Open Your Hands

Last month there was a request on the forums for a column about opening your hand. It’s taken me a few weeks to decide exactly what to write because this subject is completely debatable even between seasoned pros. Even after tournament hands, veterans will discuss over a few beers which tiles they should have called and perhaps which ones they shouldn’t have. So today I’ll take a stab at the subject, but we’ll certainly only be scratching the surface.

My first piece of advice is, don’t open your hand. Don’t pon, don’t chow and don’t call open quads. Aim for Reach and get your Hidden Doras (ura-dora).

Now, I can’t expect that you will really listen to that little piece of advice, but let me back it up a little bit. Most people learn mahjong in steps. First you learn how to make a hand, next you learn a few Hand Points (yaku) and that’s when you’re calling loads of tiles. The step after that will be to learn and aim for the bigger hands. This is where you should stop calling tiles just to get that single Hand Point. Playing your hand closed is not always optimal, but it’s an important part of your training and gives you time to think about the game itself and your own strategies.

Alright, now I suppose you expect me to tell you the next step, when to open your hand. If you want to ignore all that I’ve written above and call tiles anyway, then fine. We’ll start this month with some basic guidelines. Popular and well-respected comic artist Masayuki Katayama (I’ll bet you’ve read his name before) starts in his first volume of Obaka Meeko, story 4, with a section on opening your hand. There are 2 points in that story that I’d like to bring to your attention.

The first is to call from the bottlenecks whenever possible, meaning that you should leave your open-ended waits for later. For example if you have both 二四 and 34 in your hand and you’ve decided it’s a calling hand, try to let the 2 and 5 that the player to your left discards go. Later when the other players see your open hand, they might even assume that you didn’t want the 2 or the 5 since you ignored the chow-option before.

Regarding whether or not to call tiles, Katayama has 2 criteria: the hand should be either fast or high-scoring. He says that you should never call tiles for a cheap hand that is still many tiles away from Ready. Of course, if your hand satisfies both of these conditions, then you should be calling from the start. I’ll leave you with one example of each situation and we will continue this conversation in a future column.

Don’t Call: (East Round)

Call for Speed:

Call for Score: (East Round, Dealer, Dora: )

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