Thursday, February 10, 2011

a3geffen's Hints and Pointers - Levels of play

There are quite a number of manuals on the basics of how to play a game of mahjong. The amount on strategy and tactics however is limited. Mahjong Time has asked Adrie van Geffen (a3geffen) to share his views in that territory. In the year 2011 he will publish a series of articles with hints and pointers having to do with strategy of mahjong in the different styles (except American): Hong Kong (HK); European Classic (EC); Mahjong Competition Rules (MCR); Riichi Competition Rules (RCR); Taiwanese (TW). Below part 3 – Levels of play.

You’ve learned the basic rules and the fun can start. When you play with real tiles then the basics include setting up the walls, go through the rituals of what each ones seat wind is, breaking up the wall, getting your tiles and get the show on the road. You know what pungs, chows and kongs are and basically how to get a winning hand. When playing on Mahjong Time and having paid your membership fees you will get a rating and by that a ranking. But does that show how good you really are? EC is the simplest variety that can be played. There is no miminum of doubles (which should be quite easy to implement) and that means that everything goes. It is a good style to get familiar with the basics. And you only have to check you are not waiting for a tile that is no longer available. HK, with a minimum of 3 fan, and TW, with a minimum of 6 points, require some more insight. But the possibilities are however limited. Going for pungs of winds and dragons and playing for half or full flush is in HK obvious. TW, with 16 tiles, hasn’t many scoring combinations either, but like HK you will not only have to check on your own tiles but keep a closer eye on what is discarded by others.
A lot more thought is involved when playing MCR and RCR. The first mostly because of the flexibility in forming patterns, keeping open the options and being able to switch for another pattern to get to the 8 points minimum. The second mostly because of the ‘furiten’ rule and the need to play defense. Not only do you need to know what you are doing with your own hand but you also have to be alert on what the other players are doing. You want to win, but you certainly don’t want to be the discarder of the winning tile. Not only being flexible is important but also the ability to lose as little as you can, probably even by breaking up you hand in order not to discard the winning tile and maybe go for a draw. Quite often even the last tile thrown is claimed for winning when it could be prevented easily, just not to break up what is built. But the real weighing should be (in RCR): am I willing to pay 3000 points for being the only one not waiting or do I take the risk and discard a tile that will cost me as much as 24000 points?

The level you play mahjong isn’t just how high you are ranked in a variety. When you have achieved a top 10 ranking in EC, HK or TW it is time for you to look at MCR and RCR. That is where the real challenge for you brain lies. But if you’re not up to that, or you don’t wish to put in that much concentration, then stick to what you know. On the other hand: if you play MCR and RCR but you can’t get beyond punging and going for all melded, please consider taking up EC, HK or TW. You may find that those styles suit you better than the intricate play of patterns and defense.

Written by
Adrie van Geffen


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