There are quite a number of manuals on the basics of how to play a game of mahjong. The amount on strategy and tactics however is limited. Mahjong Time has asked Adrie van Geffen (a3geffen) to share his views in that territory. In the year 2011 he will publish a series of articles with hints and pointers having to do with strategy of mahjong in the different styles (except American): Hong Kong (HK); European Classic (EC); Mahjong Competition Rules (MCR); Riichi Competition Rules (RCR); Taiwanese (TW). Below part 9 – Big hands.
Some players will play mahjong at the same level they have learned it and will never progress. Intrigued by the high scoring patterns like Four Winds or Thirteen Orphans they will go for it every time and never tire of it. Once in a while they make it and their day is made. Talk of the town for several days, mostly by themselves and pretty frustrating for the advanced player who is working hard to get some points, especially when sitting with three opponents of the like. Not seldom a game with two or three players striving for an obvious special hand will end in a draw. And when it ends successful it’s a knockout: over and done with, no fun. The curse of the Winds and Dragons.
With lots of patterns to go for, trying to get Thirteen Orphans in MCR is actually quite a good starting point. Depending on what you draw from the wall it is easy to downgrade to Knitted Tiles or All Terminals and Honors. Mostly you will end up with an All Types hand with a pung of Dragons, Seat Wind or Prevalent Wind to obtain the necessary 8 points minimum.
The downfall of the game however is, especially with HK, that discards of Winds and Dragons is saved for last. Either late pungs are made or the game ends in a draw when players realize that discarding fresh Dragons and Winds in the end may be costly and they suddenly get in the defense mode. Also TW style games may suffer from this kind of strategy too.
Looking further than the big scores with special hands, in MCR and RCR high scores can be achieved in other ways than that. In MCR the combination of patterns can be vast and build up to quite large numbers. In RCR a hand of chows of all simples, with Riichi declaration, may easily pass the 10,000 points. The chance of getting one of those is vastly larger than trying for the single wait for a tile everyone knows you need. Instead of showing skill such a player trusts on luck. Sometimes it will work, most times not. And when it does, don’t count on a ‘wd’ from me for I don’t think it is an achievement. (Sideline for some players having addressed me about this: some think that ‘wd’ (well done) is a mandatory remark. Not for me. When a hand is accomplished by sheer luck, especially self drawn single waits, I will go no further than ‘nh’ (nice hand) or ‘gj’ (good job). I hardly ever compliment someone with a ‘wd’ and certainly not in the blind. I check if there is some merit to it or not. In live games btw such a remark is hardly ever heard.)
In the end going for big hands alone will not pay off. Initially the discards will reveal such ambitions. Later on a mentally note will be made that you’re doing it. I’ve got several names in my head and when possible I will avoid them. Or, like in tournaments when unavoidable, I will either crush them or curse them loudly at my computer screen. Or both.
Adrie van Geffen