The March gathering of the US Professional Mahjong League was possibly the most exciting yet.
For those who don’t know the USPML is devoted to playing Japanese-style mahjong, which is probably best known for the ability to declare a hand as “ready” or “riichi” in order to score extra points and to clearly reveal yourself as the aggressor. While I was without my usual accomplice on this occasion, I was joined by thedigitalbug, who I believe had heard of these mahjong sessions from my previous posts on the subject.
We played two games total, one east + south game and a quick east-only game after that. The first game was quite intense, with people declaring ron and tsumo all over the place, and not a single round ending due to all the tiles being drawn. I was the first to lose points in the match, getting hit for a decent amount, but my fortune was reversed as I managed to win using a high scoring hand which turned the tables of the match and put me in the lead. Actually, at first I thought my hand was worth less than it actually was, misreading my “junchan” (All sets have at least a 1 or 9 in them) hand as the similar and less valuable “chanta” (All sets have at least a 1, 9, or “honor” kanji on them). On top of that, by declaring riichi and winning instantly off of it, my hand’s score increased further. In total, I netted 12,000 points. To give an idea of scale, for these sessions we start with 29,000 points each and games typically use 25,000.
By the final round I was about 17,000 points in the lead, and the other players were scrambling for second place. With such a comfortable lead, I could have very well ended the game by intentionally dealing into another player’s hand, but thanks to a mix of luck, greed, good reading of the game, and even a fortunate accident, I managed to end the game on a very high note.
For this round, I started my hand with two 8-su (bamboo), which was the bonus “dora” tile. If you have seen Akagi, the “dora” tile was the centerpiece in the final battle between young Akagi and the blind player Ichikawa (in that instance it was the pure white “haku” tile). Seeing another 8-su discarded, I called for it, which, while improving my potential score, also limited its freedom by removing the only pair I had in my hand. Having a pair in your hand is a vital part of winning at mahjong, and I could have very well thrown my only opportunity away.
Things were looking good however, especially because I had two of the “south” wind tiles which in sets of three are worth extra, provided you are playing in the south round, or alternately if you’re sitting in the south position. Both of these criteria applied to me at the time so I would score off of both of these if I won. However, when I looked down, I realized my opponent had already discarded a south tile and I had simply failed to notice it. Silently cursing, I waited for the next opportunity, hoping that the last south tile (there are four total in a set) would fly out of someone’s hand. As luck turns out, the same player who had discarded it previously believed it to be a safe tile and decided to toss it out again. Seizing the opportunity, I called for it, and was one step closer to completing my hand. Now the open parts of my hand looked truly threatening, and the other players were surely aware of it.
In the end though, they were unable to stop me, and with a shout of “Ron!” I won off of a player’s discard. My hand ended up being the following:
Toitoiho (All triplets)
Bakaze (Round wind)
Jikaze (Seat wind)
Dora 3 (3 bonus tiles)
Which all together looks like this:
A demigodly hand
In total, this hand was worth a “Baiman,” or 18,000 points. Winning like this was a rare and wonderful feeling, like I was actually in a mahjong anime and lightning and thunder had come crashing down as I revealed my hand. Actually, I once again did not initially notice just how much the hand was worth, and had to have someone tell me its true value.
What’s funny about this win was that had I paid more attention in the match, I would have probably called on the first discarded south wind tile, which would have then changed the flow of the match considerably. It was possibly my brief lack of concentration which let me win so gloriously.
After some mutual handshakes and a quick break, we started the next game. Here, I did not do so well, scoring dead last, but I did manage to get one good hand in, and I had better concentration than last time. Previously, I had made the mistake of drinking too much soda, which dehydrated me and wore me down and hampered my ability to focus, but this time I went with a non-caffeinated root beer as well as a bottle of water. I still lost, but at least felt alert the whole way through.
I had a great time, as I do every time, and I don’t mean that simply because I won so hard that I accidentally impregnated a woman half-way around the world. It just reminded me that while online mahjong is certainly fun, the direct human element is irreplaceable.
As for the Pringles, they were available once again, but this time I ate them with a pair of chopsticks. Yes, it was rad.