In Garthe’s Hands #10 – Big & Little Dragons

Greetings from Vegas!! I’m working! And studying, compliments of Jenn, Kirk (poker buddy) and the rest of the Poker community at Bellagio and the MGM Grand. I have to say that in case any of you thought I was just out here fooling around. Unfortunately, work isn’t paying so well this time around, but there are still some more work days ahead so we’ll have to see. I’m always intrigued when I can make comparisons between ways to play things in Poker and Mahjong. I just hope all this Poker doesn’t take me out of the zone when I’m playing Mahjong, I’ve been doing so well lately. Ha!

Last time I wrote, I promised the next hands you would see out of me would not be very useful, but maybe I’ll put that off for another week. Before we delve into total obscurity, how about a couple hands that might actually still figure into your Mahjong futures? I’ve only given one column to limit hands so far so let me introduce another one that does come up sometimes along with its little brother.

Little Dragons: 4 Hand Points (2 for Little Dragons, 1 for each set of 3 Dragons)
Let’s start off with Little Dragons. I’ve only seen it a few times, and have yet to see it on Fight Club, but when it hits, it can be a nice payoff. Called Shosangen in Japanese, it’s worth two points whether or not any tiles have been bumped or chowed. One qualifies for this hand by getting 2 triples of any of the 3 Dragons and a head consisting of the third Dragon. The other two groups in the hand can be any runs or triples of any suit or honor tile. Because each of the Dragons will always count for a hand point, the hand will always be at least a 4 hand point hand. One of the ways to make it count for more is to mix in the Half Flush. This shouldn’t be too difficult as more than half the hand is already given over to Honor tiles anyway. If the remaining two groups are the same suit or are honor tiles, it bumps the hand up to 6 hand points for a score of at least 12000/18000 points. However, the best way to get the most bang for your Dragon’s buck is to go for this hand’s big brother: Big Dragons.

Big Dragons: Limit Hand
The difference between Small Dragons and Big Dragons is all about one tile, but that one little tile makes all the difference in the world. While the Little version is just two of the triples, the Big version is triples of all three of the dragons. This is another limit hand (like 13 Orphans or 4 Concealed Triples) which means we’ll get the most points possible no matter what else is in the hand, 32,000/48,000 points. Again, the remaining two groups can be any kind of run or triple. There’s no restriction against bumping or chowing and indeed, it would be pretty difficult to assemble triples of all three dragons without at least one bump. And once that second Dragon has been bumped, suddenly everyone will be extremely wary of discarding any of the last remaining dragons. That last one will almost certainly need to be drawn though there are situations where it will sometimes come out, most notably when a player has reached and must discard anything that is not his winning (or a quad-able) tile. It is a sick feeling to have reached and then see someone bump the second dragon, especially if none of the third remaining dragons are on the table.

Because the Little version is so close to the large version, it’s always a quandary deciding whether to go out on the cheap or go for the glory with the Big. It’s not an issue if one has somehow managed to get to ready with triples of all three in the hand through bumping or even just drawing. However, the vast majority of the time, at least one or usually two of the dragons will have been bumped and our hero’s ready hand will be waiting with two pairs, one of them being the last remaining dragon, and the other being some unrelated non-glorious nothing. If the nothing comes out first, what…do・you・do? Well, there are a lot of factors to consider: what everyone’s scores are the moment, how early in the hand it is, whether or not someone has reached or stolen tiles so he seems close to going out, etc. Also sometimes people and Mahjong parlors play with an extra reward for finishing a limit hand, so that might also figure into the mix when deciding whether or not to continue trying for the limit hand even after a cheaper winning tile has come out. It’s an extremely rare hand, of course, it’s a limit hand! But it will spice up the game once in a while, even if someone only manages to finish with the Little version.

Here are some examples

Little Dragons ex.1

Winning Tile:
Let’s say this is a river-win. Just the two value tiles (the White Dragon and Red Dragon), and Little Dragons for a total of 8000/12000 points. (Note that if the Blue Dragon was drawn or bumped, 8 of Dots or 9 of Dots could be discarded for a single tile wait and a chance at Big Dragons and a glorious earth shattering win)

Little Dragons ex.2

Winning Tile:

Blue Dragon, Red Dragon, Half Flush (concealed), 3 Concealed Triples, and Little Dragons for a total of 16000/24000 points

Big Dragons ex.1

Winning Tile:

Big Dragons, 32000/48000 points, no matter how you slice it. (You may notice that this hand is also actually a Mixed Outside hand, but it’s already a limit hand so the point is MOOOOT)

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