USPML Thoughts: Pitfalls of Magical Thinking

My mahjong weaknesses revealed when I stopped thinking Occult
When I first started playing mahjong, I followed the so-called Occult school of thought: I was quite superstitious, and I thought it was all about Luck. I had plenty of fun playing, but I wasn’t very good.
I didn’t really improve until I stopped believing in Luck.
Now, of course, there are elements of luck in mahjong; no one denies that. But is also important not to value Luck too highly, since it’s so tempting to blame fate for one’s own errors. I’ll tell you about some of my own mahjong weaknesses, which were revealed when I stopped overvaluing Luck.
“Why does he always win mangan hands when I only ever get small ones? He must be so lucky.”
One of the people I play with wins a lot of points every time he wins. I really used to think he was just blessed by the mahjong gods, because my hands hardly ever got big like that. Finally I asked him, “How do you get so lucky!?” He said, “I don’t. I build big hands.”
So I looked at my own play, and I realized that I always tried to get ready as fast as possible, without paying attention to how big my score would be. So if my hand had a pair of East, I would be happy to pon East for Fanpai, and call the rest of my incomplete sets as well, regardless of what they were. Then, even if I won, I’d only get 1 han. My “lucky” friend, on the other hand, might try to pursue a Half Flush along with Fanpai, or try to combine the Fanpai with All Pon (or both), even though building a hand like that might take a bit longer. If he won, then he would get at least 3 han. Possibly even more if combined with other yaku.
“Somehow I always end up with a stupid edge wait, I never have any luck.”
I used to keep every incomplete set I was dealt at the start. If I had the 1, 2, and 5 of the same suit, I’d often discard the 5, thinking, “Well it is only a lone 5 and I have nothing else near it. Better keep the 1 and 2 since it’s so close to a set already.” Thinking like that, no wonder I ended up with edge waits! If I’d kept the 5, chances are good that I would later draw a 4 or 6, giving me the two-sided wait I wished for. Keeping middle tiles like 4 or 5 or 6 can be good, since they’re more likely to turn into something better.
“I’m just unlucky – even when I discard the safest tile I have, I still deal in.”
After I learned how to keep middle tiles, I started to have another problem. I dealt in all the time. I thought I was cursed! I knew a little about reading discards, and I was always throwing the safest tile I had. But once I stopped bemoaning my bad luck, I looked again at the way I play. I realized that I was holding middle tiles all the way until the bitter end, to give myself a better chance at All Simples, or a better chance at a good wait. But then, when I wanted to go on the defense, I’d have nothing but juicy risky middle tiles in my hand. Of course then, even if I tried to be as safe as possible, I wouldn’t have many good options.
Now, I still have to practice to stop my bad habits, and I also have to learn to find the balance – so I can win big hands, get good waits, AND not deal in.
But at least now I have a chance to improve. If I kept on thinking that it was really all Luck, I’d limit myself.

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