Monday, April 30, 2007

Friday 20th April: David Back On Top

This was a long sesson at Kodama that can be divided into two distinct though unequal halves.

The early, shorter, half was dominated by Noda and the longer and later half was dominated by David.

David arrived in time for the second game at a point in the evening when Kenyon was making the early running having come top in the first on a modest +18. Noda took over in the second and finished on +32 with Kenyon second and in the black and David taking early hits and finishing bottom.

Noda then took complete control of the third game, to finish the only winner and more than doubling his second game score. However, it turned out that Noda had peaked on +87 as the fourth game saw the beginning of David's winning run that took him from -54 to +136 before he too, just like Noda, had to give a bit back to the market at the end!

Noda gave back just 13 points to finish on +74 and halve his deficit on the Grand Accumulated Results Table before cashing in for the evening.

This was David's first week of teaching both morning and evenings at Jogakuin and he was expecting the shock of evening work to tell its own baleful story at the mahjong table. As it was, the first TOEFL lesson of term saw him teaching away with a shocking degree of start-of-term enthusiasm right through to the end of the class, which is why he arrived late at the mj table.

Jaime took the brunt of the punishment but staged a last game mini-recovery to whittle back the negative score and keep himself in the black.

The details are a bit foggy now, so I'll leave it to the score sheet to do the talking:

David --, -35, -19, +53, +34, +5, +98, -29 = +107
Noda -13, +32, +68, -13, --, --, --, -- = +74
Kenyon +18, +8, -24, -34, -42, +63, -38, -5 = -54
Jaime -5, -5, -25, -6, +8, -68, -60, +34 = -127

David Hurley
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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Mahjong and the Hypothesis of Inverse Correllation

Much time has been spent in speculating about the cause of good or ill fortune at the mahjong table. Last year the "seasonal hypothesis" was much favoured. It was stated that players fortunes often underwent a change with the ushering in of a new quarter.

A more recent hypothesis suggests that for the football supporter luck at the table is in inverse correllation to the performance of your team on the pitch. Jaime's hopes of remaining at the top of the Grand Accumulated Results Table have been accompanied by fears about the erosion of Manchester United's cushion at the top of the Premiership. Thus although his loss last week was accompanied with some wailing and gnashing of teeth, it was followed midweek by Chelsea's failure to win at Newcastle and take the Premiership top spot.

Likewise, David's loss of form in March was matched by Leeds United's climbing off the bottom of the Championship, while his recent recovery of form has been accompanied by a renewed stuttering of Leeds' campaign...

For those of us who play both the standard Japanese 4-player game and the Japanese 3-player variation, it seems that victory in one style is but the harbinger of defeat in the other.

With a victory under my belt at the 3-player table last Friday, I headed over to Doctor M's for this month's session of 4-player mahjong. Last year, dreadful form at the 3-player game was compensated in some degree by topping form at the Doc's, so perhaps it was not entirely surprising that I found myself struggling in this afternoon's game. I completed my fair share of hands, but few of them really cut the mustard.

The first game was won by the two doctors, with myself just below the bar and Mrs M bringing up the rear. I think I was the only loser of the second, so now had 7
Batsu penalties added to my negative score but managed to come top of the third game to claw back some ground.

Dr M jr had been expecting a friend of his, a fellow doctor, to join us, but as he hadn't yet appeared we began the fourth. Dr M jr won quite a big hand as
Oya at the expense of Mrs M. Just as the score sticks were changing hands the expected guest arrived. There then arose a somewhat heated debate (well, "heated" by Japanese standards, anyway), as to whether or not the game should be abandoned and a new one started with the doctor taking Mrs M's place. It was eventually agreed that the visiting doctor would take over Mrs M's debt and so he took his place at the table and Mrs M retired.

The visiting doctor enquired about which mahjong conventions were in play and indulged in some self-depreciatory
hikaeme, telling us how long ago it had been since he had played, and gave all the appearance of merely bumbling along. Of course, a few tiles later he had completed a nice little hand! The pace of play picked up considerably after that and the visiting doctor went on to win the game!

It appears that the inverse correllation hypothesis may be a cross cultural phenomenon: the more humble and bumbling a Japanese player appears at the outset, the greater his victory is likely to be!

Hopefully, we will be seeing more of the visiting doctor in upcoming games.

David Hurley

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Some Questions About Play

Neil Pallavar writes in from America to ask a few questions:

Hey David,

I've got some questions I'm wondering if you
could ask somebody regarding

1. Let's say I've got a hand with both
coins and bamboo and there's no
yaku in it to
possibly finish with. It's nearing the end
of the wall so
the game is almost over. If I
pon a pair in order to make myself one
away from winning, am I really Tenpai even
though I have no yaku to
finish with and
can't reach either now that I've opened my
hand? When the
game ends can I flip my hand
over and claim I'm Tenpai (thus avoiding

paying the 1000 or 1500 penalty of not being
Tenpai to those players that

2. Sanankoh - I thought this hand only
counted when the entire hand was
hidden, not
just the three sets involved in Sanankoh. I
could pon a
dragon and still have Sanankoh
present in my now open hand then?

3. If you have two hidden kans (two Ankans)
do you get two yaku or is it
still just
worth one?

4. (This just happened the other day,
thankfully she didn't win or else I
scored it wrong). If somebody gets three
hidden kans, then they
would have ankan (1)
+ sanankoh(2) + sankantsu (2) as well as
else, correct?

5. I've read a couple of different rules on
this one. If somebody gets 4
kans it's
considered top hand even if the remaining
two tiles aren't a
pair. Is that correct /
how you play? I've also played where 4 kans
the limit and stops the game if it's
shared between 2 players (i.e. player
1 gets 3 kans, player number 2 makes the
fourth, the game is over
no matter what due
to 4 kans being made between two different
players). Is
this how you play as well?


The group I've got started here is 5 strong.
Hopefully we'll play once
a week as well and
I'll get a blog up and running with scores.
- Pallaver

1. No, you can't claim Tenpai because you can't legally go

2. As long as you have 3 x 3-of-a-kind in the hidden part of
your hand you
can claim Sanankoh, even if the fourth set
of three is open.

You could complete
Sanankoh by going Tsumo, or you
could already have it and be waiting for
the second head
tile - a "Tanki" wait.

3. One or two hidden Kan are not Yaku - for each hidden
you turn over
one tile in the wall. If you go out on Kan
you get one bonus Yaku in the
scoring, just one irrespective
of whether you have one or two Kan in your hand.
It is "the
action of going out on a Kan" that is scored.

4. If all three Kan are hidden, score for Sanankoh and
so a total of four Yaku. Having a hidden Kan is
not in itself a Yaku, so you'd only count one extra if the player
went out on Kan.

5. Suukantsu is complete as soon as the fourth Kan is made
even if the hand
lacks a head. We would not stop the game on
the completion of the hand,

DH & Noda.

David Hurley
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Friday 13th April: The Night of Horsa

Jaime sent in this report from the frontline:

Once Noda-san and David had departed, both modestly in the black, Kenyon, Hide and Jaime remained to play a further 3 more games before and ever-impatient mama shooed them out.

For the second successive week, one man bore the brunt of the assault, and like his compatriot last week he was to end the night peering from the bottom of a very big hole.

The night’s brilliance was to come from Jaime, who in one game (in the space of 4 hands) managed 2 kokoushimasou, one from each of the other 2 players. On the first occasion only 7 discards were in evidence before he swooped to extinguish Hide’s oya with a ron of the White Dragon.

Now there is an old saying about lightening not striking twice in the same place. Kenyon, oblivious to both Jaime’s wait and Anglo-Saxon mythology*, deeming the White Dragon redundant was penalised by exactly the same Kokoushimasou wait as before. The penultimate game of the night also saw Jaime victorious and Hide climb a ledge or two from the pit’s bottom, but its most memorial feature was the chombo committed by Kenyon. He had managed to muster 14 tiles, which is great when you declare tsumo, but not so useful when your in the middle of a hand. Although to be fair, I don’t think anyone has yet to match Jaime’s feat of gathering 15 tiles at one time…. As is always the way, the final game resulted in Jaime slipping from his lofty heights and getting a bit burnt as Kenyon went on a bit of a last game charge. Hide finished not only down for the night, but had also managed to replace his brother as the poor man of the Hiroshima Cock-Eyed MJ Table (sponsored by e.on)! Jaime continued his inevitable short-lived lead at the top, whilst the others also moved upwards. Kenyon claims his MJ participation will be curtailed by such bothersome annoyances as his job (and living in Mihara, which if you have seen the movie “Deliverance”, then you’ll get my drift…). We shall see if he hath spoke the truth.

The final score after eight games was:

Jaime +1, -49, +28,* -16, +41, +96, +27, -59 = +69
Kenyon -44, -5, +58, -11, -15, -14, -37,** +101 = +33
Noda +6, +62, -37, --, --, --, --, -- = +31
David +37, -8, -49, +31, --, --, --, -- = +11
Hide --, --, --, -4, -26, -82, +10, -42 = -144

* Two Kokushimusou hands in one game.
** Fourteen tile Chombo.

The result sees Noda move two places off the bottom of the table and strengthens the position of all the foreigners.

*In English chronicles the Anglos-Saxons, led by the brothers Horsa and Hengest brought the symbol of the White Dragon to Briton. Over time, this pure white dragon has become representative of England. Jaime is from England. He achieved 2 Kokoushimasou’s with the White Dragon. You see the obvious connection! Oh alright then, I was just trying to show of my Middle-School History education!


David Hurley


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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Friday 6th March: Gialliorossi Noda - by Jaime

"An epic MJ night started at 7pm and finished at 2:45am after some amazing games... Noda as Oya went out on Kokushimusou from Jaime's discard, winning 51,000 points off him in the 1st game.

"The third game of the night lasted for 2hrs 16mins and Noda finished totally out, not wining for 21 hands in succession...

"Both Ray and Jaime just had unbelievable runs as Oya, although Kenyon's late run almost snatched top spot... "

Thus spake the early reports of last Friday's mahjong game, played by Noda, Jaime, Ray and Kenyon... It was clear that Noda had been routed and rumours that Noda had hit the bottom of the Grand Accumulated Results Table proved to be not unfounded, as the score sheet attested when it landed in my inbox:

Jaime -69, +31, +72, +30, +4, +81, +2 = +151
Ray +53, +6, +35, -1, -26, -51, +22 = +38
Ken --, --, +42 , -29, +22, -30, -24 = -19
Noda +16, -37, -149, --, --, --, -- = -170

I suspect that the full report was delayed by the devotions of the writer to a certain
English football team which pulled off a remarkable 7-1 victory over Roma in the Champions League on Tuesday.

One of the goals was scored by Alan Smith, born and bred in Leeds and formerly a Leeds United player. He has recently recovered his place in the other team after breaking his leg in February 2006. Here are a couple of pics of Alan Smith. The one on the left shows him shortly after breaking into Leeds United's first team at the age of seventeen in 1998.

The one on the right shows one of the reasons why the mahjong report got delayed!

Jaime's Post-Match Report

"Those of us who worship at the altar of Old Trafford had a good week, a rather good week. For one particular United devotee it began with a Roma like crushing of Noda-san at Kodama’s Mahjong Coliseum.

"To be fair, it really didn’t start very well; indeed Jaime couldn’t have had any worse starts, a ron by the oya (Noda!) for Kokoushimasou on a carelessly discarded 9 of coins. So, just like United in Rome a week ago, when Scholes was sent off and United went behind, all in the 1st half, a recovery was needed. To end up -69 after just the 1st game of the night was sobering stuff, but unlike the Roman police baton charging was not on hand.

"From somber beginnings the night unraveled that lead to a sumptuous victory that caused bewilderment and cries of mercy to be whimpered from one player’s seat. Noda’s night that had almost reached out and touched the stars in the 1st game descended to an anguished and destructive defeat. The old Emperor departed the mahjong table like the French retreat at Agincourt, the Austrians at Karansebes and the Romans from Old Trafford.

"Noda’s final act before leaving was to unfolded 5 crisp 1000yen notes, placed them unsteadily on the table and shaking his head in incredulity, wearily left the jansou. The scene was to be repeated not more than four days later when Totti (“The Camel”) wore the same disbelieving expression as the roars of the Faithful boomed in his ears and the scoreboard mocked his pre-game prediction. United, like Jaime had triumphed unbelievably, majestically and deservedly… well Jaime owed his more to luck, United’s didn’t.

"The 3rd game of the night was the real battle royal; Noda at one point owed Ray 70,000 pts, Kenyon 30,000 pts and was also sporting an empty tray! -149. Jaime racked up 8 tenbo’s as Oya and then immediately Ray followed on by piling up 5 more. Noda really did take the brunt of brutal attacks, achieving no luck whatsoever and managing at will to locate the most dangerous tile and receive expensive punishment.

"If Jaime was the big winner of the night, Ray also left with some money jangling in his pocket. A more topsy-turvy night’s play was highlighted by his strong start in the opening 3 games which left him +93. A few knocks in the following games left him on a respectable +38 for the evening.

"Kenyon enjoyed a similar evening to Ray, one in which wins and losses cancelled themselves out. His highlight was most likely sitting out when Jaime went on his Oya charge and peeking at Noda’s hand while time and again the executioners hand thundered down to ron Noda.

"A fascinating and enjoyable night (well for the gaijins) ended with many enjoyable moments, but probably none more than the incredible 21 consecutive hands that Noda managed without a single victory. AS Roma can empathise."


David Hurley

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Friday, April 06, 2007

A Letter From America!

I received the following message from one of the few other gaijin 3pmj players in Japan, someone who picked up the game in Okayama. We had plans to get together and play some games but they never came to fruition... Over to Neil P:

Hey David,

Don't know if you remember me - was the guy in Okayama who played 3PMJ as

I'm back in the states working for a Japanese Automotive company, so get
to play a little bit of Mahjong but they all play 4 player (much less
exciting, tougher to get high scoring hands). Regardless, I've still
managed to do pretty well for the "gaijin" in the group, but am attempting
to teach friends 3 player to really get the action rolling.

Looks like you guys are still going strong. I'm envious and hope to
eventually come and play a couple of rounds :)

Since, Neil

Thanks Neil, good to hear from you. Good luck with the 3-player game against Japanese ("gaijin"??) opposition in America!

David Hurley
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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Friday 6th March: Woodblock Prints, Newspapers and Mahjong...

I arrived in town on Friday afternoon with a list of stuff to do, but I was thwarted by the disappearance of one of the places I had intended to visit. Places come and go at the drop of a hat in Japan. You only tend to notice the existence of a place you are not in the habit of frequenting when you are confronted by a yawning gap where whatever it was had once stood. Nobody can ever remember what it was that once occupied the yawning gap. Places that you are familiar with shock you by their sudden unannounced disappearance and the shop that had been there yesterday was not there today - the building was, it had not been demolished, but the shutters were down and notices were pasted up announcing that the shop had moved.

Anyway, I diverted my steps and my bulging wallet to towards another place and relieved the proprietor of a woodblock print by the Japanese artist Ooso Yoshitoshi. I had become quite familiar with it over time and intended to buy it one day when I got around to it... I quite expected it to disappear before that moment arrived, but suddenly, on Friday, the moment of decision was upon me!

The rigmarole that accompanied the purchase, the getting of the picture lowered from the high place where it hung, the search for something to wrap it in, the attempt to make a facsimile copy of some pages of a Japanese encyclopedia of art about the artist's career, the background detail that the proprieter supplied, all this served to put off my arrival at Bizenya for a bowl of yasai ramen prior to the evening's mahjong.

Not a lot is available online about Yoshitoshi Ooso - until you realize that his name could also be read Taiso; it appears that the seller had misread his name. Nothing touching Japanese culture is ever straightforward. Ooso - I mean Taiso - Yoshitoshi is listed in wikipedia as Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892). He is famous as an artist of the ghostly and the sinister, the violent and the wierd and as
the last great master - one of the great innovative and creative geniuses - of the Japanese woodblock print.

Check out this Japanese Wikipedia page and you will see what I mean about "the violent and the wierd"...

In the 1870s Yoshitoshi worked for the Houchi Shinbun and it was for a special edition of that newspaper that he is said to have produced this scene of an "incident" in a cemetery.

Armed with my loot I hotfooted it up to Bizenya for that bowl of noodles and then headed off to Kodama mahjong parlour.

I later discovered that the Houchi Shinbun, later the Yomiyuri Shinbun, was famous for establishing the rules of Japanese "Riichi Mahjong" at the beginning of the great Postwar Mahjong Boom, in 1952 to be precise.

Mahjong had declined in Japan during the war but it seems that the demobbed soldiers of the Kwantun Army revived it on their return to Japan and also introduced the Riichi and Dora rules to Japan.
It was in these circumstances that Amano Daizo* announced in the Houchi Shinbun the commencement of the Japanese Riichi Rule - the "Houchi Rules."
Maajan no Rekishi
*Author of Riichi Majan Shirizu, 1968.

Jaime arrived five minutes after Kenyon and I and chose to sit to Kenyon's right, opposite me. It was a well considered move as Noda-san arrived in time to slot himself into the fourth seat while David was still starting Oya. That meant that Jaime would be sitting out of the game while Noda was Oya...

However, Noda did not perform so well in the first game and even suffered the indignity of paying out a on a Double Ron when Kenyon was Oya. It was not one of the higher paying games, however, and Noda ended up bottom on just -15, with David on -13 and Kenyon on -6, but it all added up nicely for Jaime.

In the second game, however, Jaime's wise seating arrangement became apparent as Noda went on one of his seemingly inevitable winning runs while David sank, his tray rapidly emptying before a wave of utterly dud hands. I mean, how can one do anything with a mixed hand with three 9-Coins stuck on the end of it when Noda is on a Ryanshi charge?? Jaime had taken up residence behind Noda and David for the duration of Noda's Oya-ship and was able to shake his head in disbelief at the pictures he was looking at in Mama's supply of magazines, but more especially at the way Noda could conjure tiles out of thin air, usually on one-tile Chitoi waits. And Jaime could only shake his head in commiseration as David drew dud tile after dud tile from the wall. Note: not all the tiles were exactly dud, some were plainly malevolent. Given a choice of tiles to throw, David would seek to get rid of one of an unpromising (and relatively safe to discard) 1-2 Bamboo combination only to draw the 3-Bamboo and add it to the remaining tile of a now broken combination...

Not even a spectacular Chombo on Noda's part could stop him. Noda was Oya (actually, Noda was Oya for most of the second game, it seemed) when he realized, after claiming an open meld on the East Wind, that he was short of a tile. Usually, a player who is short of a tile is not subject to a fine. The hand is played out but he is unable to go out. Noda, however, in a fit of frustration, tossed his remaining nine tiles into the wall of tiles and scattered the whole lot over the table, effectively bringing the hand to an end and conceding a Chombo!

By the end of the second hand David and Kenyon, both playing against Noda-as-Oya were in the red, Jaime finished on +16 and Noda finished on +81.

By now Hide-san had joined us and he took the baton from Noda and ran with it. This time it was Noda and David (again) who suffered the long reign of the Oya. Jaime, as second placed player in the second game, sat out the third to avoid the dreaded five-player seat hopping scenario. That put Kenyon in the nice position of not being in one of the hot seats, as Hide took Jaime's place to Kenyon's right. David's fortunes continued to founder and he pretty much gave up believing that he could complete a hand ever again. Hide got to Ryanshi and David fiddled around, and then discovered, almost by accident, that he was Tempai on a middle-tile 6-Bamboo Iipeiko wait. Having missed it first time round, he declared Riichi to qualify his hand for Ryanshi and glumly awaited developments while Jaime declared that he would get it and Kenyon that he wouldn't. Mind you, David's discard row favoured his getting it as it had 3-Bamboo and 9-Bamboo in it. Eventually Hide threw the 6-Bamboo and David managed a very mild recovery from deep-in-the-red to less-deep-in-the-red...

Kenyon, meanwhile, finished positive on Hide's coat tails. Noda gave back to the table a large chunk of the previous games winnings, but finished positive, while David had lost enough to fall three-figures into the red...

By now David's head was pounding under the weight of Noda and Hide's assault and Kenyon's unrelenting commentary (and remarkably penetrating cough, which Mama had attempted to abate by placing a saucer of cough sweets on Kenyon's table, most of which were swallowed - or dropped - by the solace-seeking Poor Little Cypriot).

Despite being heard on several occasions to mutter, "I'm definitely catching the tram home tonight," David was almost tempted to stay on for a fourth game... but then took up Noda's offer of a lift to Nishi-Hiroshima and the tram. Under trying circumstances, cut your losses and run for the tram!

Mind you, with Lent being more closely observed tonight Mama's bill did not come to much and the payout has been know to be worse, and the tram home saved the taxi fare, so all in all it was not a bad retreat despite the loss of the top spot to the elusive Tsuyoshi.

Kenyon's hopes of chasing that top spot went into reverse gear as he found himself back in the red. Meanwhile Noda continues to rise from the bottom like a trout that has spotted a particularly tasty Mayfly - if I may adopt the register prophetical. Jaime, meanwhile, has got himself within one point of where he started the year!

That was, I should add, after the three batchelors had played out another game. Jaime once again chalked up a moderate double figure victory as the only winner and the cumulative result of moderate victories was a very healthy +82 finish. Hide's final score of +66 saw him get off the bottom of the table, leapfrogging his younger brother, and getting into negative double rather than triple figures... Thus the table has tightened up somewhat as Easter and the second quarter approaches...

Jaime +34, +16, --, +32 = +82
Hide --, --, +73, -7 = +66
Noda -15, +81,* -47, = +19
Kenyon -6, -26, +5, -25 = -52
David -13, -71, -31, -- = -115

Good luck to you, Kenyon, in your new job! We wonder whether it really will keep you from the mahjong table Friday evenings...!

David Hurley

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