I wrote before about how the beginning of the M-league season looked a little like Sawazaki might just run away with it but mid season another veteran found her stride and changed the storyline. Uotani started a winning streak in December and never looked back.
Some of the earlier games might be good to look at for how she found her stride including another yakuman. But I like the game she played on March 3rd to sum up her season for a number of reasons I’ll get into.
First of all, early in the East round she found herself in the hole through no real fault of her own. Kobayashi Go got an early tenpai in the West seat with this hand:
She had no definitely safe tiles so she threw West from her hand. Oop. Reach, ippatsu, West and (wait for it..) 3 ura Dora! Man that is a gut punch. This possibly nothing but Reach hand suddenly turns into a 12,000 point monster. What can you do when the gods are aligned against you like that?
Well you can do what Uotani did.
Get right back up and start swinging. The next hand was her turn as dealer and what kind of hand did she wake up with after the ura Dora gut punch? A bunch of crap:
“Have no fear!” She says. By the 9th draw she’s turned that garbage into this:
Can she exact her revenge on the very next hand? Not if Sonoda draws his kanchan winner first for 1000/2000. Ouch. Sigh.
Next was the first hand of the South round, Ooi won with 1600/3200 to put the wind in his sails going into his turn as dealer. Now dealer, second draw he ponned South, then 1m, then North to get to tenpai with a choice that led him to discard 6m, Dora indicator, for tenpai. Let’s wait on showing his hand there while we consider Uotani’s options when she gets to tenpai with this:
She has some choices here. Discard 3m for the 47m wait, discard 5 for the 69m wait, or discard 9 for the 458m wait (discarding 6 or 8m also yield tenpai but with better waits available, there’s no need to consider them). Important information here is that the last tiles Ooi threw from his hand were 9m followed by 6m. Ooi was likely working on a half flush and manzu looked dangerous for everyone generally too. (Some people might think of waiting quietly for a chance at sanshoku here too, but with 3 of the 9p already gone that seems like a lot of risk for probably low reward.)
While the 69 wait may seem intriguing because Ooi will probably throw them if he draws them again, it’s already pretty thin and there’s no reason to think 5m is safe so that’s easily ruled out. For discarding 3m, an added benefit is that it adds pinfu to the hand, if you draw Dora to win ippatsu or get ura Dora suddenly you’re all the way up to haneman! Ooi has thrown 6m so suji-wise it seems likely to pass. Or do you take the safer but cheaper route , discarding 9m, with the larger wait? Or do you even fold because it’s just too dangerous? What do you do?
Seriously. What. Do. You. Do?
I think I reason that if I’m going for it here, I go for max points and reach, throwing 3m. These are the kinds of decisions that separate the good players from the great. Is the risk of throwing an uncertainly safe 3m worth the reward of an extra yaku?
With the benefit of knowing what Ooi had when he discarded 6m it would seem not.
Without knowing that, Uotani made the right decision throwing the 9m and reaching. How about you?
The action got more intense as Kobayashi then chied that for tenpai, and Sonoda chied 4b from Ooi also for tenpai! For a few tense draws, all four players were tenpai! Ooi and Sonoda both had mangan hands but Kobayashi only had a cheapie so he gave up quickly when he drew a dangerous 8m. When Uotani did eventually draw 4m and while still not knowing of Ooi’s trap, I wonder if there was a pang of regret at having given up on pinfu. If there were, it was certainly gone when she turned over ura Dora. 3m!
Oh the irony! With or without pinfu the end result was the hands was the same value, haneman! Except discarding 3m would have been game over.
After winning haneman in this fashion, there’s almost no way to follow it up except with yakuman. It was a pretty straightforward progression from chiitoitsu-ish to Suanko (4 concealed triples) but there were some notable points about the hand.
One thing was she opted not to reach this time. She was in the South seat so if somebody threw it she again had haneman which would put her in the lead going into the last hand with her as dealer. It was enough already. Another thing I liked about the action here is that she seemed visibly worked up about what was going on in her hand. The order in which she discarded from her hand was suspicious, having thrown a risky “shonpai” (meaning an as yet unexposed tile) Red Dragon, then followed by the 4th North which was obviously no risk. I think the other players picked up on her agitation and you could see tension building as everyone tried to figure out what was going on. (Ooi also often seems to let his expression speak out a little.) In a league where the norm is stone cold poker faces, it’s refreshing to see players leak a little emotion sometimes. They ARE human after all!
Finally, just before the last draw, which would have been Uotani’s, Kobayashi chose to chi. It didn’t give him tenpai, it just made her not Haitei (final tile). Speaking of emotion, from what I’ve seen so far, he is the opposite. Earlier in the season when threw to someone’s yakuman, he picked out and passed over the 32,000 points with the same face he collects points when he wins. I like the cold calculation of this move. It’s similar to the idea of killing ippatsu as soon as someone reaches. We all know nagare is BS, you can’t know which draw contains the winning tile until it’s drawn. So cheapening your opponent’s hand as a matter of course is simply a good bet. I like also that the announcers mentioned it as he did it and then after the fact, there was not a word about how his chi made her draw her winner. Many announcers dwell on that meaningless point (at least, meaningless to me) but they did not. He ended the game and Uotani’s turn as dealer with a quiet 2000 to secure his place in second for the game. (He and the Pirates were in their own battle with Sonoda and the Drivens to take 6th place for a spot in the semifinals.)
So it was another barnburner of a game and an apt amalgam of Uotani’s season. Would the semifinals be dominated by her and the ascendant Phoenix? Would Sawazaki return to early season form and lead the Knights to victory? Or was someone else waiting in the wings to add new drama to the season? Semifinal talk next.