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 11 – pung or chow.
One of the inevitable choices to be made by every player is the situation where you can either chow or pung a tile. Or where you can pung a tile by which you break up a chow. That is when you have i.e. 4566 in a color. When the 6 is discarded, will you pung it or let it go? And when the player on your left is discarding it, will you chow, pung or just keep a straight face?
For RCR it is quite a simple choice. Because in Riichi you will tend to keep your hand concealed and usually not much is to be gained by either pung or chow and apparently the six seems to be a safe tile for the moment, it is most likely for you to plough on and let it pass. And probably you don’t ditch it yourself for the chance that adjacent tiles are most likely still available. If not then you discard the 6 later on, knowing that at least the player who threw the first one won’t claim it.
Also EC is quite easy. A pung scores and a chow doesn’t. Since you don’t have to consider patterns for scoring, nor be troubled by a minimum of fans, you just go pung and get on with it. Unless of course you are only two tiles away from making mahjong: get a (right) tile from the wall, discard the 6 and wait for the winning one to be discarded or self drawn.
When you’re in a HK game you are probably going for all pungs, which will give you the needed 3 fan, or going for a half flush or better. In the first case making a pung is obvious. But when playing the second option all kinds of considerations come to mind. When discarded and the only thing you can do is pung, then you will probably do it. You probably have other tiles of the same color (why would you play for half flush otherwise?) so every tile in the color helps. Besides that you still can switch to all pungs later on. The chance that the other players are aiming at all pungs as well is fairly high and you will have one in the pocket. But if you have a 7 or 8 in the same color it might be much better to chow. Hope for possible pungs on 4 and 5 by other players will be diminished and the chance they become available is increased. Besides that you can still pung another one or get the 7 or 8 you are also looking for.
In TW there is quite a large chance you are playing for all chows, which guarantees you to get you your needed fans. All pungs and half flush isn’t that easy to get in TW style. And since you get not that many turns in a game (12 tiles extra are dealt, so three turns less) you have to be resolute with given opportunities. In general I would most likely let it pass and discard my own 6 at a given point in the game.
As often the situation gives the most worry in MCR. The vast number of patterns, in which middle tiles play a very important role, makes it tempting to do something. But a major rule in MCR is: keep your hand concealed as long as possible. But there is a lure if you can get a waiting hand for the last 6 by making a pung. That tile could be worth 6 points (last tile 4, tile hog 2). You just have to be sure you have a score of two points (perhaps all simples). Discarding the last tile is a dangerous thing in MCR and often neglected. Less experienced players, going for pungs, will not think twice discarding a tile of which a pung lays on the table. It is a chance, but a small one. As said, usually you will leave that discarded 6 untouched. Chances for getting a usable tile from the wall and get a wait with more options than just that single tile to go mahjong are much larger.
Adrie van Geffen