Kobayashi batted clean up for the pirates who led going into the final game with Phoenix trailing by 7. It was a nail biter to the very end, with Uotani putting together possible come from behind victory winner on the final hand with Kobayashi as dealer. When Kobayashi discarded his last definitely safe tile, Uotani’s winning green dragon looked like it might be his next choice, but in the nick of time, Uotani discarded two 6s and 9m to give him definitely safe tiles to the end.
I’ll write about the major hands on the final day in tomorrow’s article but here are just a couple quick thoughts on the finals I wanted to get out before I get all long-winded going to into too much detail.
I was surprised at how much the pressure of the finals seemed to get to some of the players. Uotani and Ooi especially had the exact opposite of poker faces in a surprising number of situations. Take a look at Uotani trying to decide whether to push or fold against Ooi’s reach. Then Ooi giving her the old side-eye while she anguishes over what indeed would have been his winning tile.
Going back to day 1 of the finals too, Ooi drew a red 5 ippatsu on the final hand of game 1 for a monster baiman which still only snagged 2nd place. His face let us know exactly how much joy that gave him.
Contrast that with the joy betrayed by the winner of that game, Kobayashi.
Also contrast (or no contrast?) that with him a few days later losing miserably.
Or here he is after winning the whole thing Tuesday night!
The man is a statue! We’re going to have to start calling him Koba-icy!
Ooi sometimes gets mention for the way he looks around the table perhaps giving away information with his occasional glances. But I felt that Uotani’s expressions were a little more out of character for her. And besides those, I feel like the hand where she threw Kobayashi’s winning tile and basically decided the championship was also uncharacteristic of her winning style from the rest of the season. Everyone hates armchair quarterbacks second guessing coaching decisions after the fact, buuuuuut, I can’t help wondering if Phoenix went to their ace a little too often during the finals and perhaps could have spread out the load a bit more. She played 6 of the 12 games in the final series, and 5 of the 6 days. That is definitely a lot of pressure for any one player to bear.
Contrast that with the Pirates. Kobayashi played 4, Ishibashi only 2, with Asakura and Mizuhara averaging it out at 3 each. Regular season wise, Kobayashi was indeed the Pirates’ ace, yet he only played one more game than average. And despite having lost his second two games midweek, they went back to him for the final game, but he was rested enough to play his game and finish stealing the top spot from a seemingly on-the-ascent Phoenix. It’s the second year in a row the winner of the whole thing came from the bottom of the standings to upset the regular season leader. And it shows again how M-league, with its team structure, differs from other leagues. (Another random point, it’s the second year in a row, which of course encompasses the entire history of M-League, with no Renmei players on the winning team! Hmmmm).
Congratulations to the U-Next Pirates! All 4 players contributed wins in the final series, and all 4 deserve credit for claiming the 2019 M-League Championship title.
Way to go, Nobuhiro Ishibashi, Akina Mizuhara, Koushin Asakura, and Go Koba-icy! (That name is going to stick.)