Not Quite Mastered

A brief look into Jenn and Garthe’s day at JPML’s Masters qualifier.

On Saturday I played in JPML’s Masters tournament.

In the words of Garthe:


What a horrible event for me.

Historically I’ve done pretty well making it to the main event, but this year I had no chance.
I started out OK and took first place at my first table. But, I ended up at the same table all day (this is called the Table Master, no relation to the name of the tournament) and I carefully observed that the exact same seat got first place in all 4 games that day. I managed to get fourth place in the three games I didn’t sit in that seat.

The hand that stood out for me somehow turned out like this:

There were no more Wests or Norths left, so there wasn’t much happy about this hand and I ended up discarding 2b waiting for a single tile to switch to an all-pairs hand. I then drew another East and another player won before I could change anything else.

A perfect metaphor for my entire day. Things looked good at first but in the end nothing happened.

Mahjong season begins again in force in April kicking off with regular league, then Champion’s league, and Mahjong Masters. On Saturday Jenn and I played in the pro qualifier with mixed results.

I’ve already complained a lot about a system in which some players get to start at later stages of the tournament, i.e. the “seed” system, so I won’t continue with it too much here. Having complained of it anew at a gathering last week, I did get a little more insight into why it makes sense to everyone else. They picked up on the fact that I was calling these events “tournaments” (大会), whereas in fact they are called “title fights” (タイトル戦). I had pointed out that in tennis’ US Open, for example, seeds only determine match ups so that the top players don’t meet in the early rounds but that everyone still must play all the rounds that the other players do. While that is true for the event most of us see, there are of course qualifiers for the players who get to play in that event and a large section of the field gets into it also based on their past performance. How mahjong competition is more easily compared to tennis than poker is a bit of a mystery to me, though it is apparently quite obvious to them but I’ll leave it at this: based on our previous performance, or really lack of performance, we have to play in a qualifier to make it to the “main” fight. Amazingly (to me) there are even players who get to jump in at later stages of the “main” fight, but whatever. I have won a little more than Jenn in the past, giving me a higher ranking (though she will probably catch up this year) so I got to join from the second half of the qualifier while she had to start from the beginning. Yes, for all my ranting about seeds, I did take advantage of it already in this tournament.

So how did I do with my slightly favorable starting position? Well not too badly actually. The first game I was matched up with Kaoru Aisawa and a couple others I don’t know. She drew haneman on the first hand, then my turn as dealer, the previous dealer drew mangan and right off the bat I was feeling the pinch in last place. By the first hand of the south round I was far into last place when the dealer reached and I got to ready with this hand


With no dora, a crappy wait and nothing making the hand really worthwhile, I reached, followed immediately by the player to my right reaching. I figured that was probably the end of my Masters tournament but then the 3rd reacher threw my winner. I don’t know if my lackadaisical play had any affect on the others but I was then able to draw mangan on my turn as dealer and suddenly I was only about 4000 out of first place. I didn’t get anything to work with the rest of the game, but by sort of just staying on the sidelines and letting the others take pieces of each other I was able to eke out 2nd place and a positive 7 points to start. And that turned out to be sort of the theme for me throughout the day, nothing much to work with myself but let the others kill each other.

There were 72 people in our qualifier, of which the top third would get to continue on to the “main” fight and 4 would get a little prize money. That meant that the final border after 4 games would probably be around 20 points so if I could just maintain that sort of average I would probably be in good shape.

The next game was more of the same though I finished in 3rd putting me back to just about 0 points total. The 3rd game I had a bit of a scare at the end despite having pieced together a commanding lead going into the last hand. And it is for this reason only that I sometimes wonder if they are sometimes right about the impossibility of making mahjong tournaments more like poker. The girl currently in last place had also finished last in her first two games so was already looking pretty dead in the water by that point. I don’t know what she had in her hand, but I doubt it could justify this play. On the last draw of the last hand, she threw haneman to the second place player which just only just barely didn’t quite thrust him into 1st place. Despite no longer having anything to play for, a player’s actions may still have a large effect on the outcome of the game. I got lucky that it didn’t actually kill me but it would have been pretty frustrating to lose 1st place because of such lackadaisical play.

Oh wait, lackadaisical play is how I saved myself in the 1st game. Yeah, I guess I don’t know how to make this game fair after all.

With a positive 29 points going into the final game, I probably just needed to finish positive. At my final table the other players had 70, -15, and -45 points. So one was thinking with a win he might get to one of the top spots and win some money. Another was thinking he needed a big win to stay alive. And the last was probably just gonna throw Hail Mary’s the whole game. As it turned out the top guy just started throwing one huge hand after another to the 3rd place guy and very nearly busted himself all the way out of the tournament! I kept to my theme of staying quiet, and was again able to eke out a 2nd place while the others kept beating up on each other.

So hooray! I’m through to the “main” show next weekend. Out of around 220 players only 50 will continue on to the “main fight tournament” so it’s going to be a little tougher to keep progressing. And of course, the field gets much stronger as all the A leaguers and seeded players will be joining the action there. I’ll have to get extra lackadaisical for them I guess.

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