I was very lucky that all my tables had run smoothly up until the last day. Everyone was pleasant and fun to play with, even in the very stressful and frustrating games. However, on my ninth hanchan, I had an awful experience.
I would like to stress that all of the players on that table are perfectly nice and reasonable people, and that the horridness was not as a result of their behaviour. I still don’t quite understand what happened, but I think it’s worth sharing as it opens up discussions on the way we currently score in EMA tournaments.
All of the players on my table were strong players and I have seen all but one play at previous tournaments. There is no doubt of their skill at riichi.
I am sitting in the North seat on this table. I am assigned score keeper (as I often was in this tournament). I hadn’t had any issues up until then. Sometimes my math can go awry, but I usually spot my own mistakes and correct them (or if the game is going fast, ask a ref to fix it for me).
When I score, I’m always careful to say out loud the score as I’m writing it down and also say from who to who. I will then, while people are washing the tiles, hold up the score sheet for everyone to see even if they haven’t asked for it. People usually glance or take it from me to check. I do this as a matter of principle as I think it’s important for people to check that I’ve written their winning score down correctly and that everyone agrees. Sometimes someone will notice a mistake, either in the scoring of the hand or I’ve written something in the wrong column. We’re all human after all and it’s a big responsibility. Plus it’s much easier to fix a mistake the moment it happens rather than later.
We’re playing and we reach the South round. I’m really losing right now. But it’s okay. I fed to others when I had reached on strong hands, and made one mistake when I really didn’t notice that the guy was tempai. However, it’s good to be in a game with strong players who are an excellent challenge.
Sometime after the start of the South round, the starting South player opposite me says that he thinks I didn’t write down his mangan. So I pick up the score sheet and we all take a look to discover where the problem is.
However, it really isn’t obvious where his mangan should have been. I’m starting to feel stressed as I don’t personally remember his mangan happening (this isn’t a total surprise as I don’t remember every hand perfectly like some do). We have to ask the other two players if they remember his mangan; unfortunately, they don’t either.
There has only been one mangan recorded and that was for the starting East player who I remember vividly feeding as I paid for it. He also remembers his mangan so I didn’t write it in the wrong column.
We then check the number of lines versus the number of hands played (taking into account the continuances) to check I didn’t neglect to record a game somehow, but there is no obvious issue there.
What do we do now? The referee was also looking at the score sheet to try and see something, but spots nothing. I called over the head referee and asked for her opinion. She said that if the other two players (excluding myself and the one claiming the mangan) do not remember and the hand was several hands ago, nothing could be done and we had to keep playing.
Of course, this was grossly unsatisfactory for the South player who feels he has lost his mangan. I am totally horrified that I could have made a mistake. In the end, we’ll never know what happened. Whether it was misremembered by the player or a mistake on my part…
However, it really upset me. I do my best to score correctly, but I can’t eliminate the possibility that I could score incorrectly. On the other hand, three other players were looking at the score sheet every round. Surely a missing 8000 points should have been spotted? It’s not the sort of score you miss (a smaller hand it’s more possible to miss). Either way, it couldn’t be fixed anymore.
And this is where the current scoring method allows for human error. We already have a system where all players are supposed to aid in scoring a hand correctly, but the responsibility for recording of that score is then not shared accordingly.
There are a few possible solutions to this that I can see…
(1) Having more than one scorer per table so that if there is a disagreement, it can be understood.
(2) Not having any of the players score and when a hand is won, have another party actually write down the scores. The logic being that then they would be fully focused on getting it correct rather than also trying to play. This is how it was done at the World Series. It might be difficult for the EMA to get the manpower for something similar.
(3) Using scoring sticks. This means that at least the paying player and the receiving player both agree on the points being exchanged. It does open up the game to cheating if players collude. Without automatic tables, it is also difficult to keep track of your placing on the table. And, of course, without the bankruptcy rule, how do you keep track of minus scores? (You probably end up back on paper…)
(4) Finally, and probably most likely, make it the responsibility in the rules for every player to agree a score between each hand. If they don’t check, it’s their fault.
Anyway, let my tale of woe be a warning to people. If you’re not scoring, make sure you check your scores on each hand, especially if you win. A cursory glance is enough to check that everything is in order usually, and certainly should be enough to see if you’re missing 8,000.
I can’t tell you how bad I still feel about that table, and how I keep replaying the game in my head to try and find that missing mangan. So make sure if you’re scorekeeping that you say out loud the score, the payer, and the receiver. Even if people don’t want to look at the scores, hold it out to them. It ensures that people know you are being transparent and not trying to cheat them out of points. In the end, we are human and there’s only so much we can do…
[Edited: This was actually the first MERS tournament for the Starting South player. (26th Sept)]