For the last year I have had the privilege of writing a regular column with Kelvin “Puyo” Ng, from Hong Kong, about mahjong in a Macau-based magazine called World Gaming Magazine. Puyo and I are both Reach-based mahjong players, but we’ve collaborated to broaden our coverage, emphasizing on Chinese-based rules as well. Puyo is a regular Mahjong Fight Club player and keeps a blog in Chinese about Japanese mahjong. Puyo has worked as a senior official at the World Series of Mahjong and was a member of the RM.com/WGM team at the 2010 event.
One of our avid readers, xKime, has volunteered to translate Puyo’s blog so that our English audience can enjoy this expert’s insight. Twice a month we will introduce one of Puyo’s blogs. This first one is an introduction in tile efficiency. So enjoy and if there’s a subject you’d like more info on e-mail us and maybe Puyo will oblige!
Introduction to Tile Efficiency
This is the first one of the series on articles for beginner-intermediate players. If you already have an idea of what tile efficiency is, feel free to skip right to the theory part.
[It’s possible] that anyone reading this has played Hong Kong mahjong or Taiwanese mahjong before, but the need for tile efficiency in reach mahjong is relatively a lot higher than in those two. Therefore after learning the rules, you need to work on your tile efficiency skills so that you can progress. I will explain why tile efficiency is so important in reach mahjong, and explain reach mahjong’s characteristics at the same time.
Reach mahjong is about placing, not about points
Beginning players must remember, mahjong is about placing, not about points. In reach mahjong, your placing is calculated at the end of every East-Only game or East-South game. Your level of achievement is measured by the average position that you seize at the end of every game. An East-Only game only has four rounds, although your winning tile may not show up in the first place, regardless of that, if you don’t win a single hand it is assured you can’t win. In Hong Kong mahjong you can make big hands most of the rounds, winning one big hand will grant you an income just about as good as winning 10 smaller hands, but this isn’t possible in Reach mahjong: If you can’t complete one single hand in many East-Only games, you are unavoidably going to lose painfully.
The importance of a concealed hand
Look at the tiles in Reach mahjong, and you may discover the importance of a concealed hand. Just getting to a concealed Ready (tempai) already allows you to Reach: it satisfies the requirement of one han from yaku (one Hand Point minimum) and also gives you access to the power of the hidden lucky dragons (dora). Also, Reach mahjong has a few yaku (Hands) that only apply to a concealed hand, or others that are worth more when concealed.
For a concealed hand, you are depending fully on the tiles you draw. You are depending on very few tiles, so a good tile efficiency will increase the number of opportunities for you to incorporate tiles to your hand as much as possible, its importance is far higher than in Taiwanese mahjong where you can just pung to your heart’s content.
Reach mahjong’s scoring system
Reach mahjong’s scoring system is very unique: Between 1~4 han (Hand Point) hands, the points are pretty much doubled each step, but when it comes to 5 han (HP) and more it’s a complete different deal. For example, 5 han (HP) is a mangan hand (8000 for non-dealer, 12,000 for dealer), one han (HP) more and it’s a haneman (12,000 for non-dealer, 18,000 for dealer) and it becomes a 50% point increase. When you have a 6 han (HP) hand, adding one more han (HP) doesn’t change anything.
In Hong Kong mahjong, the value of 8 han (HP) is eight times as much as that of 5 han (HP). In Reach mahjong it’s only worth double. Therefore in reach mahjong, it is only on very few occasions you should ever aim for really big hands, because the tile efficiency of such hands is really low. Playing with three red 5’s, everyone has in average about 2 dora. Even just when you win with 3-4 han (HP), this phenomenon becomes evident.
Because there are so many dora, 3-4 han (HP) hands aren’t too hard, there are a lot of chances to win hands, and big hands may just come on their own. What you want to promote is your Win Percentage. For that you need good tile efficiency.
Well, enough chit-chat, we’ll enter the subject in the next part.
Beginner Tile Efficiency
Tile efficiency allows you to win a hand in the shortest time possible. In Japanese Mahjong, to be the first one to go out means to be the first one to complete “four groups/melds and a pair of tiles (head).” Therefore, since tile efficiency is a consideration of this, first you discard tiles that have the lowest chances of becoming melds, and you promote your opportunities to complete melds as much as possible.
Tile efficiency is actually already useful from the time you receive your starting hand.
With this ordinary starting hand, how would you proceed?
Order of Priority for Discards
This tile efficiency is pretty simple; just discard the most useless tiles. What are the most useless tiles? Of course, eliminate lone guest wind tiles first (wind tiles without value), as you can’t use them to complete runs, all you can do is draw another one to get a pair (and later on a set), hence their value is very low. What you must pay attention to is that Yaku-Tiles/Value Tiles (Round/Seat wind, Dragon tiles) are a whole different deal. That’s because you can pung them and easily clear the 1 han yaku (hand point) requirement. After that, you can freely call other people’s tiles. That’s why their value is far higher than guest wind tiles.
After lone guest wind tiles, next is the lone 1 and 9 terminal tiles. That’s because they unavoidably become a closed central wait or edge wait. However, in the above hand, the value of the 1 of dots is lower than that of the 9 of dots, and the reason is we already have a 4 of dots too. Because even if you discard 1 of dots and then draw a 2 or a 3, you can still use them with the 4 of dots already existing in the hand and it won’t constitute a loss. On the other hand, if you discard 9 of dots, the 7 and 8 become a complete backfire. In this example, because we have a 4 of dots, the value of the 1 of dots falls to the same as guest wind tiles.
To put it simply, the order of unneeded tiles in the early stage of the game is as follows:
1. Lone guest wind tiles. 1s and 9s when you have a 4 or 6 respectively.
2. Lone 1s and 9s.
3. Lone yaku-tiles/Value Tiles.
4. Lone 2s and 8s.
5. Lone tiles from 3 to 7 and edge waits.
(Note: The order of points 3 to 5 may vary according to the situation and hand)
Let’s bring up another example.
1 of dots is the least useful of tiles, discard it first. This hand cannot be said to have a good shape so we may need to pung the red dragon. Discarding the red dragon is a bad move.
Discarding is correct. Because already constitute a meld, even though we do have a , this can be considered a lone 1-9.