In college I played a game called ultimate frisbee that most younger people here probably saw on their college campuses, but was still relatively minor when I was going to school. It’s kinda like football but with a frisbee, and there’s no tackling because when you have it you can’t run, you can only throw. Anyway one of its little quirks was that there were no referees, it was self-officiated. Whether that was the result of it being born of a lot of stoner hippies or of necessity to keep costs down, the second rule (written into the actual rules) was that all players were expected to play in the “Spirit of the Game.” That meant that the rest of the rules were written such that when a rule was broken, there generally wasn’t a penalty so much as an effort to try to continue the game as if whatever infraction there was hadn’t happened. Of course there were sometimes arguments but it worked surprisingly well. Maybe people were too high all the time to make the effort to cheat.
Hey, isn’t this a mahjong site, you ask?
Yes yes, I’m getting there! This weekend saw an interesting first in M-League, “tahai,” when a player has too many tiles. Suzuki Taro of the Drivens had just begun his turn as dealer, opened his hand (the play on an Ultima table so everyone’s hand comes up in front of them) took his first tile, sorted the hand and then oops! Took his first tile again. I have made exactly the same mistake in league though sort of for the opposite reason. I had been working at a parlor with Ulitma tables earlier in the day, and then when I went to league with normal tables, I took my starting tiles as dealer and then took my first tile again, too.
In my situation and most other rules I’ve ever encountered, it is an immediate chonbo, resulting in a penalty of anywhere from 8000 to 20000 points. In M-league, however, Taro becomes “agari-houki”, meaning his hand is dead. They played out the hand but Taro could not win, only draw and discard, and couldn’t pon/chi/kong either. That makes more sense to me.
I’ve had the tahai-chonbo rule explained to me as this: if that weren’t the rule, then people who had no safe tiles in their hand could just continue drawing until they got something safe and it would kill the game. What?! Despite my reputation, I’m clearly not a devious enough person because such an idea had never occurred to me.
Deftly dodging the larger philosophical question of whether or we not we need to legislate against every crappy thing a bad actor could possibly imagine, in mahjong at least we would like to hope that other players are playing for the same reason we are, to enjoy the game. Obviously we all want to win, but hopefully nobody wants to win so much that they’re willing to kill the game to get there. And then we make the rules with that assumption in mind. Of course, people sometimes make mistakes so there needs to be some way to recover from them. And sometimes some sort of penalty might be necessary to compensate for any injury incurred by non-offending players. I’m glad the M-league officials could recognize the lack of malice in a slip up like Taro’s and give an appropriate remedy.
Random shout out and thanks to Sylvain and Gemma for their work creating and promoting the WRC ruleset! Actually shouts out to everyone who plays our goofy little game! Playing and officiating are a collaborative effort and it wouldn’t work without us all trying to make it work together. Hooray for all of us playing in the sprit of the game!
No, I did not rip a big ol’ bong hit and drift back into my hippy frisbee days before writing this article. Anyway, love you guys!