I’d like to introduce Shintaro Konno to you. He is a member of the Japan Professional Mahjong League and Mahjong is his full career. He spends his time teaching Mahjong lessons, creating tournament stats and reports, writing columns and running mahjong events. You know him as the rules director at the World Series of Mahjong Reach Event.
Konno, as we call him, is originally from Shizuoka prefecture. He learned mahjong from a video game during grammar school and started playing at parlors when he was 18. By 26 he had turned pro.
When asked about his goals as a professional, he answered, “As a player my only goal is to win a title. Long-term I am aiming for worldwide growth of the game.”
That must be why he’s agreed to join us at ReachMahjong.com once a month to enlighten us on mahjong strategy. So here is his first contribution.
Hello. This is Shintaro Konno from the Japan Professional Mahjong League. Starting this month I will be writing a monthly column. I hope you enjoy reading it.
I have played professional competition mahjong for about 10 years now. It is a pleasure for me to be able to share with you some of the things that I have learned over this time by using this column.
Today I would like to talk a little bit about opponents’ discards. Please join me.
There are a number of patterns in the order that players discard tiles. If you can evaluate those patterns then you’ll have a good idea of what sort of hand your opponent is aiming for. There are 5 basic patterns in discards:
- 1. Inside Hand, Peace Hand (tanyao, peace)
- 2. All Pairs Hand (chi-toitsu)
- 3. All Sets Hand (toitoi-ho)
- 4. Half-Flush, Full-Flush (hon-itsu, chin-itsu)
- 5. Outside Hand, 13 Orphans (chanta, kokushi-musou)
Inside of those main patterns there are a number of sub-patterns to learn more about hands as well but let’s leave that for later. For now, let’s go over each pattern.
1. Inside Hand, Peace Hand (tanyao, peace)
If you’re playing mahjong, this pattern will show up in more than half of the discard piles. In Japan, this pattern of discards is called, “Natural (tenari).” The key features are edge tiles (1 and 9) first and then middle tiles following. The player is aiming for an inside hand and not leaving a lot of safe tiles in the hand, and instead opening up to more draws. When they’re going for the Peace Hand (pinfu) they will make an open-ended wait first and then save a few safe tiles.
For example: The Lucky Tile (dora) is , The player is the first Dealer
They start out taking care of the edge/honor tiles and next middle tiles start coming out. He’s discarded his double-East and going straight for a win. It looks like there is a good chance he has a Lucky Tile (dora). This is a typical Inside Hand (tanyao) discard pile. If it is a Peace Hand as well, you can imagine that the 5c and 5d were traded in for the West and East tiles.
2. All Pairs Hand (chi-toitsu)
There are 2 All-Pairs patterns. The first is when you are aiming for 7 Pairs from the beginning and the 2nd is when you start out with a pattern like above and end up with All Pairs. The latter example is like that above (pattern 1) so it is very hard to read. In the former, the player will discard what appears to be random tiles from the beginning. Suddenly middle tiles like 4s or 6d will be discarded and the outside/honor tiles will come later.
Example: Lucky Tile , East Round, West Seat
She starts out by discarding the hard-to-pair Lucky Tile (dora) Indicator and then continues with tiles that she thinks the other players might be using. After that she will get rid of the honor tiles that have already been discarded by others. For All Pairs hands you will be trying to keep a tile that is easy to win on in the end, so it’s very common to end up with this kind of discard.
3. All Sets Hand (toitoi-ho)
There are 2 patterns for an All Sets hand. They will either be going for All Pairs and then pon and switch to an All Sets hand or they will just end up with All Sets. The first example will start with the same sort of discards as in pattern 2, and then the player will suddenly pon, so it is an easy one to pick up. Let me explain the other example.
Example: Lucky Tile, East Round, North Seat, ponned North on the first turn
In this situation, the player has started by ponning their own North Wind and has a hand point here so you might think they are trying to go for an easy win. However, the focus point in this discard pile is the 5d6d and 3b4b. When a player is trying to get value out of a hand and switches the target to All Sets, they will often discard open-ended waits in this pattern. Here they almost definitely have a pair or more of 6b. You can tell they have two 6’s because they discarded the 3b first and left the 4b for quite a while. There is a very good chance that they started with a 3466 shape.
4. Flush Hands (hon-itsu, chin-itsu)
This pattern is very easy to spot. They start by discarding the suits that they don’t need. Next they will discard honor tiles and when the 3rd suit starts showing up in the discard pile you should be on alert.
Example: Lucky Tile , East Round, South Seat
Flushes are generally difficult hands to win with and it usually isn’t finished until late in the hand. However, sometimes the hand is finished quickly, so be sure to keep an eye out for honor tiles and extra tiles of the 3rd suit tiles even early in the hand if you suspect a Flush.
5. Outside Hand, 13 Orphans (chanta, kokushi-musou)
This is an easy one to see. In this pattern there will be no regard to suits and the player will just be discarding middle tiles.
Example: Lucky Tile , East Round, North Seat
This discard pattern is the 13 Orphans hand. For Mixed and Pure Outside Hands (chanta and jun-chan) the discards are very similar but in that case there are often more than 2 honors discarded so you can look for that to help you see the difference.
So what did you think? In a word, there are many patterns to discards and if you keep your eye on that, you will start to “see” your opponent’s hands. Today I only introduced a small sample of these patterns but I hope that it helps you with your game. I will be writing more in the coming months, so please let me know what you want to learn about.
Until Next time.
Shintaro Konno is Grade 4 in the Japan Professional Mahjong League and runs mahjong lessons in the Kanto region. You can find him as a pro on Ron2 and Konami’s Mahjong Fight Club.