Continue winning! Blech!

What? Continuing to win is a bad thing? No. But needing to win to continue is. Why does Garthe hate everything, you may ask. I don’t. Name one thing, you order. Tenpai-renchan! I say.

OK, I see we’re going to have to make an addition to our glossary, and thus come up with some English equivalents of these two rule styles. “Tenpai,” you may remember, means for a hand to be ready. The word you may not know yet is “renchan” which means “continue”. So “tenpai-renchan” means that the dealer gets to continue his turn as dealer if he wins the hand or even if the hand ends in a draw but he finishes with a ready hand. The counterpart to that concept is “agari-renchan”, “agari” meaning a win. Thus, in this situation the dealer is only allowed to continue his turn as dealer if he wins the hand.

I hate “agari-renchan.” I suppose it could just be similar to why I probably like Japanese Mahjong better than Chinese or American, i.e. because it’s what I first learned to play. However, I do think it’s one of the things that makes Japanese Mahjong more interesting. One of the things that makes some players stronger than others is a strange ability to hold on to their turn as dealer. It’s obviously much more difficult to continue that turn if one has to actually win the hand to continue.

How about an example. My turn as dealer in the 10 steps tournament, dora was  , I reached on the 5th draw with this hand:

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No hand points, no dora, crappy wait, what’s so special about this hand that warrants a reach? It was my turn as dealer. and a dealer reach is scary.

In fact, because of that hand, I was able to continue my turn as dealer 3 more hands. One of them I did the same thing here, one I got to ready on the last draw, and the last I finally won to win some bigger points and get back the reach sticks I’d risked on the previous hands. I ended up getting 9000 points just on finishing ready! If agari-renchan were the norm there, I would have gotten 3000 minus my reach stick, and my streak would have ended right as it began.

As a non-dealer, the obvious choice with agari-renchan is to avoid clashes with the dealer. In fact, that’s not a bad strategy in tenpai-renchan games also, which is why mahjong parlors don’t like it so much. Players will sit around and play defense all day, games take longer, and they can’t collect as many game fees.

I like the fact that Reach Mahjong rules tend to make defense more strategically viable than in Chinese Mahjong, but this is for all the wrong reasons. This is a huge advantage for whoever has the lead, especially if it’s by enough to still win without finishing ready. Players with earlier turns as dealer have a bigger advantage as they have the first chance to build leads. Even with a turn as dealer remaining, it’s going to be difficult to make any substantial comebacks. Defense is good, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of totally discouraging aggressive play.

Alright, this rule is not going to go away, so I guess it’s time to think about how to adjust strategy to cope with it. As dealer it is our chance to make points not only because of the continuation but because our hands are worth 50% more than normal. That means that faster cheaper hands are probably going to benefit us more than choosing the slower but more expensive ones. We want to choose hands that will be easily winnable, not necessarily expensive.

However, when we do wake up with a monster we still want to win the hand of course, so what do we do? Well we certainly don’t want to call attention to ourselves by reaching. Take this hand I had yesterday in the first hand of the game:

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Dora was  , I got to ready on the 7th draw. I had even thrown  early so as to make my winner seem safe. Reach? Absolutely not!!! True, reach makes the hand a certain 18,000 points and if I draw the winner on my next draw or there’s a hidden dora it’s suddenly worth 24,000! But actually 12,000 points is still a lot of points too and with those points, I took the early lead, played defense the rest of the game, and won all the strength of that very first hand.

So if you do find yourself with the misfortune of playing agari-renchan, remember to slow your game down. Not only is there more benefit to playing defense as a non-dealer, but you will also probably benefit by not playing so aggressively as dealer too.

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