Saturday, April 15, 2006

A Long Good Friday: 8 Games, 3 Yakitori, 4 Changes of Fortune.

We supposed that it must have been pay day at Mazda because shortly after we started playing at Kodama tonight the place filled up with salary men and then with smoke. Nor were there so many of the usual crowd but various geezers who we had never seen before - perhaps they were staying at the hotel over the road. At various moments through the evening one or other of these fellows was screwing his head around to observe the incredible sight of gaijin playing mahjong!

Noda was the starting
Oya in the opening game and was obviously trying for kokushimusou. David thought he would be able to get away it when he declared Riichi on a two tile wait, hoping that Noda would be forced to break up his hand. Instead, the second or third tile David drew after declaring was Hatsu. He threw it and Noda cried "Ron" and claimed 48,000 off David. In other words, David's tray was empty and he owed Noda 4,000 points within the first five minutes of play! It was that one hand that sank David for the evening, and also, as it turned out, kept Noda's head out of the water until the fifth (Noda's final) game...

David spent much of the rest of the evening digging in as a miserable array of tiles passed through his hands. Jaime seemed determined to outdo him and at one point had sunk to -88.

For much of the long middle of the evening it was Kenyon who appeared to be confirming his return to form, albeit he was heard to utter one or two "
freakin'"s in the trying first game. Once the crisis had passed, however, it seemed that he was forever flourishing his fingers as he counted up his score.

Talking of fingers, the foreigners seemed particularly ham-fisted tonight and yet there had seldom been a more sober evening... Kenyon was honing the art of knocking tiles off the wall and David demonstrated his prowess in dropping score sticks and tiles on the floor. Jaime went in for a bit of tile-bowling and sent one unwanted piece on its way with a beautiful top spin into the opposite wall and onwards towards Kenyon's hand. Jaime's most spectacular performance however, occurred early on in the evening when he managed to squeeze his row of tiles until and send them crashing in a heap onto the table. He swiftly gathered them up before anybody could get a good look at them and held them in the palm of one hand like a nest of hatchlings while he carefully sorted them back into some semblance of order.

Even Old Noda managed to "lift the skirt" as they say when he knocked over his end tile only to reveal it to be a precious Red 5-Coins. This he promptly discarded and went on to complete a reasonable hand.

Fortunately, none of these antics occurred when the other players were rubbernecking to see what we were up to.

Next week sobriety will return as David will be back on the booze. No more cola for him thank you very much! Observe what sobriety did to his game: Beers 0, final score -47! Well, OK, if it hadn't been for that early Kokushimusou... but still, hardly an inspiring evening. Less Wallenstein in Germany, more Percival in Malaya and Singapore. Wait a minute, Percival didn't build any defences whereas The Poor Little Cypriot spent a long session digging in (games 2 and 3) so that comparison rather flatters Percival, I should say.

There was a Singapore moment in The Poor Little Cypriot's play, however, when, fearing an attack from the right (Jaime, who was
Oya) and seeking to defend against it (and also to avoid double Ron) he threw the 6-Bamboo. Now, he had sat there and analysed Kenyon's hand - Kenyon had gone Riichi - and was muttering about how highly likely it was that Kenyon was waiting for it... but seeing as every other tile appeared to be doubly dangerous, he threw it. Kenyon, temporarily cast in the role of The Lion of Malaya (gen. Yamashita) went out (for the umpteenth time, as it seemed) on a big hand - in short, the trenches had been overrun and The PLC was fleeing like Gordon Bennett who sailed away from Singapore in a sampan. (In the PLC's case, however, the game had taken so long that the last tram had sailed away by the time it was over...)

Kenyon had peaked, however, on +77. The wind changed again and this time in Jaime's favour. Jaime now went on to win the next three games. His first two victories took Noda down into negative single figures, which means that Jaime still shares with Noda the distinction of highest number of accumulated points.

The calculation is made at the end of each session of play, not after each game within a session!]

By the time Jaime's winning run had run out of steam he had recovered all his losses and taken the lead.

The favoured hand for 3/4 of tonight was Chinitsu, with Honitsu coming a close second, and mostly with the Coin suit too - or so it seemed.

The last part of the evening was reserved to David who had sunk to -118 at the nadir of his fortunes, but he won the last two games of the evening - not enough to recover his losses but enough to cut them in half and more.

During the course of tonight's long session each one of the three foreign players found himself at the end of a game with his Yakitori tessera still on the table. Until tonight both David and Jaime had had clean sheets on this front. No longer.

jansou was still lively when Noda left. Then, even after a couple of Japanese groups had left and Mama had drawn the air-raid curtain across the door, the place again filled up as a couple more groups came in.

Mahjong parlours are supposed to shut at midnight. The air-raid curtain serves the all important purpose of keeping up appearances on the outside that the parlour has shut... but, rather like a pub lock-in, on the inside it is business as usual deep into the night. In Kodama's case, however, the door is not locked!]

In short, we had had a very entertaining night. Play continued until it was time for Jaime to head off and watch Manchester United attempt to beat lowly Sunderland and thereby put pressure on Chelsea. However, as we now know, Sunderland held them to a draw: their best result of the season. Sunderland needed to win to stay up, but merely by drawing 0-0 Sunderland seemed to have gained some pride: I wouldn't be surprised if they win a game or two before they go down!

Jaime -15, -22, -51**, +73, +56, +35, -32, -4 = +40
Kenyon -14, +41, +50, -15, -11, -1, -11, -24** = +15
Noda +63, -17, +1, -20, -35 = -8
David -34, -2, 0, -38**, -10, -34, +43, +28 = -47

David Hurley
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Friday, April 14, 2006

Wednesday 12th April: The Winter King & Wallenstein.

After a 90-minute "History in English" class during which Dr Mogami jr and I sat at the mahjong table in his father's guest room and read through the chapter on the Thirty Year's War in Steven Ozment's book of German history, A Mighty Fortress, we tossed the study materials to one side and set up the mahjong table for a six-hour session of mahjong with his parents.

Today we had read about how the Battle of the White mountain, the opening battle of the war, had been a swift and decisive defeat for the Calvinist forces of
Frederick I and then how, a while later, old Wallenstein was victorious wheresoever he roamed at large.

The first game of the session saw Dr M jr in the role of the Winter King as he crashed to an unusual early defeat of -64. I finished down a bit in that game and Dr M sr came out on top.

The second game went to Mrs M so the seniors shared out the "maru" bonuses between them while I picked up two "batsu" penalties and Dr M jr was stuck with four.

Then, in the third game I found myself playing Wallenstein - which is a first for me in four-player mahjong so far this year. (Could it be another Q2 turnaround of fortunes?) As a result, I was the only winner for the evening, with Mrs M the top loser, Dr M sr in third, and Dr M jr at the bottom of the pack and almost Y5,000 coming my way... and the trams still running!!

David Hurley
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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Friday 7th April: Hana Yori Jansou

Tonight was an ideal evening for a cherry blossom viewing party - not the "freeze your bollocks off" weather so typical of early April hanami parties... A small group of ex-Lang students had arranged a party and four regulars from the Cockseye Mahjong Club joined them for a couple of hours - until the food ran out, the wind got up and the temperature fell. The three foreign players had agreed to head off and try out a mahjong parlour in Dobashi a.s.a.p. and it turned out that Noda was also keen on that idea and wrapped up the party very deftly with a "Gya, arigatou gozaimashita" which always does the trick... It was helpful to our cause that one of the ladies present had brought along her young son who got restless once the sushi had gone down the hatch.

As we strolled through Peace Park towards Dobashi Noda told us that he used to work of Hiroshima Gas and that he used to be the geezer responsible for turning the iron wheel that opens the gas valve and causes the "eternal flame" to flare up on the A-Bomb memorial at 8:15am on the 6th August each year.

On the other side of the green iron bridge he pointed out a school where all the kids and teachers were wiped out on the day of the A-bomb. They had been outside doing there morning exercises - all except one malingerer of a teacher who was (perhaps having a surreptitious cigarette) in the bogs at the time...

The manager of the mahjong parlour was standing in the doorway when we arrived and seemed reluctant to move aside to let us in since I don't suppose it had ever occurred to him that Johnny Foreigner might want to play mahjong in his gaff... However, once he saw Noda and realized what it was that we wanted to do, he stepped aside.

We found ourselves in a small brightly lit room with just three mahjong tables in the main room, only two of which were set up for play. There was also an alcove with a tv and a rather inviting looking sofa...

Master prepared the third table over by the door for us and young master set about bringing us over some beers (another Lenten dispensation was being observed).

We quickly made an impression on the place when David went out within five minutes of play and then Kenyon even more swiftly claimed "Kokushimusou" off Jaime in the second hand. He then proceeded to get to Tenpai on Kokushimusou in the very next hand (as Oya) but was pipped to the post... David, who was temporarily out of the game, had cast an idle glance over Kenyon's first three discards and observed that it looked as if he was going for Kokushimusou
again, never for a moment imagining that he would do so so soon after having just gone out on the hand!

The first game finished symetrically, with Kenyon and Jaime on +&-63 and Noda and David on +&-7 respectively.

Jaime's fortunes continued their Q2 decline in the second game while Kenyon's Q2 recovery continued. Noda continued to climb up at the top, and David managed to scramble up to zero in that game.

In the third game, however, David managed to rack up his third Chombo of the year by going Pon and then drawing a tile from the wall and discarding... Still, as a consolation, he was able to retain the Oya and went on to be the only winner of that game - a win that kept him in the black for the evening.

Jaime recovered in the fourth game - just as happened in a recent game - the player who got hit by Kokushimusou went on to go out with the same hand, however, it was not enough to stop a second major loss on his part.

Noda won the second game and the result left him top for the evening and now on the equal highest accumulated score so far this year, of +295, which equals Jaime's record in the days of his glory...

Jaime and David exchanged places on the Grand Accumulated Results Chart while Kenyon has cut the distance that separates him - still at the bottom - from the second bottom player (Ray) to double figures...

It was a fine evening; play continued beyond 2:30 and we all enjoyed the atmosphere of the little place and agreed that we'd like to play there again from time to time...

The reckoning for the evening:

Noda +7, +42, -10, -11, +42 = +70
Kenyon +63, +6, -7, -1, -8 = +53
David -7, 0, +51, -15, -8 = +21
Jaime -63, -48, -34, +27, -26 = -144

David Hurley
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Monday, April 03, 2006

All Fools Mahjong: A One Game Wonder?

After idling away the morning at a ceremony to mark the beginning of the new school term David and Jaime, all dressed up in their best suits, ambled over to Mario del Sole at Shoko Centre, where they were joined by the less salubriously attired Human Computer, and a little later by Super Dad Don complete with a retinue of one baby, Eugene, and one young boy, Nathan, in attendance...

Don stayed off the sauce because he was driving, but the Lenten Fast was temporarily put into abeyance by David so that he could partake of the wine with Jaime and Kenyon.

Back at the Casa Nova, David went back onto his fasting regime - the new house is one of the few places where the Lenten Fast has been observed in its entirety.

David offered to put
Tom and Jerry on for Nathan, but both he and Don knew that the real reason it was going on was so that they could enjoy it themselves. Later on it was for the adults benefit that Miyazaki's Panda Kopanda was put on under the cover of Nate's not having seen it before...

We were joined by Tim-and-a-bag-of-beers, and then by Mrs H & a sleeping E, and a while later, by Mrs F, who was not not disabused of the assumption that Don had been drinking - for if she had been, as David observed, perhaps rather too loudly, then Don would have had the worst of both worlds: the Mrs might well have started drinking herself and he would thereby have had to (1) abstain from drinking so that he could (2) drive his Hostages to Fortune home. As it was, I later learned, both hubby and wife tucked into the contents of the bottle.

The housewarming party appeared to be quite a success - although in some respects it was a disaster for some. The layout of the place is such that some people can sit around the dining table and chat while others occupy the nearby tatami room to play mahjong while the intervening space, given over to sofa, low table, hot carpet & t.v. could also be made use of.

Tim gamely (though reluctantly) agreed to play a game of mahjong and thereby make a ceremonious appearance on the Grand Accumulated Points Chart, so there were four players and the one player who was out of the 3-player game was able to circulate.

We now come to the disaster... Tim had agreed to play on the assumption that it would be a quick game... but you can never tell how long one game of mahjong will last... half an hour if no-one retains the
Oyaship? An hour, perhaps - the usual amount of time... 90 minutes if one or two players win several hands as Oya

Poor old Tim huffed and puffed and suffered through TWO HOURS of just ONE game

David was the starting Oya, won the first hand, and then relinquished the Oya
when Kenyon completed his hand on a tile discarded by Tim. Now, Kenyon had failed to win a game of mahjong in the whole of the first quarter of this year. On the other hand, he had played all his games in the mahjong parlour and not in a less intensive home game... Nor had he played against Tim. Now Tim is reputed to play seldom but usually to end up up up to 2 to 3,000 points. But then again, Kenyon was named the Human Computer because he always seemed to win!!

Kenyon had been rather looking forward to this game, and it did not disappoint him. He now retained the Oya for over an hour as both Tim and Jaime struggled and failed dismally to construct a winning hand. It was not that Kenyon was constantly winning, but where he failed to complete a hand he was able to finish Tenpai and so rack up one 100-Tenbo after another

While the game appeared to be extending itself into infinity in the tatami room, Nate discovered what it is to be attacked by a variety of characters such as Mr Flick, Mr Poke, Miss Pizza, Miss Snip and Mr Pneumatic-Drill up at the dining table. Tim later said that he sorely wished he had been at that table with Nate and his chums and not at the one where mahjong was being played...

In the meantime, Noda arrived with a huge screwtop bottle of cheap Trebbiano. Naturally, being Noda, a Japanese man who knows nothing about wine bottles, let alone their contents, he asked for a corkscrew.

Eventually Jaime or Tim won a hand and David returned to the mahjong table. Tim's life was made more miserable now because he, like many a player, dislikes others watching him play and commenting on - or criticizing - his every move. This is exactly what Noda began to do and did not react to Tim's first "Minaide kudasai"... Being Noda, however, the second telling by Tim and David resolved itself with a cheerful explication of what Tim should have said in Hiroshima-ben to get Noda off his case...

I forget now what it was, but Tim will certainly remember.

Anyway, the game eventually finished just after 8pm, and Kenyon had registered his first victory of the year - and first of the second quarter, which begins much better for him than the first quarter did:

Kenyon: +123
David: +15
Jaime: -33
Tim: -105

So Tim enters the Grand Accumulated Results Table in 5th place out of seven, which moves Eri further away from bottom place once again - from 4/6 to 4/7!

Kenyon, too, has now got closer to the 6th player. Hey, Ray, you'd better watch your back!

The Fowlers headed for home, followed by Kenyon. The rest of us adjourned to Saezaria, so David once again broke his fast and joined the others in partaking of a bottle of Chianti that Noda treated us to - Jaime and my second free bottle of the day. (See
Jaime's blog for an explanation.) That was followed by the Hurley family favourite wine at Saezaria - a bottle of Verdicchio, all the way from Castelli di Jesi in the Marche for just 1,050 yen - virtually giving it away!

We had quite a feast - all the Saezaria specials... the Parma ham wrapped around foccaccio, the German sausages, the Mozarella cheese and tomato... and Tim had about 300 chicken wings. There were enough bones on his plate by the time he left the table to fill a Capuchin ossuary. I shall say nothing about Jaime's double helping of Pistachio ice-cream or the size of his eyes compared to his belly (which would be saying something indeed)...

David Hurley
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Friday 31st March: Ray Sinks, David Soars, Jaime Melts...

Tonight, Eri moved up one place on the "Grand Accumulated Points Chart" - without even playing a hand! What happened was that the "Ray Revival" never materialized and so Ray sank from the shallows to the depths - not quite as deeply as Kenyon, mind you, but still quite deep.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the table the Martian David, who had been hovering as close to zero on the black side of the chart as Ray had been on the red side, soared upwards with springtime vigour towards the dizzy heights of Saturnian Noda and the Icarian Jaime whose

...waxen wings did mount above his reach,
And melting, heavens conspired his overthrow.

It did not look as if things would go that way after the first game as Jaime scored +10 to David's -10 while Noda took first place with a clear lead which secured him a place in the black for the rest of the evening. That was despite his ending up with his Yakitori tessera still on the table at the end of the second game... That is his third so far this year.

David, on the other hand, had one hand which would have been a beautiful hand indeed - had it not had one too few tiles in it.

But the most inglorious balls up of the evening - of the year so far, I should say - was Ray's Pon-Kan-Ron tangle. Jaime had a couple of open Pon sets including the Green Dragons and a few bonus tiles showing. Noda threw out a tile and Ray paused, said "Kan" but changed it to a "Pon" and then wondered aloud whether or not he could now go Kan on a different set (which is illegal after claiming a Pon. Realizing it was illegal and worried about Jaime's hand he looked back at his own set of 4 x 2-Bamboo and reasoned that as Jaime had claimed a couple of tiles by going "Pon" then it should be safe to throw out one of those 2-Bamboo - Jaime would be unable to go "Pon" on it since Ray had the other three! "These are safe," he said, or words to that effect, and David felt simultaneously a certain deja vu and a frisson of expectation, a sense that all was not well as Ray threw a 2-Bamboo.

Jaime promptly said "Ron!" and turned over his tiles to reveal a Hatsu - Honitsu hand that had been Tenpai on 2-or-5 Bamboo!!

Ray immediately realized the error of his ways! The sense of Deja vu that David, and also Jaime had felt was because Ray's observation that the 2-Bamboo was "safe" resembled Tim's assertion to Kulcha Alex I three years or so ago that "that tile is definitely safe," the discarding of which was promptly followed by Jaime going Ron!! In tonight's occurrance it was a matter of Ray talking himself into trouble.

But perhaps the most dramatic hands was the very last one of the evening in which Ray was well down in negative territory, around -74 and Jaime was also in the red to the tune of -23. Both players had racked up numerous bonus tiles. I don't know if Noda, the last Oya was playing safely, but he wasn't giving anything away. If I remember rightly, Jaime went Riichi and then gave away the tile that Ray was waiting for and had to pay him 24,000 points.

David had had a long Oyaship and had supposed that a big win in the last game would actually cost him as he risked missing the last tram and having to catch a taxi home... However, Ray's last win meant that David was able to make a bolt for the door and leg it in time to catch the last tram and so make a profit on the evening as well as move closer to the top of the pack.

With David and Ray both moving further away from zero, and with Noda coming second-and-in-the-black, the universe has ceased to expand so swiftly but it has become hollow in the centre.

David: -18, +33, +35, +90 = +140
Noda: +63, -15**, +3, +17 = +68
Jaime: +10, -19, -24, -57 = -90
Ray: -55, +1, -14, -50 = -118

One potential consolation for Ray is that the manager of the Parkside Hotel was playing at another table and it turns out that he and Noda are acquaintances so you never know, Ray might be able to wangle a free night or two when he next stays in town overnight...

David Hurley
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