Hagiwara promises fireworks, Uotani delivers
In interviews before the opening ceremony Hagiwara was asked what his approach to playing the season opener would be and he replied with conviction, “Stratospheric victory, or devastating defeat!” (どっトップかどっラス). His prediction was pretty good, but it turned out Uotani was piloting the rocket. With a relentless attack and flawless execution, she turned Hagiwara’s early lead into an outer space win for SegaSammy Phoenix.
Strong start for Hagiwara
Opening hand Hagiwara was dealer and he got to tempai early with a green dragon only hand waiting for 七 gutshot. Soon after, Uotani reached with a 5 gutshot, red (5) Dora and the game was afoot. After several draws that neither improved Hagiwara’s hand nor were particularly safe, he had had enough and tsumogiri (discard the tile you’ve just drawn) reached. It appeared the hand would end in a draw until the final discard when Uotani threw his winner, worth 7700 and surely boosting his confidence in his prediction.
A couple hands later, he killed Uotani’s dealer after she reached on the third draw. He chied to secure an ittsu (straight)/dora hand waiting for the 25. When Shiratori drew a dangerous tile and decided to fold, he threw 5 already in Uotani’s discards, giving Hagiwara another 2000 and her reach stick. Down 20,000 points after a few hands, Uotani was unfazed.
Uotani pulls it back
From here Uotani discarded (6) setting off a couple chi’s resulting in Kobayashi waiting for a (3) gutshot. When she drew that on her next draw, veteran announcer Tsuchida had already written the hand off as over when instead of tsumogiri, she threw the other (6) left in her hand. Tsuchida was momentarily speechless, but Uotani’s instincts were validated when she got tempai moments later and reached with a 七 gutshot, the Dora. Tsuchida mentioned that Uotani had been the least reaching player of M-league last year and with three reaches in the first 4 hands, must be trying to change her game. Hagiwara probably hoped to take control of the hand again like he had earlier and made a riskier chi this time waiting for the final 九 to give him sanshoku. His efforts this time, however, were rewarded by handing Uotani her winning tile and first win of the game. Cue rocket engine ignition.
Shiratori’s first hand as dealer ended in a draw but the next hand Uotani makes another game altering decision.
Dora was 三 here so with another open-ended wait in manzu (characters) it seemed like an appropriate moment to give up on honitsu (half-flush) and throw the green dragon. However her next draw was (5) so she threw 四 and when East came out she decided to pon, heading back to honitsu. What should her next draw be but a green dragon! What a tragic miss! Well except for two draws later when she drew another green dragon for tempai waiting for a 四 gutshot. Here, once again Hagiwara’s push ends up helping Uotani. He had ponned early and with a chance to steal the hand he kept pushing even in response Shiratori’s dealer reach, and Uotani clearly counter attacking. He passed on tempai once, but when given a second chance, he threw an obviously risky (6) (tho somewhat safe with (3) and (9) in their discards) which Uotani chied giving her an open ended 4-7 wait. And of course where should (7) now go but to a very unlucky Shiratori for another mangan to Uotani. Houston, we have lift off!
Sneaky Tile Arrangements
One tiny little detail I want us to take note of just to make sure we all appreciate the levels at which these players think, take a look at how Uotani’s sorted her hand before her last chi:
If she had her tiles sorted normally (35567), then when she chied here, she’d have to pick out a 5 and 7 which weren’t next to each other and then discard the 3 from the other side of it. That would NOT go unnoticed and many players would correctly guess the precise shape from which she chied to improve her wait. Her wait would get better but she just broadcast to the world she’s now waiting for 4-7. The way she did it, it looked like she had a double kan 357 shape leaving her wait after chiing still a mystery. (Well except for here where pinzu (circles) were obviously dangerous and actually the Shiratori had to throw it regardless because he’d reached, but! Look at the detail!)
Hagiwara has an uneventful dealership
Hagiwara turn as dealer to start the south round got everyone action except him. With the focus on Shiratori aiming for honitsu in souzu (bamboos), Uotani quietly got to ready with tanyao (inside hand) and 2 dora. She soon drew her own winning tile for another mangan, 3 in 4 hands, release booster rockets, fire main engine.
The players got up to take a breather giving Tsuchida a chance to marvel at how the game had spun off in such an unexpected direction. Hinging first on Uotani’s brilliant move to avoid losing her first mangan hand, to turning next on the fact that she threw the green dragon early to fortunately have it turn out to be just a pair. Had she kept the first one, she probably would have ended up waiting for the 5-8 pinzu, most of which were already being used elsewhere. The “mistake” actually helped here win the hand.
When they returned, the break hadn’t slowed Uotani down at all. When she opened her starting tiles, it was starting to just seem a little unfair.
Already with two dora and only two away from ready, the result of this hand was kind of a foregone conclusion. Hagiwara was actually only three away from tempai with kokushimusho (thirteen orphans), and Shiratori was even one away from ready after a couple draws and managed to reach on the 6th. Tsuchida remarked about the apparent confidence of the reach with the double pair wait when from the 799 in pinzu and considering (5) was dora, he could have elected to throw (9) and hope for a better wait. His musing proved fitting when Shiratori’s next two draws were the (6) and then the (5) which would have been his ippatsu tsumo. By this time Uotani had grown.
Dora pon prompted hilarity and guffaws from both in the commentating booth. Hagiwara had even gotten to one away from kokushi tempai, but Shiratori’s next draw was the last 三 which Uotani needed for her dealer mangan, now blasting her way into outer space.
The next hand saw a quick tenpai pinfu only hand for Kobayashi, but rather than wait quietly to end Uotani’s run at the moon, he decided to reach. Guess who continued to put together another monster.
She reached and….it’s fortunate that someone finally drew out on Uotani because I was running out of places to go with my rocket/space metaphor.
A final punch
Hagiwara ended Kobayashi’s short dealer with a chiitoi (seven pairs) dora 2 from Shiratori, and for Shiratori’s last dealer Uotani had one more master stroke to finish the game.
The normal move here would often be to choose one of the open ended waits but she had already thrown (1) earlier and she had just missed the 3rd (5) from Hagiwara. She chose to tsumo-giri and when Kobayashi drew another (3) to go with his 34 for tempai with pinfu and ittsu (straight), he threw the (4) into a quietly waiting Uotani. It was a quiet, but brilliant finish to a truly dazzling display of mahjong from Uotani.