By Tom Sloper

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Column #46

Japanese (riichi/dora). Building a hand is easy. Defending, though, is an art. In the modern Japanese game, players usually start off picking and discarding very fast, and as the wall shortens, the play slows down as defensive play kicks in.

Etsuko quickly looked at her tiles to pick out what her first discard would be.

The usual hand in the Japanese game is all chows, all simples, made by "reach" (Japanese: "riichi"). So she made a very ordinary opening move, discarding W. As the game progressed, her hand took shape, but she deemed it unlikely to net her a win. Still, ya gotta try. Right?

Into the third row of discards, Shigeru declared reach on a 1D discard. He was showing lots of dots and craks. When it was Etsuko's turn, she picked 6D. Trying to balance between the natural desire to make a hand if at all possible and the need to avoid throwing the win, she engaged in what the Japanese call "reading the river." She studied the opponent's discards.

It would be very dangerous to throw a bam (Shigeru was probably waiting for one). Ordinarily, Etsuko would think it okay to throw the 9D, but that was raw. Shigeru had thrown 6D recently, so 6D was better to discard.

Noriko threw G, and Etsuko picked its twin. Safe to throw it, so she did.

Draw game. Only Shigeru was "tenpai" (waiting for mah-jongg) - he'd needed 8B for a cheap hand.

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Some fun links about Japanese-style mah-jongg.

Copyright 2003 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.