World Series of Mahjong: Final wrap up

Well it was nice to have Mahjong on the world stage again, if only for a few days.

Four full days of action saw two events, some interesting new takes on tournament structure, and the crowning of two new champions.

Congratulations to Fumitaka Tanaka, winner of the Reach Event, and Chan Tak-Kwan winner of the Main Event.

Among the changes to the Main Event this year was a new scoring system. Each round consisted of 2 games but rather than simply tally all our scores from each game, the score for each round consisted of only the square root of the total score of the games from that round. This had the effect of dampening large results and made it nearly impossible to come back from early deficits.

And of course I fell victim to the square root. With a weak 5th round I was left with only 6 points going into the final round. With the “cash” border around 35 and the final round border around 41, I was going to need a miracle to make it back in the running. And I got a couple! A Full Flush on the first hand of the game followed by a Half Flush, 3 Kongs, South, Red Dragon hand (190 points!) gave me more than 900 points for that game. My normal total for the 6 rounds would have been more than 1200 points, way more than enough to get into the final round if it simply by game scores. But the fact that I only took 30 points after the total was square rooted, meant that even those miracles would not quite be enough, and I finished 33rd, one place away from cashing. Sigh.

This highlights one of the issues that the organizers are going to need to reconsider while deciding on the format for next year’s tournament. If even a miraculous 900 point score in the final round is not going to be enough to keep a player in the tournament, what incentive is there for players to play out their final rounds when they have absolutely no hope of advancing in the tournament? Indeed, the later rounds suffered from quite a few players simply not showing up for their games, forcing organizers to scramble to rearrange table assignments or have “pinch hitters” play in their places.

Both my 5th and 6th rounds began with trying to find someone to fill in a missing person’s spot. After one hand in the 5th, the missing player came meandering by and decided to play after all, but was clearly not actually still playing to win and made comments to that effect while we were playing. Gigi, another member of the Reachmahjong.com and World Gaming Magazine team, said she had an easy time winning points that round because another player actually said she would be playing to end the round as quickly as possible and throw to whichever hand seemed fastest.

On the one hand, we might expect that players would be excited to play as many games of world class mahjong as they could get for their money. On the other hand, one has to remember that this is a competition, and that once a player’s competition is essentially over, some competitors are going to lose interest.

Jenn and I thought up a number of ways to possibly deal with this problem. Some online tournaments require players to pay an additional deposit above the entry fee, which is then returned when players complete their rounds. This however doesn’t keep disinterested players from playing seriously when they can no longer win anything. Another idea would be to extend the prize structure much deeper into the playing field, perhaps even all the way to the bottom. This would be similar to a deposit though it would keep players trying to win as they would get more money back by finishing farther from the bottom. Players could of course opt out as they did this year but then their prize money would get added back into the prize pool leaving more for those who did play out their games. Though I can imagine it would be quite a headache for the organizers to distribute prizes back to almost the entire field. Another possibility is a format which has been added to a tournament in Japan where players are eliminated as their scores fall below a certain cutoff or fall too far away from the next round’s advancing border. Perhaps a combination of these or other ideas also is possible but something will need to be changed to ensure that the competition at this world class event remains world class.

Congratulations must also be handed out to the members of Team Reachmahjong.com and World Gaming Magazine. Shintaro Konno and Chi Chui Suen made it into the money at 20th and 19th. And our very own Jenn made it to the final day in the top 16 along with Kelvin Ng who finished 13th. Friends of our team, Takashi Ogura just missed the final day in 17th place and Makoto Sawazaki was the highest placing finisher from Japan this year in 6th place. Both Sawazaki and Ogura qualified for the tournament at WSOM Tokyo qualifier.

The Venetian Macau was a great new venue for the tournament and we look forward to seeing the event grow in size and repute as we build on the successes from this year.

Mahjong like this needs to happen more than once a year.

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