Note: I originally wrote this back in February but never ended up publishing it. The event took place February 22nd and 23rd, 2020, at the Seattle Center Armory and was hosted by the Seattle Riichi Mahjong Club.
Believe it or not, this was my first time competing in a mahjong tournament. Well, maybe that’s not quite accurate, but it was my first time competing in a mahjong tournament in person that was for individuals rather than teams. We didn’t have a Seattle Riichi Open in 2019, I missed the 2018 tournament due to work, and the 2017 tournament I was helping to staff and act as a substitute. I was also going to miss the 2020 tournament due to work, but a last-minute change opened an opportunity so I took it.
My goal going into this event was to finish either in the top-half, or to finish with positive points. I managed to finish 9th out of 20 at +14.2, so both of my goals were accomplished. Time to pat myself on the back and congratulate myself on a job well done, right? Eh, it was a little more complicated than that.
In round 1 I was paired against Zach and Rachel, two players who are both very strong. Zach finished top 32 in one of the WRC events, and Rachel won the previous Seattle Riichi Open in 2018. I managed to hold my own, playing very defensive, and avoided paying in directly to any hands for the entirety of the match.
Round 2 had me against Kinyan, another strong player. Again, I kept my defenses up and avoided paying into any hands.
I had actually forgotten what happened in round 3, but thanks to logging my progress on Twitter, I have a record of every round. (￣▽￣*)ゞ I definitely let my guard down here. The dealer declared riichi, and after only glancing at his discard pile, I had determined the 4-manzu “seemed safe” without looking for suji tiles or anything. I think the pressure of being in 4th, with 2nd only 5,000 points above me, was my undoing. My hand was tenpai, and quite good from what I remember. Something like honiitsu, yakuhai, maybe dora, with a closed hand. In the end, my unwillingness to deal with being a couple-thousand points down ended up putting me at -44 for the round.
For round 4 I was on the streaming table.
Again, my strategy was to make a couple decent hands, but otherwise not pay into anyone. At the start of South 2 I was the dealer in 3rd with 20,000 points. 1st and 2nd were both right around 40,000 points, so I figured if I was going to get third place I should at least pick up enough points to neutralize the -5 uma. My opening hand looked like this:
If I’m able to complete the chun and haku I’m already looking at 3 han from yaku and 3 more from dora for a dealer haneman of 16,000 points. A direct hit could put me in first, and even a tsumo would close the gap, so I wanted to finish this hand as quickly as possible. I called Bichen’s 3-pin to complete my 123-pin and discarded the 4-pin. I was now 1-shanten but the hand’s value looked like it might actually decrease from it’s potential. I was able to pon Kenji’s haku and discard my 2-sou.
At this point I’m tenpai waiting on the 7-sou for mangan. A few turns later I call Shun’s chun and discard the 8-sou. My hand is now back into haneman tenpai, but waiting to complete my pair. The odds aren’t good, but it seemed like the right call to make. My next draw was the hatsu. In my mind it felt like ages while I decided between keeping my 3-tile wait with the 6-sou, or if I should decrease my wait to 2 tiles while going for shousangen (I hadn’t realized at the time I was also adding chanta and honitsu). As I sat looking at my tiles, I thought about two things. The first was sanshoku, of all things. For years I had never got sanshoku except for by accident, and while thinking about why, I had determined that it was because I had never given that hand the opportunity to grow. The thought that I had to consider the tiles in-hand and ignore a pure tile efficiency mindset in order to go for yaku has really stuck with me the past few months, and when I saw the hatsu I thought “if I discard the hatsu I won’t even have the opportunity to grow my hand.” The other thing I thought about was the professional players I watch online. They seem to get these amazing hands with huge yaku so often, why can’t I do that, too? I think it goes back to the first part, allowing the hand to grow, and I feel like that’s what the pro players do. They see the potential value in their hand and nurture it into something amazing. So that’s what I did; I lowered my chance of winning by 33% (or less, since the odds of someone throwing out a hatsu with the chun and haku already called is unlikely).
My very next draw was a hatsu, completing my hand.
Shousangen (2), yakuhai (3), honitsu (2), chanta (1), dora (3) for a dealer baiman worth 36,000 + 600 points, putting me in 1st place with 58,600.
In the past this is where I would start playing fast and loose, thinking I had enough of a points buffer to allow me to fight for large hands in dangerous conditions. Doing not that has been a focus for me for the past year or so, so from this point on in the match I played very conservatively to keep my points and my lead. In the next hand, when Kenji declared riichi in the third row I had flashbacks to losing my lead to sloppy play, so rather than risk paying in, I immediately threw away my hand. This also had the benefit of progressing the game, with the hope that, if it ended sooner, I would be able to finish with more of my bankroll. Of course, the remaining players would still put up a fight, extending the match by several additional rounds. By the time Shun had his dealership in South 4 he was up to 2nd place with 28,900 points. Riichi, tanyao, pinfu, dora 3 would net him a dealer haneman off Kenji, bringing him up to 48,900. In the end, his aggressive play would bring him up to 1st place with 50,700 while I finished in 2nd with 50,500. In retrospect I should have tried to fight more aggressively for an open tanyao or something, but I was so afraid of losing points that I wasn’t able to make that happen.
Round 5, the last one for the day, paired me against John, who would go on to finish qualifying in 1st place with more points than 2nd, 3rd, and 4th combined. Knowing what kind of threat he was, defense was again on my mind, opting to only discard guaranteed safe tiles once the alarms started going off. I finished the round in 2nd place with positive points, so I’d call that a win.
The next morning I was feeling generally positive but had this feeling that I wasn’t mentally or physically prepared for the next three matches. The first match of the day, round 6, was another live-streamed match.
This match had me losing points to non-stop tsumos, mostly from the dealer, David. By the time it was my dealership in East 3 I was in 4th place with 20,400. I rolled a 5 to break my own wall and ended up drawing three 5-pin, which where the dora. At this point I just need to riichi in order to get a dealer mangan. Without having to worry about finding additional yaku, I was able to riichi on my 8th discard, but I was also in furiten, waiting on the 5 and 8-manzu. Three draws later I found my winning tile and an ura-dora for a dealer haneman, surpassing David by 300 points.
In my next opening hand I was 2-shanten with four 7-sou (I guess? Not really sure how shanten works with kan in-hand). Once I felt I could potentially rinshan into tenpai, I revealed my kan, drew my tile, and gained two dora. A few discards later I still hadn’t drawn into tenpai and Matt had declared riichi, and David, after already calling three times, didn’t have any safe tiles, dealt in during ippatsu, increasing my lead. In South 1 my opening hand was already 1-shanten, so I was looking for a quick riichi to increase my lead even more.
Drawing a 3-man would set me up for riichi, pinfu, iipeikou. Instead, I drew the 6-man, completing my iipeikou. I hadn’t considered my options carefully and ended up declaring riichi with my 2-man with a 1-man 7-sou wait, forgetting I had already discarded the 7-sou. I immediately noticed afterward, so when my winning tiles were dropped, I didn’t accidentally call them. Unfortunately, because they were now safe to discard, a flood of them came out and I wasn’t able to draw my own tile. I should have opted to discard my 1-man and move into a tanyao. David was able to string together a series of large wins, bringing him back into 1st, and in south 4 I needed 6,200 points to move back into 1st. In the middle of the second row I declared riichi, needing to tsumo to get my sanankou. Even then, I would still be 200 points short unless I hit ura-dora.
Mike discarded my winning tile on the ippatsu, but since that would have only netted me 2,600 of the 6,200 points I needed, I opted to hold out and see if I could draw my own tile. Unfortunately, David would damaten tsumo for chun nomi to end the game.
I really don’t remember what happened in round 7, and my twitter notes weren’t of much help. Looking at the tournament data it looks like I just bullied David, who had just won the previous match I played in.
I tweeted that my strategy going into the last round was not to fuck up, which is exactly what I did. I was paired up against Rachel again and was holding my own well enough through the first few hands of the game. I lost some points to tsumos and was sitting in third or fourth going into East 3. I was feeling the pressure to get some points to close the gap and hopefully finish +/- 0 by the end of the match. It was Rachel’s dealership and her opening hand contained a kan of yakuhai dora, which she immediately declared, showing everyone that she had a dealer mangan ready to rip. Knowing it was highly unlikely she was in tenpai, I pushed for my hand and declared riichi with a potential mangan or better. In the third row I ended up discarding Rachel’s winning tile and paid into her dealer haneman for 18,000 points. Between then and the end of the match I found myself with negative points. The whole second half of the match I was in a fog, desperately trying to win back enough points to maintain my overall top 4 ranking. In the final hand of the match I was tenpai for something large, but I can’t remember exactly what. Something like honitsu, yakuhai 2. It wouldn’t be enough to move up to third, and even though it was my dealership we had run out of time. A small crowd had gathered behind me to see what happens because a direct hit off Rachel would (apparently) be enough to potentially knock her out of the top 4. I’m pretty sure she won that hand with damaten yakuhai, which was exactly the right thing to do.
Rachel would go on to not only win the event, but she finished +88.5 and second place finished -9.5. If anyone was going to knock me out of the finals, I’m glad it was her.
While the two final matches were being played there was a team-tournament going on that was roughly based on Akagi. Basically, it was teams of two with one being assigned as the captain, and only the captain’s points counted. Teammates sat on opposing sides of the table, and were not allowed to verbally communicate (partially because the finals were being played in the same room). I was the captain for my team, but my teammate didn’t quite understand the rules and kept calling wins off both the opposing teams as well as me (???), so we ended up finishing just shy of the final table.
Overall, I had a blast at the event and I absolutely can’t wait for the next time we’re able to do something like this again. A big thank you to Edwin for running the event, and everyone else who helped out to make the event possible.