You might have noticed a lack of content lately. It’s certainly not for a lack of trying; I’ve got quite a lot of articles that are half-finished, but I haven’t been able to finish them because I’ve been distracted, ironically, by playing mahjong video games. Specifically, I’ve been playing Mahjong Soul, which had its English-language launch while I was working in London.

Mahjong Soul has been a breath of fresh air for me because it provides a lot of what I like about video games with the ability to play with my friends. Sure, I could play Yakuman DS or The Mahjong, but there are a lot of hoops to jump through in order to play and that’s not even including the difficulty of finding friends that want to play. Mahjong Soul is free, web-based, and entirely in English (for better or for worse), so getting friendly games going is a breeze.

This isn’t a review of the game, though. That’s coming soon, I promise. Instead, I’d just like to talk a little bit about my experience with the game leading up to my first round playing in the Catfood Bowl tournament, Mahjong Soul’s first official tournament.

When the player base was still relatively small, it wasn’t terribly difficult to get ranked. By “ranked”, I mean above the top 1,000 players. Below that, you’re listed as “999+”. Even with the swelling player base, it’s still not too hard to get ranked if you have any kind of game sense. The biggest difficulty is overcoming the unique play style of the other players. You start the game with the rank of “Novice 1”, with access only to the Bronze rooms, and after pushing past “Novice 3” into “Adept 1” you gain access to the Silver rooms. One more push from “Adept 3” to “Expert 1” gets you keys to the Gold rooms. This is the key tipping point, because in Bronze and Silver rooms the main strategy is open tanyao with one dora or aka dora. Players call anything and everything, including kans, with no fear, even immediately after a dealer riichi. More often that not, it feels like your more advanced strategies come back to bite you as you toil in 3rd place due to other players getting a tsumo with unreasonable amounts of dora, aka dora, and kan dora, and no chance reclaim 1st because someone’s points dropped below zero and ended the game. Until you’re able to crawl out of Bronze and Silver, it looks like the only reasonable strategy is to win hands as quickly and cheaply as possible.

When I first started playing I was immediately ranked somewhere around 750, but then dropped into 999+ even though I had gone from Novice to Adept. I kept climbing and climbing and eventually broke back into the top 1,000, then into the top 500, and eventually peaked at 57th in Expert 3 (I think I was actually 53 at one point but I didn’t take a screenshot). Why was I putting so much effort into my rank? Well, aside from “because I want to”, it was announced that there would be an official tournament run by the Mahjong Soul team, and some number of our club members were going to be invited. Initially, I was one of those players, and after receiving my approval letter, I was informed that they had mistaken me for another player, and that my tournament seat would be revoked.

So, the main reason I was grinding so hard was to avoid making my club look bad. Now, I wasn’t even in the tournament, so there goes that.

Fast forward a few days, and we find out that we’re being offered an additional seat at the tournament as a “wild card”. For various reasons, the player who that seat should have gone to declined and offered it to me instead. So now I’m back in, but with a seat that was originally reserved for a player from the community.

There’s me, all by myself, with a slot missing from the “Mahjong Soul Players”. It honestly made me feel really anxious, since whoever that 10th player would have been probably deserved the seat more than me. The Mahjong Soul Twitter account also announced that every one of the community players was Master rank, and I was still Expert 2 at the time, so I felt like it was my obligation to get into Master rank to at least show that I wasn’t robbing someone else of their opportunity.

Things didn’t go as expected, and I hit a pretty severe losing streak with 6 consecutive 4th place finishes. After a brief recovery I stepped back into a sort of… “not-winning streak”, and at this point there’s a high chance I could de-rank from Expert 3 to Expert 2 right before the event, so I’ve been waiting until after the tournament is over to play any ranked matches.

Going into the match later today, I’m slightly anxious because I’m playing against a player who is regularly ranked either 3rd or 4th overall. I have some confidence, however, after finishing 1st in a 5-player match last night with the Seattle Riichi Mahjong Club thanks to a strong dealership and getting a feel for when I should throw my hand away.

I’ll be streaming the match on my Twitch channel, FakeGamerGuy, Daniel, who is formerly of California’s Pacific Mahjong League, will be streaming his match on his Twitch channel, xDasukex, and the official stream will be on mahjongsoulofficial.

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