Garthe On Tournaments

I spent an engaging weekend at the Asian Pacific Poker Tour in Seoul last weekend and had the good fortune of observing the final table sitting next to poker Pro David Saab. Fortunate not only because he is a wealth of information on poker and tournament play but also because he shares it so freely with whomever happens to be sitting next to him. It’s possible he may have only been sharing with the hot chick sitting between us, (even more good fortune for me) thus, another lesson learned: the importance of using hot chicks to loosen up the poker players around you. He made some interesting comments about tournament playing style, and with one of Japan’s biggest Mahjong tournaments, OUI, right around the corner, it seems like a good time to remind myself of what he talked about.

I had been chapping a buddy about how he always built up a big stack early and then somehow donked it off in the later stages. He lamented back how strange it was indeed that I always outlasted him when I was always so short stacked. David remarked that my style of play was that of a survivor. That was interesting to me for a lot of reasons, not least of which the fact that no one who has ever seen me playing Mahjong would ever classify me as a “survivor”. Mahjong Fight Club classified me as a white tiger meaning, it thinks of me as an attacker. And pretty much every Thursday night study session, Jenn and my mentor has to again remind me, “Dude, slow down sometimes!” I really can’t resist the temptation to try to win all the time. And not just every game, even every hand.

How I managed to learn this lesson in poker first before figuring it out in Mahjong is beyond me. However, I am indeed to mahjong exactly what my buddy is to poker. I often find myself in fairly comfortable position midway through the tournament, and if I could only slow down for a second and just “survive” to the next round, I could go much further. How about a look at 2 recent tournaments where I really could have usefully applied this lesson.

Let’s begin with my performance in the Champions League one session ago. In qualifying for the semifinals I had won the intial 5 sessions running away from the pack and was a bit giddy with how strongly I had separated myself from the rest of the field. However, 15 other players had survived their way through the initial field also and we all began the semifinal from the same point again, zero. Those 15 plus the previous champion separate into 4 tables and play four games to narrow the field down to 8. The first game I didn’t get crap but also managed not to throw any big hands until the last hand when I was dealer. I managed to collect 3 lucky dragons and the winning hand to take first for the first game and a nice lead. The second and third games were won by other players but I managed to take close seconds in both of them to retain a comfortable lead on our table going into the final game. I only needed to survive the last game to take first or second for the table and move on to the next round of the tournament. The first hand of the final round was my last as dealer and I was in a pretty comfortable spot, positive score and in second place. I wanted a few more points to seal up my win and was dealt a pretty promising starting hand but after drawing nothing useful in my first 6 draws I decided it would be best to get off the hand. Alas, that draw was already one too late, and that very draw I threw a big winner to the current 3rd place person and one of the players I needed to stay ahead of to move on. My position was now quite tenuous, losing to one of the players I wanted to stay ahead of and two hands later, I again had a promising hand that would have probably sealed the win for me, but in going for it I again threw the big winner to the other player I needed to stay ahead of. With both of them in front I needed a big winner, and now THEY needed only to survive. They played extremely safe, some of the weakest Mahjong the world may have ever seen, and yet it was all they needed. I was cooked, the hand ended in a draw and they moved on to the next round while I was left to go drink a beer, one day earlier than I had hoped.

I had a very similar situation in the 10 Levels tournament earlier this year also. In the third round, I played perfect survival Mahjong until just one mishap. I won a couple big hands early but one woman at the table was unstoppable winning the first 3 games handily for a huge lead. Still, I had managed positive second place finishes in each of them and held second pretty comfortably after 3 games. I needed only to continue in survival mode to keep from losing any big points to third or fourth place. With three hands to go, I was still neck and neck in that game with the table’s 3rd place player. He was obviously going for an expensive half flush in dots, but around about the 14th draw, I suddenly had 3 Lucky Dragons in my hand and the hand was ready! If I won the hand, it would put me comfortably in second and I wouldn’t need to sweat the rest of the game. The fourth place player had just thrown the 3 for Reach, and the 9 was in both of their discards. I reached, throwing the seemingly safe 6 of dots but sure enough, it was his winner (he was waiting with 5777, the 5 was the lucky dragon) for 8000 points, and blam! Just like that I was in fourth place and falling.

That one discard was in stark contrast to my play earlier in the round and also in the second of the tournament where I had also played the survivor perfectly. There I was despondent after 2 straight games of absolutely nothing, but then it came on the third hand of the third game. I drew the White dragon to complete my 3 Big Dragons hand and propel myself into fourth from first. With everyone else playing catchup, I coasted to first in the game and then first for the table. My conservative “survival” play had kept me alive until my chance came and that was when I pounced.

So come this month, I’m looking to apply some of my recently hard earned Poker knowledge at the mahjong tables. I have to admit, I really hate that style of play: letting other players go on the attack and steal all the glory while I wait in the shadows like some wimpy caterpillar (That’s one of my favorite expressions from Japanese). But then, we can’t all win like Michael Jordan. Some of us have to win like some guy whose name we don’t remember because he never did anything spectacular but just always survived in the shadows until his chance came. And sometimes the tiles or cards just don’t come. Or they come early and then dry up for a while. Next time that happens, I hope I have the wherewithal to flip that survivor switch in the back of my head and sit back and wait for my chance to come.

OUI is a nation-wide tournament held in Japan open to all players, amateurs and professionals. The qualifiers for amateurs are in October and happen all over the country. OUI is run by JPML and uses JPML A-Rules (no first-turn wins or hidden dora). JPML runs another nation-wide tournament each spring called Masters which uses JPML’s B-Rules (includes first-turn wins and hidden dora). For more information see JPML’s Website (Japanese).

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