Hanchan vs East only, same strategy or change it up?

Had a request for some strategy pointers on the difference between these two styles. My East Only results are a little mixed. The first mahjong parlor I ever worked at was East Only and the rate was for ummmm, a moderate amount of potatoes. I cleaned up there often doubling my daily potato intake. Another parlor I worked in was for a similar rate of potatoes but Hanchan and I was similarly rolling in potatoes there. The last place I worked was East Only and I was cleaning up there too until suddenly they raised the rate. That attracted some real potato fanatics I guess because suddenly I became an only slightly better than break even player (excluding my hourly potato ration). Whatever, I don’t even really like potatoes.

So first of all, let’s make sure everyone knows what I’m talking about with these terms. Hanchan (半荘) is what most of you are probably used to and refers to games where the dealer turn goes twice around the table, i.e., there will be an East round and a South round. East Only (東風戦) then is pretty self explanatory in that there will only be an east round, i.e., each player will only have one turn as dealer. If you can read the Chinese characters it might seem a little confusing to see “half” in the Hanchan name instead of the game which is only half of that but there’s history there. In olden days they used to play four rounds so when they decided to play only half that many that style became called a half game.

Anyway getting back to what I should have done differently to be a successful big potatoes player, the obvious difference between the two styles is that there will be roughly half as many hands in an East Only game. That means the importance of each decision in is amplified by like, say, 2? My take then is that East Only requires a much stricter approach for attacking or folding. Hanchan games are longer so early mistakes can still be made up for later. Losing 8000 points early in an East Only game is essentially an immediate KO. Conversely, there may only come one shot at a winning hand in a shorter game so I’d better make the most of any opportunity.

In fact, the importance of each hand becomes so pronounced that a lot of the times it feels like people are playing most hands as an separate game each hand. We just happen to settle accounts every 5-6 hands. This is why parlors will sometimes adjust the placement bonuses (sashi-uma, or 差しウマ) so as to encourage players to again focus more on winning the whole game rather than just focusing just on each hand.

Here’s an example of a small difference in the way the two games get played. I remember many house players in East only parlors would chi or pon immediately following a reach. They did so as a matter of course if they weren’t trying to win their hand. I don’t have solid data on the efficiency of this strategy but the hypothesis is simple: if I’m already giving up this hand, I might as well at least eliminate the risk of paying for an extra random yaku (and possible potato chip! Of course most east only parlors will be awarding chips for ippatsu and ura Dora). Obviously no thought is given to the possibility that I will have changed his draw from a losing one to a winning one (ahem, nagare). But this strictly digital approach I found much more common in East Only parlors than in Hanchan. A couple guys who really made their names in East Only action are Sasaki and Horiuchi, two players hardly known for their occult approach to the game.

So what was my problem? I like to attack. Even when I should be folding I’m still trying hold on to the dream, and I often throw into hands I shouldn’t. In longer games and shorter games against less potato frenzied players, I could often make it back up. Against stricter players, however, the damage was more permanent.

I have yet to play in or hear of any East Only competition so any implementation of this theory is probably going to have to happen in a parlor game. I’m currently in potato hoarding mode at least until this guy can lay off the sauce for more than a couple hours.

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