Improving Your Mahjong: Intermediate 1

This is taken from the JPML’s website. It is the first in a long series of articles aimed at improving your mahjong. As it’s for slightly more intermediate players, I have included more Japanese terms to help those learning gain an awareness of these words and take their understanding of the game to the next level.


I Did it My Way

What do you have to have and what makes you an intermediate player? I’m not sure what the difference between an intermediate and beginner player is. It’s the same with intermediate and advanced. For example, in golf, you can tell the level of a player from their score. It’s not the same for mahjong. I definitely don’t think that it’s about winning or losing. Even an advanced player could be beaten by a complete beginner. So what is the difference then? I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a difference of “awareness” (意識 ishiki).


Beginners first learn what a winning hand is. If you taught them to hold back, they wouldn’t understand what makes mahjong fun. They always go for a win and have fun doing it. During this process, they then start gaining an awareness of winning and losing. A beginner will lose, that’s the way of the world. But you can’t just keep losing. At some stage people will start thinking of a method of winning. Then you start creating your way of playing.




This is a hand dealt to you as the North seat on the first hand of the south round. You have 35,000 points at second place, the top place is 3000 points ahead of you. This isn’t a particularly a good hand, but you could have a half flush (honitsu). You’ll probably discard the bamboos and go straight for the dots.


In the seventh draw, you have the following and your hand is looking good.




But the other White dragons are already on the table. Plus two each of North, Green Dragon and Red Dragon are also already down on the table. You’re going to need to rely on the dot tiles to make your half-flush. Two rounds later, you draw the four of dots. This is excellent.



You discard the dragon and now you just have to wait until you’re waiting (tenpai), but there is the problem. Do you stay closed or do you take it when it comes? Normally, you wouldn’t normally call it as you’d come this far closed. However, as the White Dragon is out of the picture now, so you may change your mind slightly.

For example, the 2, 5, or 8 of dots comes out. Then you’ll have a mangan, but you’re winning tile may be elusive in that case. If you are thinking of calling for a tile, you need to make sure you have a two-sided wait (ryanmen). That will get you 3900 points too so it’s a valid strategy. If the 1 or 9 comes out, you have a three-sided wait, plus you may get a straight if you’re lucky.






What would you do?


I don’t think either staying closed or opening your hand is the wrong answer. The question is how you want to play. If you have resolve, you should have confidence in your own actions. You won’t have anything to regret then, no matter what the results.


The player before you throws the 6. If you call, you will have a three sided wait and if you win, you will get 1300 or 2600. It’s not a bad score and it’s not a bad thing to do. You may even take it from the top player. We often have to go for such compromises.


However, I personally would not call. This is the way I decide to play. There are still several draws to go. I want to take this on closed. I’ll see what tiles I draw. This hand still has plenty of options.


The next draw, and I’m waiting on the five.



It’s a bad wait, but I am waiting. It’s not outside the realms of possibility that another player will play into my hand. Now I just have to wait for a change.

I may have reached tempai closed but I still have the option to open it up. In the game I’m describing, people were discarding dots so I can discard safe tiles and keep my waiting hand.

The dots are cheap on this table and I don’t feel anyone wants them. Three players have thrown the 8. The player to my left discards 3. By taking this tile, I can discard the 8 and be waiting on the 1 or 4.




This is a good wait and my winning tile is likely to come. However, I would still stay closed and push on. If you lose your focus, you often lose the game. You may still lose, but as you had played it your way, there are no regrets. Forming a way of playing that goes with you way and then using it is the most important step in getting better at mahjong.


This time I pulled the fourth 6. I dropped the eight but did not reach. I wanted to show my opponents that I don’t always reach when I want to win. It is essential to put your opponents off the scent sometimes.


If you want to get better at mahjong, you need to first think about “your way”.  You won’t win in the long term without an aim.


Original Author: Hisato Sasaki URL:
Translated and adapted from original Japanese. All rights remain with the JPML and author.

RM on Social