forward to what they come up with in the future. I haven’t had time to put down all my thoughts about the event until now, but just like the NYC tournament they are!

The Venue

This tournament took place in a Holiday Inn that was very close to the SFO airport. I had to fly to this tournament, so this location was pretty convenient. Also the fact that it was in a hotel meant that players coming from all over had a place to stay (although I didn’t use this option since I stayed at a friend’s place in SF.) There was also a restaurant in the hotel, but it wasn’t very good or memorable.

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The Tournament Room with AMOS tables

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USB charger built into the table!

The most notable aspect of the tournament was that every table was automatic. This was one of the main reasons I really wanted to attend the event. Compared to NYC, the games went much faster, and I was not frustrated with games being unfinished. Out of 8 hanchan I played, only one hanchan was unfinished (because there was a chonbo). Six of the tables were Japanese AMOS automatic tables, and I believe that the rest were Chinese automatic tables. My only criticism is that some of the tiles on the Chinese tables might have been American sets because there were Arabic numbers on them and they were really hard to look at. (See Anecdotes below.)

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Chinese Auto Table: This was the table with the largest tiles which were REALLY big. I played on this table 3 times during the tournament and the tiles would always thud them played.

The Format

The PML Riichi Mahjong Open followed the WRC ruleset just like the NYC tournament. One of the main differences between this ruleset and Tenhou/jansou is the akadora (red dora). Aka ari is the most popular game mode on Tenhou and almost ubiquitous in jansou while WRC rules ban akadora. The WRC uma is very flat (+15, +5, -5, -15) so raw point scores tend to matter the most. The time limit was 70 minutes, but at 10 minutes, an announcement would be made to finish the current hand and play one more. I was very impressed by the number of people at the tournament. There were 13 tables meaning 52 players total! There was a cutoff after the first 6 hanchans where the current top 8 players fought for the top 8 places while everyone else tried to improve their placement for ranks 9-52 during the final 2 hanchans.

I’m not sure whether I like this cutoff format or not. Having played in 2 tournaments like this where I didn’t do well on the first day but did well on the second day, I think that tournaments where overall performance should be used to determine final placement. The benefit is that it would reduce the luck factor given the small number of hanchan played. If a player gets unlucky in the first half of the tournament, he/she has no way of making it into the top 8. On the other hand, having a a cutoff makes things more interesting to watch because there is a semi-final and final round. Perhaps I’m biased since I’ve been on the bad side of this system twice, but I still believe that other tournament formats should be tried.

An interesting thing that PML did was have a live online ranking on their website. At the time of writing, the ranking has been taken down, but there is a record of the scores of each hand for every hanchan. This required every riichi and the score of every hand to be recorded. When a riichi was declared, the table would have to call a referee over to record the riichi. Whenever a hand was scored, a referee would be required to have the score reported. I think PML did a good job with making sure that this process didn’t slow down games, but having more referees would definitely be better for this system given that many games are being played concurrently.

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Top 10 Players: Due to the cutoff, the top 8 may have lower scores since they play each other and cannot drop out of the top 8. After hanchan 7, the top 4 play each other and cannot drop out of the top 4.

The Players

This time around the caliber of players was much higher. Although there were still several players that were clearly novices, I got the impression that everyone knew how to play competently (i.e. not super slowly). In terms of skill, it was about what I expected. If I had to classify players using the Tenhou system, I would say that it was mostly ippan, some joukyuu, and maybe a handful of tokujou players or higher. I didn’t get the chance to play every player. This is simply my overall impression of the players at the event. While I was playing, I still heard several chonbos (see Anecdotes), so the level of mahjong in NA still has a lot of room for improvement. I hope this trend of players getting better at each event continues in the future.

Anecdotes

My stories from the tournament

1.”Neutral”: My starting hanchan was really flat in terms of score and kind of set the tone for the rest of my games. East 1 I called yakuhai for tenpai with 2 dora. I had a ryanmen wait on 1,4 sou but was not winning despite being in tenpai since ~7th turn. Finally late game, the player to my right players 9 sou. “Ron,” says the player across from me. He had closed chinitsu with a shanpon wait on 1,9 sou. Haneman. During hanchan, I did not deal into a single hand and only won one cheap hand. Thus I ended up in 2nd place with 30,000 points, which was the starting score. Fun fact: over the course of the hanchan, everyone except me dealt into a hand worth 12,000 points. #facepalm #whatisdefense

2. “Close Game…for Some”: Hanchan 2 was really close for me. The general trend I observed was that one player would be really low on points while one player would have a lot of points. Either that or the other 3 players would be relatively even. I was still on an unlucky streak. I only won 1 or 2 cheap hands, and 2 players got a few mangan tsumos. I had a potential game winning hand in South 4 with a chiitoitsu dora 2 shape, but I couldn’t get tenpai and 1st place ended it with a damaten pinfu ron on 4th. I came in 3rd with 31, 100 points while 2nd place had 32,000 points. Thus the -5 uma for 3rd made me negative.

3.”Noob”: The combination of a novice at the table and bad luck screwed me over in hanchan 3. The player to my right was the dealer and had 1 call (double east). The player across from me called kan on the 5 pin. The new dora was 4 man which the novice to my left played. The dealer ponned the dora for a guaranteed mangan hand. I tried to defend but ran out of safe tiles. Due to the 5 pin kan and the fact that I could see all the 8 pin, I played 6 pin and the dealer ronned me for mangan with a shanpon. During the south round, was dealer and the dora was 6 man. I started with a pair of 6 man as well as several other pairs. I ponned the 8 sou early and discarded hatsu. However my later draws made the hand almost ryuuiisou! I had 22244466sou, 66man, and 8 sou pon. Thus I was in tenpai for guaranteed mangan with a potential haneman or baiman tsumo. The player across played 8 sou. “Ron,” declares the novice to my left. He reveals his hand. I see that he has a nobetan (extended pair wait) 5678sou. Searching for his yaku, I see south in the left part of his hand. Since it is the south round, south is yakuhai, however when I looked at it more closely, I noticed something strange. His closed yakuhai triplet was south, south, … and west. In other words, it was a chonbo.

4. “How to renchan”: I was walking around and looking at other tables after my game finished early. I noticed in the rankings that some players had extremely high scores even after playing only a few hanchans. This was disappointing to me since I had yet to score mangan. I went to one table that was still in progress. I looked at the score and was shocked. 1st place was ~60,000, 2nd place (the dealer) was ~50,000, 3rd was ~10,000, and 4th was ~-10,000. 1st place declares riichi followed by the dealer declaring riichi. Several turns later, the dealer tsumos. He tsumo’d 3 sou for an edge wait for ittsuu. “Tsumo. Mangan,” he said. “4,000 all with 7 honba.” I groaned on the inside. I had figured out how some people were putting up ridiculously high scores.

5. “Tilt”: Hanchan 4 was my worst hanchan. I was still on my streak of not winning. Fun fact: I did not win a hand worth more than 5800 in the first 4 hanchans. South 1 I was the dealer but dealt into South’s riichi ippatsu double south. For the rest of the hanchan, I decided to just push instead of trying to minimize my lossed. I ended the hanchan in 4th with 14,500 points.

6. “Suuankou Tanki”: While I was playing one of games, I head some commotion from another part of the room. After murmurs and whispers propagated through the room, I heard that someone won suuankou tanki! I was impressed by the yakuman but at the same time groaning because I was getting really flat scores. However after the hanchan, someone came up to me and said, “Hey, did you hear? That suuankou tanki was a chombo!” Apparently it went something like this: the suuankou tanki ron was declared, and everyone got excited and took pictures. As they were pushing the tiles into the center, someone said, “Wait, I saw a 3 pin in your discards!” Looking at the pictures, it was confirmed that the player was unfortunately furiten. The lesson here is never take pictures of your yakuman.

7. “Free Play Stomp”: After a disappointing day in the tournament, there’s no better way than to mess around in free play. During free play, some crazy hands happened. Somebody at my table got suuankou tsumo with ippatsu. Another game I got over 70,000 points. There was one instance where I missed a pon to get tanyao tenpai. Instead I drew an ankou for tenpai then got riichi ippatsu tsumo for baiman. During free play, I somehow managed to get huge scores. It felt pretty good since I hadn’t won anything higher than 3 han the whole day. Unfortunately they didn’t count for anything, but nevertheless I had a lot of fun.

8. “It was at this moment Garthe knew he f*cked up”: For hanchan 5, I was going to play Garthe Nelson, who was one of the pros at the tournament (as well as Thomas R. the winner of the NYC tournament!). I won the hanchan by taking an early lead in East 1 with yakuhai dora, but there is one hand that I remember in particular. Garthe was the dealer and sitting across from me. He declared riichi in the first row. I didn’t have any safe tiles, so I tried to find something relatively safe. I had a 5 sou ankou, so I played a 3 sou. Luckily it passed and that hand ended with Thomas winning honitsu toitoi houtei (iirc). After the hanchan, Garthe told me, “When I saw you play the 3 sou, I knew I was in trouble because you were pushing. You probably had multiple 5 sou and might have thought the 3 sou was safe. My wait was 2,5 sou.” I was quite impressed from his read because it was exactly what I was thinking, although I ended up folding in the end. さすがプロ。(Also I finally won my first mangan of the tournament. The back luck streak ended.)

9. “Jenn and Daisangen”: For hanchan 6, I was able to play Jenn Barr, another pro at the tournament. There are a few moments I remember from that hanchan. First was when I got daisangen. My starting hand included chun ankou, 344678 pin, and both hatsu and haku. Someone played haku on the first turn, but soon after I paired up the hatsu and haku. Someone played hatsu, so I ponned and chose to wait on haku and 4 pin instead of 2,5 pin. The player to my left immediately played 2 pin after I got tenpai and I drew 5 pin as well. These were disappointing, but I needed to go big to improve my ranking. Thus I was searching for the last haku. In Japanese Mahjong, the haku is the easiest tile to feel because it is blank and feels smooth. As soon as I drew the haku, I knew instantly what it was. Tsumo! Daisangen! To top it off, it was my first daisangen ever, so I was really excited.

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大三元 Unfortunately this mahjong set isn’t very pretty

Also in that hanchan, I was the last dealer and was trying to go on a streak to get as many points as possible to improve my ranking. I actually missed a ron accidentally. I had something like 1233444 pin and a couple open pons which included 1 yakuhai. Someone played 3 pin and I said, “Pon!” It was my mistake, but then I rationalized it by going for toitoi. Unfortunately I didn’t win that hand, but it was a funny mistake.

10. “Atamahane”: In hanchan 7, I managed to pull off a head bump or “atamahane.” I noticed the player to my right was going (shimocha) for toitoi and had called 3 times. When I reached tenpai, I had to choose between a pair wait of 6 man or 7 man since I already had 4 other sets. I chose the 6 man wait and didn’t riichi. I had iipeikou, so I could ron if the tile came out. Soon after the player to my left (kamicha) played 6m. Shimocha and I both said ron, but under the tournament rules, only my hand counted. #snipe Also in that hanchan, I had a suuankou tenpai but had to ron. At least it was haneman! (toitoi, sanankou, and double south)

11. “Furiten dora 3”: For my last hanchan, I think East 1 set the mood and was the most memorable. I saw that the dora indicator was the 5 pin meaning the dora was 6 pin. I grabbed my first four tiles and there were three 6p. This was going to be a good hand. I intended to open the hand for tanyao but never got the chance. However I did get to tenpai, but an early 1 man discard made me furiten. My final wait was 147m with a 2344567m shape. Since I had three dora and a good wait, I decided to riichi. Even if the others push against my riichi, I know they won’t have much value. Also a good wait means that I can tsumo. It worked out in the end since I tsumo’d a 4m for haneman (riichi, tanyao, tsumo, dora 3). Also in this hanchan, I played with Zachery F., who represented USA at the WRC in 2014 and made it into the top 32 cutoff, and with Aldwin G., who is a very active member of the online mahjong community and a chatterbox. 😛

Sorry for the late post, but I was busy and had a lot to things to share. Overall the tournament was a lot of fun, and I met a lot of cool people. For example, I met some Japanese players from LA and I met someone from the same area as me! I was a little salty at times, but reflecting on the plays I made is a learning experience. Everyone at the tournament got a prize, so I got a signed copy of Jenn Barr’s book! Again I would like to thank everyone at the PML especially the organizers and referees. Thanks to their hard work, the event ran smoothly, and it seemed like everyone had a good time. I hope the mahjong player base continues to grow and improve in NA. I’m looking forward to more tournaments in the future, and I hope to see you there!


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Jansou Experience in Japan

Hi Everyone!

I just returned from a summer in Japan! It was my 2nd time in Japan but the first extended period of time that I had spent in Japan. I was able to play some mahjong and I would like to share my experience with you and give some tips to those hoping to play at jansou for the first time. If you didn’t know, jansou aka “mahjong parlors” are places where you go to play mahjong, commonly found in Japan.

Preface: The Requirements

If you are looking to play in a jansou, it is expected that you know some Japanese and know the rules. Unless you’re with someone who knows Japanese, you should be able to understand the rules of the parlor and be able to hold a conversation with the staff. In addition, you should know how to score your hands (count han/fu and convert that into a number). These two things are basically required if you want to play in jansou in Japan.

Types of Mahjong

There are a few terms you should know before you go to a jansou. First there is “free mahjong.” No, this is not mean that the mahjong is free. There’s no such thing as a free lunch in this world. Free mahjong refers to the ruleset that uses shuugi. Shuugi (also known as “chips”) are bonuses received most commonly for red dora, ippatsu, and ura dora. Depending on the parlor, shuugi will be worth different amounts of money, possibly ranging from 50 yen to 1000 yen per shuugi. Free mahjong can either be based on placement or points. For example in some parlors, only your placement in the game matters in determining how much money you win/lose. Otherwise, the number of points you end with determine how much money you win/lose. Furthermore, free mahjong parlors have table fees which are a fixed amount of money you pay per game. If you can match the table fee with your winnings, then this mahjong will be “free!”

Next is “no-rate mahjong.” No-rate does not involve gambling since it means that you pay to play mahjong. Some places have you pay by hour while others you pay by your placement. No-rate is fairly straight forward. I suggest it to those who do not wish to gamble or those who do not feel confident enough in their skills to play free mahjong.

Finally there is “set mahjong.” Set mahjong is where you and 3 others rent a table at a jansou. You are free to use whatever rules you like since you are playing with your friends. Some parlors are set mahjong parlors, so you cannot walk in by yourself and play like you can in free or no-rate.

Now that you know these terms, I can talk about the parlors I went to.

Shibuton

Shibuton is a no-rate parlor located in Shibuya. The payments are based on placement. 1st pays 200 yen, 2nd pays 300 yen, 3rd pays 400 yen, and 4th pays 500 yen. When I went there, I told them it was my first time and they gave me an application to fill out with my information (name, age, address, etc.) Also it’s very common for places to ask for a “handle name” which is like a nickname they call you. I went with “Geo” as my handle name. Then a staff member came and explained the rules to me. It usually went like this: I would walk in and write my name in the sign in sheet along with the time. Then I would wait until a spot opened up or there were 4 people to start a new game. If there weren’t enough people, sometimes the staff would play. But usually I waited and the staff would bring me a wet towel and a drink. A cool thing they do at Shibuton is print out your stats. Every couple of visits, they will give you a sheet with your win record which shows your 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place rates and your R. Check out their website here: http://www.shibuton.jp/

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I got my first ryuuiisou tenpai but didn’t win 😦

Zoo

Zoo is a mahjong parlor chain that offers free mahjong and set mahjong. In one of the locations in Ikebukuro (here), they also have “free no-rate” which basically means no-rate by the hour. I played free mahjong at Zoo with xkime in Shinjuku. I don’t remember the rates well because I don’t really understand it well but each shuugi was 50 yen. I also played no-rate with Dasuke and Daina Chiba himself! A funny moment was when Mr. Chiba chankan’d me. I was going for chinitsu and reached tenpai. I kanned a 9m that I was keeping to upgrade one of my pons and then boom! Chankan dora 1. First time that happened to me irl. Later I also played free mahjong (tengo rate, which is 50 yen per 1000 points) with Dasuke and no-rate with Dasuke and another one of my friends visiting Japan. Although I didn’t play free mahjong much, I think that the players in free mahjong are better than in no-rate since bad players probably wouldn’t want to play free mahjong and lose a bunch of money. However I did have many good games with good players in no-rate. Check out their website here: http://www.mj-zoo.jp/

Tips

First the auto tables that they use deal your starting hand. If you are the dealer, don’t forget your first draw! I accidentally forgot to draw on a few occasions but if you notice on the 2nd turn, they let you take 2 tiles. Another tip is to have good manners. I can’t list them all here, but these are things like discarding before you take a tile for chii/pon, placing point sticks in front of people when you pay, tilting your wall, and placing the rinshan tile down. If you’re not sure what to do, usually you can watch how other people do things and copy them since most people are well-mannered. Next is calling for a daisou. A daisou is a staff member that plays for you if you need a break for a phone call or bathroom. You literally call for a daisou and a member will come over. Usually they will play somewhat neutrally unless you tell them they can do as they please. How daisou behave depend on the parlor. Finally this applies to all parlors, but make sure you clearly call your last game. When the staff come collect the table fee at the end of the game, make sure that you tell them that the next game will be your last. It’s bad practice to leave after a game without prior notice. Obviously this requires a bit of planning if you are on a tight schedule.

Can You Make Profit?

The short answer is no. Mahjong has a couple reasons why it is hard to make a profit by gambling. First there is the fact that mahjong is not a purely skill-based game, which is why it is considered gambling in the first place. This means that mahjong is hard to consistently win. If mahjong were random, you would win (get first) 25% of the time. Suppose a good player can win 30%, which is the 1st rate of many good players in the mahjong world, then that player is still losing 70% of the time! In parlors, there tends to be a focus on getting first since 1st has the most reward. Of course, 2nd place has some gain but it is very insignificant. Another reason why it is hard to make a profit is the parlor system. Every parlor has some sort of table fee. Thus in order to make a profit, your winning must cover the table fee. At higher rates, this becomes easier but the tradeoff is that you can lose more. Getting 4th and even 3rd generally have significant losses. Thus if you’re not getting 1st ~70% of the time (generous estimate), then you will be losing a lot. It is not impossible to make a profit sometimes, but in the long run it is extremely difficult. A few years ago, xkime wrote an article that does some calculations on trying to profit at parlors which you can see here.

Conclusion

Playing in jansou in Japan is an experience that I probably couldn’t get anywhere else. The automatic tables, skilled players, and service are something I would definitely pay for. In both no-rate and free mahjong, I think paying for the unique experience is fine. I’m still learning as a player as I develop my skills and gain more experience. Where I live there are few players I can play with in real life, so going to jansou was an invaluable experience. Handling real tiles and gathering information in real life have nuances that online mahjong doesn’t have. It’s a totally different feeling. I hope to return to Japan someday and when I do, you know where to find me!


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Riichi Book I Review

Hey there! xGeo here with some exciting news!

If you haven’t heard already, Daina Chiba recently wrote a book in English about Riichi Mahjong. It is a book designed for beginners and intermediate players which is the first of its kind that I have seen. Also it’s free! You can download it here: http://riichi.dynaman.net/

My Thoughts

I also recently finished reading it and had a chance to test out some things that were discussed in the book. The first main thing was tile efficiency. I asked xkime and Muller if they could review some of my gameplay, which you can read here and here. One of the things they pointed out was how I needed better tile efficiency. I had a basic understanding of tile efficiency due to intuition and reading Osamuko, but I think reading Chiba’s book really helped me grasp more concepts and solidify my understanding. I think this has really helped my gameplay as I can actually see the effects of reaching tenpai faster.

Correct me if I’m wrong but I think this book coined the term “insta-riichi” in the English speaking Riichi Mahjong community. (I had never heard the term before so I may be wrong.) (EDIT: Chiba told me that he was not the first to use the term.) Before I had usually been very strict with what hands I declared riichi on. I think I got this notion from watching JPML videos. I noticed that the pros went damaten very often even with no yaku. Only if it was a ryanmen wait would they then declare riichi. As such I almost never declared riichi on a bad wait and I would even scoff at players that did. Chiba’s book taught me that it’s ok to riichi on a bad wait, provided you are careful with what situations in which you choose to do so (e.g. JPML vs. Tenhou rulesets). Just last night, I was playing with some friends and they were surprised that I riichi’d with a kanchan. I feel like recently I’ve been going through a playstyle “crisis” because I’m not sure what to prioritize anymore: speed or points. I’ve always known that players face trade-offs between speed and points. For example if you always go for pure tile efficiency, your hand may end up as a yakuless hand that needs riichi and may have a bad wait. Chasing yaku is generally slow so my previous value of high scoring hands was in conflict with my newfound value of ruthless tile efficiency. I think balancing these two ideals is something that I need to refine more.

Another thing that I found helpful was the five-block method. It may seem obvious but you try to envision the final 5 components of your hand: the four sets and pair. When you advance your hand, you try to balance out the strength of each group. You can also use this to decide whether to chase certain yaku like honitsu. Simply evaluate whether you have the foundation for 5 blocks. If ye,s then good and if no, then try something else.

Overall I think Chiba’s book has provided intermediate players like me a bridge between the world of beginners and experts. The book is not for complete beginners but more more the beginner that knows all the yaku and the intermediate player looking for tips to improve. I think this is a good beginning to helping the Western mahjong community expand. As I stated when I started this blog, I want to help create and spread English mahjong resources since they are so lacking. I hope to do my part in the future and by spreading the word about Chiba’s book. If you haven’t already, give the book a read. I highly recommend you study it carefully and practice the tips included. As I said, it really helped me and I’m sure it will do the same for you!


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Yaku Lists

Happy New Year!

As a way to finish up the year, I am going to upload the yaku sheets that I have made in the last couple of years. They are by no means entirely complete, but anyone with some exposure to mahjong terminology and yaku should be able to understand them. I will go over scoring in depth in a future post, but take a look at these packets for now. I have 2 versions: one is an excel sheet and the other is a word document. They contain the same information but formatted differently.

1. The Excel sheet

Japanese Mahjong

2. The Word document

Yaku

3. Yaku list on Osamuko (has pictures!)

http://osamuko.com/yaku-overview-pdf/

Feel free to use these as you like. If you have any suggestions or corrections, let me know.

As always, thanks for reading and have a great 2016!