I guess I’ve lost my license to prognosticate. I thought Kadokawa Sakura Knights looked strong coming out of the semifinals but in the first 4 games of the final series they have instead dived straight to the bottom. Rather, it’s been SegaSammy Phoenix reasserting dominance and Yummi Uotani returning to MVP form.
Day one saw the standings flip immediately with 1st and 2nd Knights and Abemas dropping to 3rd and 4th. Sawazaki was sticking to his interesting strategy of mixing it up with a bunch of different styles to try to throw off his opponents. Go Kobayashi and later Uotani (vs Uchikawa) were having none of it as they strode to 1st place wins on day one.
Abemas recovered a bit last night with a win from rookie player Aiko Hinata. Uotani’s win in the second game was indeed clutch for putting Phoenix on top, but also demonstrating the importance of team play was Seiichi Kondo’s performance during Aiko’s win. As the last dealer turn began, Aiko was dealer with Kondo only 1600 points behind her. He began the hand with 2 pairs of value tiles and was able to pon one quickly making it seem likely he’d be able to squeeze ahead with a quick cheapie. Not so fast everyone! Mahjong is a 4 person game and strong players have a way of keeping themselves in the game even when they seem knocked out. Mizuhara of the Pirates was almost 20,000 behind Aiko meaning she needed baiman tsumo to take first or a direct haneman attack on either of the top two to take take 2nd. With 2 dora and a possible outside hand and a bunch of pairs it was pretty up in the air about which direction her hand would go.
Oh yeah, and of course yakuman was enough to put Mizuhara in first. I am a bit of a suanko donkey so that as soon as a seemingly 7 pairs hand gets one triple in it, all I can think of is yakuman. Sure enough, she drew 7m next and then dora for tenpai! She chose not to reach because there was no difference between baiman and haneman direct attack, so she might as well not announce to everyone that she was about to clean their clocks. No announcement necessary for Kondo, however. When he drew 1b even with only 4 tiles left in his hand, and 3 3b in Mizuhara’s discards, he chose to throw a safer 9m that was in her discards. It was a bit of a saving grace for him that he wasn’t actually tenpai yet making it easier to fold there. Still, it was a huge fold, conceding 1st place to Aiko, but saving 2nd place in the game, and securing a stronger 1st place in the standings. Mizuhara eventually drew and threw Aiko’s winning tile to end the hand in kind of a fizzle, but it was another example of how great plays are not necessarily always winning hands.
Other interesting points, the Pirates and Abemas have both gotten all 4 of their players into one of the first 4 games of the finals. Phoenix has yet to play rookie Akira Wakutsu, and the Knights have played Ucchi and Sawazaki twice leaving Saya Okada on the sidelines so far. Technically Kadokawa players are all rookies as this is the entire team’s first season. However, Okada’s mahjong history is certainly shorter than her teammates’ so she’s the rookie-est of her team perhaps. Those two teams’ regular seasons were indeed powered largely by the people who have played in the series so far. I wonder how much Phoenix will stick to its winners and how long it will take Kadokawa to bring new blood to the game.
We’re only 4 games into a 12 game series so it’s really still anyones series although now more than 200 points out of first place, Kadokawa has a lot of ground to make up. They all have tonight off to think over their strategies with 4 more games before the weekend. Can Kadokawa turn it around? Can Phoenix continue to soar? Will the only team from last year’s finals, Abemas, avenge last year’s defeat? Or have the Pirates brung a spring up on ‘er to take the prize? The story continues on Thursday…