Thursday, 12 January 2017

January's Meeting Schedule

Saturday, January 21: 3 PM - 7 PM, room 433
Saturday, January 28: 3:30 PM - 7 PM, room 403

Given enough demand, we will add meetings on Tuesdays in the future.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Simple Variants of Riichi Mahjong

Sometimes it's just not possible to get four players together for a game of mahjong, or perhaps you have six or seven people, and it's inevitable that some will be left out of a game. Fortunately, there are some simple (yet deep in strategy) variants of Japanese Riichi style mahjong to consider at those times.

Aside from sanma, all of these variants were invented by the great mahjong manga author Nobuyuki Fukumoto


Sanma, read 三麻 and meaning 'three mah(jong)', is the traditional 3-player variant of Japanese Riichi style mahjong. The rules for it are fairly straightforward, and have already been covered on this blog.


Minefield Mahjong was invented for the third series of Fukumoto's gambling manga Kaiji. This two-player variant is designed to test your luck and instinct, allowing you to experiment with different waits and to avoid dealing in to an opponent's riichi. The game gets its name from the premise that the players are both walking across a minefield that is 17 paces long (from the maximum of 17 discards in each round), and that discarding an opponent's winning tile represents stepping on a landmine and suffering the consequences.

The full rules for Minefield Mahjong can be found here on this blog.


Tenpai Race appeared in the manga Ten: Nice Guy on the Path of Tenhou. Quite possibly the definitive test for reading your opponent's waits and the progress of his hand, this style of mahjong is based around making tough choices between building a fast hand, building a valuable hand, and building a hand with a subtle wait. In addition, it tests a player's logic to use the opponent's discards, open sets, and worthless draws in addition with your own tiles and previous guesses to try and uncover their winning tile before they draw it.

The full rules for Tenpai Race can be found here on this blog.


Also appearing in Ten: Nice Guy on the Path of Tenhou, this style of mahjong is much more simple to understand than the others, though requires four players. It is identical to regular Japanese Riichi style mahjong except for four main differences:
  • No repeat counters are ever added to the table (though the dealer can keep his position as in usual Japanese Riichi style mahjong), and players do not have to bet 1000 points to declare riichi.
  • If you win with a hand that scores below a mangan (i.e., less than five han, or less than 4 han and 40 fu, or less than 3 han and 70 fu), no points are exchanged. The win is still valid and the winds shift as usual: The only change is the omission of exchanging points.
  • If the south round ends, the game enters another east round. The two rounds continue to cycle until a player has 0 points or fewer.
  • If you win with a hand that scores mangan or higher, the other player(s) lose points as usual, but you do not gain any of those points: They are simply removed from the game (i.e., it is impossible to ever regain any points that you lose).
By convention, 'Pool of Dreams' and 'Gift of Man' cannot be scored.

Once a player reaches 0 points, the game ends and whichever player still has the most points is the winner.

In Ten: Nice Guy on the Path of Tenhou, the game was played in a tag-team system, where after every ten discards, a player would sub out with his partner. Players could not discuss strategy or their hands with their partner, and of course you were forbidden from looking at other players' hands even when you weren't the one currently at the table. Each individual player had their own score, and only people currently sitting at the table could lose points. In this variant, the game wouldn't end until 5 people have reached 0 points in total.


Once more, this mahjong variant is from Ten: Nice Guy on the Path of Tenhou (there's a reason it's quite possibly Fukumoto's most famous work!). Designed to be played in two teams of two with one team starting in the east and north seats, and the other starting in the south and west seats, this game is identical to regular Japanese Riichi style mahjong with only the following changes:
  • If the south round ends, the game enters another east round. The two rounds continue to cycle until a player has 0 points or fewer, or until the five 'conditions' have been met by either team.
  • If a player wins with a hand that scores any of the following five yaku, that 'condition' is considered to have been met by their team:
    • Large Straight
    • Three Colors, One Chii
    • All With Orphans
    • Three Concealed Pons
    • Seven Pairs
  •  A hand that scores All With Terminals or Four Concealed Pons does not count as clearing a 'condition'.
If any player has fewer than 0 points at any time, the other team wins. Alternatively, if either team manages to complete all five 'conditions', their team wins. This makes a dichotomy where a player may forgo aiming for a bigger hand or accepting a win with a smaller hand if it allows them to clear another 'condition'.

And if one team completes all five 'conditions' but causes their teammate to lose all of his points in the process, precedent is to decide the winner through a nice game of Tenpai Race.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

April MSMC 2016 Tournament

It's that time of year again: The McGill Students' Mahjong Club is holding our annual mahjong tournament! Registration is 100% free, and you could win small prizes if you make it to the top, so why not spend a day having fun and playing mahjong with us! Whether you're a beginner or an expert, please stop by to have some fun!

The tournament is scheduled for 2:00 PM in the SSMU Blue Room (room 403). We have the room booked until 9:00 PM, but the tournament may end sooner depending on how many entrants we get.


  • The tournament is free to enter for any interested people.
  • The amount of rounds we play will depend on how many people attend.
    • We will use the standard Japanese Riichi rules of the MSMC. (Check the links in the sidebar for a list of riichi rules if needed)
  • Please clearly vocalize all calls. The terms you use should be clear and consistent (Chow/Chi, Pung/Pon, Gong/Kan, Win/Mahjong/Ron/Tsumo)
  • Do not stall for longer than necessary. Excessively slowing down the game may be penalized.
  • Do not take any tiles from the wall before the previous player has finished discarding. Drawing out of turn may be penalized, even if you do not look at the tile's face.
  • Give other players enough time to call on discards. Do not play excessively fast for the purpose of making other players miss their opportunities to call on discards.
  • You may take back any call until you have discarded a tile or revealed any tiles from your hand to accept the called tile.
    • If you accidentally make an invalid call (e.g., a player discards a 2 dots and you reveal a 3-5 dots and declare 'chii'), you may correct that call if possible before you discard (e.g., putting the 5 dots back into your hand and revealing a 4 dots instead). If you discard a tile first, or do not have the tiles in your hand to correct that call, your hand is dead.
  • Once a discard hits the table, you may not take it back and discard a different tile instead. Your turn ends as soon as the tile is discarded.
  • The responsibility rule is enabled for the following yakuman: Big Three Dragons, Big Four Winds, All Honors, All Terminals, Perfect Green, and Four Kans.
  • No red fives will be used.
  • You may not make an open pon and discard the fourth copy of that tile in the same turn, nor can you make an open chii and discard a copy of that called tile in the same turn, nor can you discard any other tile that would complete that chii in the same turn (e.g., if a player discards a 2-dots, you cannot take it to make a 2-3-4 dots and then discard either a 2-dots or a 5-dots in the same turn). This is called kuikae, and is disallowed.
  • If two players declare a win off of the same tile, turn order takes priority.
  • If the game ends in an exhaustive draw, any riichi bets still on the table go to whoever is in first place.
  • A player's wall is inviolable. Aside from when drawing a tile (or flipping over the under dora if you won after declaring riichi), there is no reason to ever touch another player's wall without his or her permission.
  • Except when declaring tsumo, ron, or tenpai at the end of the round, do not reveal your hand or give information about it at any time. Your score can be penalized if you reveal your hand after another player declares ron or tsumo, or if you tell people what tiles you were waiting on, how close you were to a yakuman, etc.
  • Do not look through the wall or dead wall after a hand, and do not check the under dora unless you won after declaring riichi.


(The following plans are subject to change as needed)

If we have four entrants, we will skip directly to the finals.

If we have five or six entrants, we will host two consecutive games tabled by random draws. Whoever comes in first (or second, with six entrants) in the first game advances to the finals. Whoever comes in first or second (or third, with five entrants) in the second game also advances to the finals.

If we have seven or eight players, each table will play two consecutive games. Whichever two players from each table have the highest combined final score from their games will enter the finals. A table of three players will be joined by the tournament organizer (who cannot enter the finals, and is only playing to fill in the numbers).

If we have more than eight players, we will determine finalists in another way, to be discussed.

The finals will consist of two (or three, if we had five or fewer total entrants) consecutive games among the four finalists. Placement of the finalists will entirely be determined by their final score after the two (or three) final games.


At the end of each hand, all players subtract 30,000 from their total score. The player in first place adds 20,000 to his score. All players then divide their score by 1000 (rounding up to the nearest thousand if their score is negative, and rounding down if their score is positive).
A placement bonus then happens: Whoever's score is the highest adds 20 to his score. Whoever's score is second adds 10. Third subtracts 10, and fourth subtracts 20. (If there are any ties, the original dealer's score is considered to be higher than anyone he ties with, then the original South, then West, and the original North player loses all ties).
If the scores do not perfectly add up to 0, adjust the first place's score so that they do.

The current total is added to each player's 'final score'. In this way, a player who doesn't get a lot of points but is able to frequently take second place may have a higher final score than a player who wins an incredible amount of points one round but busts out early in another round.

When the finals begin, each finalists 'final score' is reset to 0. At the end of the final rounds, whoever has the highest final score is the tournament winner!


Please check our standard riichi scoring list for an explanation of how scoring is done. The following changes to scoring are in effect for the tournament:
  • The Eight Dealer Keeps limit hand cannot be scored.
  • The Gift of Man low-limit hand cannot be scored.
  • The Chariot limit hand cannot be scored.



The following penalties happen whenever the game is forced into an state from which it cannot be recovered. If the dealer is penalized, she must pay 4000 points to all other players.
If a non-dealer is penalized, she must pay 4000 points to the dealer and 2000 points to the other two players.
If a chombo and win happen at the same time (including a Pool of Dreams), the win takes priority and the chombo is ignored.
When a chombo occurs, the seat winds do not change, but no repeat counter is added to the table. Any riichi bets that were placed on the table during that hand are returned to their owners, but any riichi bets that were already on the table from previous hands remain there.
  • Revealing enough tiles from the wall that the game cannot fairly continue, or that the wall cannot surely be restored (up to the discretion of the tournament organizer).
  • Revealing any amount of tiles from another player's hand.
  • Declaring a win when you have no yaku, or when you do not have a legal hand. If you do not reveal your hand, this is not considered a chombo, but is instead considered a dead hand.
  • Declaring a ron while you are in furiten. If you do not reveal your hand, this is not considered a chombo, but is instead considered a dead hand.
  • Declaring riichi when you are not in tenpai. This chombo only happens if the hand ends in a draw.
  • Making an invalid kan after declaring riichi. This chombo only happens if the hand ends in a draw.

The following penalty happens when one player makes a small error that makes it impossible for her to have a winning hand. A player with a dead hand may not declare riichi, pon, chii, kan, ron, or tsumo. She must simply draw and discard every turn, hoping not to feed another player. If the hand ends in an exhaustive draw, a player with a dead hand is never considered tenpai and cannot earn a Pool of Dreams.
  • Having the wrong amount of tiles in your hand.
  • Making an open meld, and not taking the tile from your opponent's pond within two discards.
  • Making an invalid call. For example, revealing a pair of 3-dots and declaring 'pon' when an opponent discards a 5-dots. If you correct this error before discarding a tile, your hand is not dead.
  • Declaring ron or tsumo in error, but neglecting to reveal your tiles. If you do reveal your hand, this becomes a chombo instead of a dead hand.

The following penalties do not affect your in-game score, but instead deduct points from your final score (a total of points earned from all games in the tournament). Unlike chombos, no one else at the tournament gains points when you are penalized in this way. All score penalties are ultimately up to the sole discretion of the tournament organizer.
  • If you accidentally drop a tile onto the floor, there is a penalty of 2 points to your score for every tile you drop.
  • If you arrive late or must leave before the end of the tournament, there may or may not be a penalty to your score, depending on the amount of players we have.
  • If you discuss the state of the game, there is a penalty of up to 10 points to your score depending on the severity and context. This is because your words may disadvantage another player by drawing attention to them or to their hand.
    • Examples of allowed discussion:
      • "You're supposed to draw from this point here" (as a player draws the wrong tile from the wall)
      • "Don't forget to take that tile" (as a player makes an open meld but doesn't take the appropriate tile from his opponent's pond)
      • "Hey, that's the wrong tile" (as a player reveals an invalid meld)
      • "You have too many tiles in your hand"
    • Examples of penalized discussion:
      • "Don't discard anymore honors!" (as a player has three open melds of honor tiles)
      • "He's close to a Pool of Dreams!"
      • "Orphans aren't dead, be careful"
      • "Do you have All with Terminals or Three Colors, One Chii?" (thinking aloud about another player's yaku)
  • If you reveal your hand except when required to (declaring ron, tsumo, or tenpai during an exhaustive draw), or tell people about your hand or its waits, there may be a penalty of up to 5 points to your score (up to the discretion of the tournament organizer).
  • If you look at tiles from the wall at the end of a hand (whether you're checking the wall, dead wall, or under dora), there will be a penalty of 2 points to your score for every tile you reveal.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Sanma: Japanese Riichi 3-Player Variant

Often, it happens that only three people are available to play. Fortunately, there is a variant of Japanese Riichi style designed for three players. Here are how the rules differ from the regular Japanese Riichi rules:

  • All of the character tiles are taken out, except for the 1-characters and 9-characters. This means All Terminals and Thirteen Orphans can still be scored.
  • All of the yaku from regular Japanese Riichi style rules are still included, except for 'Three Colors, One Chii', which is impossible to score due to the missing characters tiles.
  • The three players each build a wall 18 tiles long and 2 tiles high.
  • After dealing the opening hands and separating the dead wall, flip over the fifth tile from the left of the dead wall instead of the third: This is your dora indicator tile.
  • No player is the North Seat: They simply rotate between East, South, and West.
  • Each player starts with 35000 points. The West Round is never played.
  • Any turn after drawing, if a player has a north wind in his hand, he make declare 'north' and meld it as if it were a flower, drawing a replacement tile from the dead wall. This is called a 'north dora' and is worth 1 fan, but does not contribute to the 1 yaku minimum needed to win.
    • Doing this does not open your hand if you were already concealed.
    • You may meld a north wind that you draw after declaring riichi.
    • If a player is waiting on a north wind, he may declare a win off of a player melding a north dora. This does not earn you the 'Rob a Gong' yaku.
    • If the dora indicator is a west wind, every north dora is worth 2 fan instead of 1.
    • If a player melds a north dora while another player has just declared Riichi, that player may no longer earn One-Shot.
    • If you draw your winning tile after melding a north dora, you earn the 'Win off of a Replacement Tile' yaku.
  • There is no abortive draw for "Four Players Riichi" or for "Same Four Winds", because there are only three players.
  • You may not make any open chiis, except to declare a win. You may still make closed chiis, or open pungs and gongs.
  • The same score table from regular Japanese Riichi style rules. This means that winning by tsumo is worth fewer points than winning by ron.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

A Quick Look at Mahjong around the World: Vietnamese Mahjong

Vietnamese Mahjong definitely beats out any other style for the greatest tile count. Even American Mahjong can't compare to its massive tile count: 160 for classical sets, and 176 for more modern versions. In order to reach this ungodly amount of tiles, the Vietnamese have included significantly more bonus tiles and Jokers than any other style!

In addition to the four flowers and four seasons, there are eight special bonus tiles that were apparently once called 'fairies', but are usually translated as 'kings' and 'queens' now. Much like how there is essentially no difference between flowers and seasons in Hong Kong Old Style mahjong, the kings, queens, flowers, and seasons are almost interchangeable in Vietnamese Mahjong.
The four kings (top) and four queens (bottom). The character on the kings means 'emperor' and on the queens means 'empress'. Image taken from
So from the 16 bonus tiles, along with the regular 28 honor tiles and 108 suited tiles, we have a total of 152 tiles. The other 8 (or 24 for modern sets) all come from special Joker tiles!

Unlike in American Mahjong, where a Joker can replace any tile in a meld, the Joker tiles in Vietnamese Mahjong have very specific purposes! Also, just like how flowers and seasons are treated as separate groups for the purposes of scoring, the eight Joker tiles are separated into two groups of four. There are four Blue Jokers as follows:
  • The Emperor Joker can be used in place of any other tile, including a bonus tile.
  • The Dots Joker is treated as any dots tile.
  • The Bamboo Joker is treated as any bamboo tile.
  • The Characters Joker is treated as any characters tile.
And four Red Jokers:
  • The Suited Joker is treated as any dots, bamboo, or character tile (or bonus tile, according to some rules).
  • The Wind Joker is treated as any wind tile.
  • The Dragon Joker is treated as any dragon tile.
  • The Flower Joker is treated as any bonus tile (which would usually be your own, since that's the only one that gets you points).
Images of the eight Joker tiles in order. The characters read, in order: altogether, barrel (dots), woven thread (bamboo), ten-thousand (characters), combined, happiness, element (dragon), flower. Image taken from
In classical sets, one copy of each Joker is used. In modern Vietnamese Mahjong sets, three copies of each Joker are used. However, one copy of each Joker is drawn with a circle around the Chinese character on the tiles, one set is drawn with a rectangle around the character, and one with a diamond around the character.

  • No dead wall is used.
  • You must reveal and replace all bonus tiles dealt to you in your opening hand, just like in Hong Kong Old Style mahjong. However, flowers drawn during later turns can kept in the hand and discarded or claimed during any of your later turns.
    • If you discard a bonus tile (including the Flower Joker) while any other player is waiting, that player may treat your bonus tile as her winning tile, and win off of your discard.
  • When replacing bonus tiles during your opening hand, you may (but do not have to) reveal any Jokers in your hand and treat them as bonus tiles. During later turns, you may only treat the Emperor Joker and the Flower Joker as bonus tiles.
  • There is a huge bonus payable to a hand that wins without any Jokers, bonus tiles, or honor tiles called the 'No Flowers, No Leaves' hand. However, the rules around this hand seem to be incredibly complicated and obscure (you must not have any bonus tiles in your opening hand, you must immediately discard any bonus tiles you draw from then on without adding them to your hand, there are special bonuses for discarding all four Blue Jokers, or for discarding six bonus tiles...), so I cannot provide a full description of this hand.
  • Discarded tiles are thrown randomly into the discard pile, like in Hong Kong Old Style mahjong.
  • Discarded Joker tiles can be used to create open melds, or for another player to declare a win.
Unfortunately, the rules of this style seem to not be very easy to find on the internet, so I cannot provide a more detailed perspective on scoring than 'it seems to be identical to Chinese Classical scoring, except only the winner's hand is scored (in most rules, but the little information I can find on this is inconsistent)'. In addition, you also double the points your hand scores for every set on king tile and queen tile you have with a matching number (even if it does not correspond to your seat position).

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

A Quick Look at Mahjong around the World: Mahjong Competition Rules

China is the origin of the oldest styles of mahjong that exist, and also of the most recent notable variation. Mahjong Competition Rules, also known as Chinese Official or as Guobiao Mahjong was created by the Chinese government in 1998 in order to foster a more healthy and safe public perspective towards mahjong.

This game is notable for having one of the largest yaku count in all styles (with a total of 81 different yaku), as well as for having all official rules overseen by the China State Sports Commission (to clearly distinguish 'official' rules from 'house' rules, which almost no other mahjong style can do). Unfortunately, some of its rules are overly complicated and are still debated between official referees and between players, meaning that it inevitably requires casual players to come to agreements over particular rulings.
  • There are no dealer keeps in MCR. The game always lasts exactly 16 hands.
  • After the end of the south round but before the beginning of the west round, the seats are randomly changed.
  • No dead wall is used. A draw only occurs when the live wall runs out of tiles without any players declaring a win.
  • When a concealed gong is made, all four tiles are placed face-down with your open melds. They are not revealed until the end of the hand.
  • Discarded tiles are placed in ordered rows of six in front of each player, identically to Japanese Riichi mahjong's ponds. Despite there being no furiten rule, you are still required to rotate your claimed tiles in a manner identical to that of Japanese Riichi mahjong.
  • A Seven Pairs hand does not need to be made of seven distinct pairs. As long as you have not declared a concealed gong, you may treat four identical tiles as two separate pairs.
  • You do not need to reveal bonus tiles right away when you draw them. You may keep them in your hand to reveal at a later point, or discard them for a guaranteed safe turn (discarded bonus tiles may never be claimed by other players).
  • You may reveal a bonus tile or create a gong when there are no more tiles left in the wall. If you do so, the game ends in an exhaustive draw (but if you created a promoted gong, other players have a chance to rob the gong before the draw occurs).
  • No bonus exists for a Gift of Heaven, Gift of Earth, or Gift of Man.
  • Certain yaku can allow you to create 'knitted chows'. These involve having three consecutive tiles in three separate suits (such as a 1-bamboo, 2-dots, 3-characters). More specifically, hands that require knitted tiles require melds of 1-4-7 in one suit, 2-5-8 in a second suit, and 3-6-9 in the third suit.
    • Knitted chows are always scored as chows for the sake of making yaku, but are only permissible in hands that score the yaku Knitted Straight, Lesser Knitted Honors, or Greater Knitted Honors.
    • An open knitted chow is never permitted. You must self-pick all of the tiles to make the knitted chow, unless the tile needed to make the knitted chow is used to declare a win (Just like with the Thirteen Orphans hand, you are always permitted to win off of a discarded tile to make irregular hands).
  • As this is an official government sanctioned sport, the official rulebook includes formalities such as an obligation to bow to your opponents before starting the first hand, or a rule forbidding the naming of a tile as it is discarded. None of these rules are binding in casual games, of course.
    • To quote from the English translation of the official rulebook, "There should be a sign on the east wall, bearing the Chinese character "East"; on another wall, a sign bearing the Chinese character "Quiet" to remind everybody to keep the noise down; and on another wall, a sign bearing the Chinese character "Pin" to show to encouragement of moral merit." To my knowledge, very few casual MCR games include these signs.
    • Additionally, severe rule breaking is (according to the rules) to be followed by "severe criticism". I would assume many casual games follow this particular rule.
  • A player's hand must score at least 8 points in order to declare a win.
  • If you self-pick your win, all other players pay you the value of your hand, plus 8 additional points as a bonus for winning.
  • If you win off of a discarded tile, the player who discarded it pays you the value of your hand, plus 8 additional points as a bonus for winning. The other two players pay you simply 8 points.
  • There are five notable principles for scoring your hand in MCR.
    • The Non-Repeat Principle: If a single yaku inevitably implies a less valuable yaku (For example, a Seven Pairs hand will always be a Concealed Hand), only the more valuable yaku is scored: The implicit ones are ignored.
    • The Non-Separation Principle: Essentially, you must decide on one particular layout for your hand. You could not treat a 1-1-1-2-2-2-3-3-3 dots as both three pungs and three chows for the purposes of scoring: You must choose one or the other.
    • The Non-Identical Principle: Once a meld has been used with one other meld to create a yaku, it cannot be used with a second different meld to score the same yaku again (For example, if you have 1-2-3 dots, 1-2-3 dots, 4-5-6 dots, and 7-8-9 dots, you can only score Large Straight once. You cannot use both of your 1-2-3 dots to score two separate Large Straights).
    • The Freedom of Choice Principle: If you can use a meld to score one of two (or more) separate yaku, you're free to choose to score the more valuable yaku.
    • The Account-Once Principle: This principle is by far the most complicated. Once you have chosen the first yaku you wish to score that uses two or three melds (after scoring any yaku that relate to four melds, or the hand as a whole, such as All Pungs or Full Flush), any melds not used to score that yaku can only be used once for scoring other yaku. Here's an example to clarify this very confusing rule:
      • Your hand has a 1-2-3 dots, 4-5-6 bamboo, and 7-8-9 characters that you use to make a Large Mixed Straight yaku. If your remaining meld is a 7-8-9 bamboo, you can either make a Small Straight (with the 4-5-6 bamboo) or a Two Colors, One Chow (with the 7-8-9 characters), but you are not permitted to make both.
      • Additionally, the Account-Once Principle only relates to the elements of your melds, not whether or not they are concealed. Any yaku exclusively based on concealed melds (such as Concealed Gong or Two Concealed Pungs) ignore the Account-Once Principle.
  • If a player tries to declare a win with a hand that does not score at least 8 points, he instead must pay each other player 10 points, and may not declare a win for the remainder of the hand.
  • If a player tries to declare a win with a hand that does not meet the requirements for a winning hand (four melds and a pair, seven pairs, Thirteen Orphans, or knitted honors), he instead must pay each other player 20 points, and may not declare a win for the remainder of the hand.
    • Unlike most other rulesets in which doing so is considered bad etiquette, if you win off of another player's discarded tile, you are obligated to take that tile out of her pond and add it to your hand before scoring. Failure to do so is treated as a false declaration of win (and therefore subject to paying 20 points to each other player).
A full example of scoring, organized in the order of the yaku's value to help determine uses of the Non-Repeat Principle, can be seen here. Another full example of scoring, organized in categories similarly to all other scoring systems on this blog to help players determine what yaku their hands score, can be seen here.

Friday, 31 July 2015

A Quick Look at Mahjong around the World: Zung Jung

Mahjong is, of course, a game with a rich and varied history dating back over a hundred years. Zung Jung is not. Not at all. But it is still a wonderful game that is designed to be the most beginner-friendly form of mahjong!

Zung Jung was invented by Alan Kwan in 1997, and has since become big enough to be the style of choice for the World Series of Mahjong! They've hosted four Zung Jung tournaments (though under the name 'World Series of Mahjong' instead of 'Zung Jung', presumably for copyright reasons), in 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2013, and are going to be hosting another one this year in 2015! What's most notable about these tournaments are the high amounts of prize money you can earn! Though it costs approximately $1250 (USD) just to enter, the total prizes given away are one million American dollars! That's over 1.3 million Canadian dollars! And the first place winner takes home half of that, with the rest being split according to a particular algorithm between 2nd through 32nd position. That makes Zung Jung the mahjong style with the biggest potential pay-out, by far!

Zung Jung is apparently a Confucian doctrine that means 'the middle way', and Alan Kwan chose the name for his style of mahjong because it was designed to be a compromise between the mahjong styles with countless complicated yaku based on aesthetics (such as Mahjong Competition Rules or Hong Kong New Style), and the mahjong styles focused on simplicity and simply making the fastest reasonable win you can (such as Chinese Classical and Hong Kong Old Style). So let's see how it tries to accomplish this.

First of all, let's note that there is one major difference between Alan Kwan's Zung Jung, and World Series of Mahjong style rules (and this may be the only real difference between the two). Basic Zung Jung always allows chicken wins. As long as you have any four melds and a pair, you're permitted to declare a win worth one point on the virtue of winning before anyone else (this is because Zung Jung was designed to be easy for beginners to pick up and learn immediately; because Alan Kwan intentionally encourages players to create multiple open melds in his game, contrary to almost every other mahjong style where opening your hand is a bad strategy in general; and because he notes that players likely won't attempt chicken wins very often, since a single valuable hand can overturn multiple chicken wins). The World Series of Mahjong rules insist that you must have at least one yaku to declare a win (because they, probably correctly, realized that if one player gets ahead of the others, she can keep making fast, worthless hands before anyone else so that they can never catch up to her, which would positively ruin the tournament).

Unfortunately, for all of Zung Jung's successes, it has some significant flaws. Most notably, since this was a game designed for beginners to play and win, the vast majority of the game is dependent on luck: If a single player at the table is going for a chicken win, it becomes almost impossible to score any reasonable amount of points unless you aren't dealt an incredible opening hand.

But let's look at some of the design choices that went into the game to understand the successes in Alan Kwan's philosophy.
  • There are no dealer keeps, regardless of who wins or if the hand ends in a draw. Games are always 16 hands long (Though World Series of Mahjong games are 8 hands long instead, to better suit the tournament format).
  • There is no such thing as a 'round wind'. Only your seat wind is relevant for scoring.
  • A dead wall of 14 tiles is used.
  • No bonus tiles are used.
  • Discarded tiles are placed in ordered rows of six in front of each player, identically to Japanese Riichi mahjong's ponds. Despite there being no furiten rule, you are still required to rotate your claimed tiles in a manner identical to that of Japanese Riichi mahjong.
  • If you make a concealed gong, you reveal the middle two tiles so that the other players know which tile was used in the gong.
  • If you self-pick your win, everyone pays you the value of your hand.
  • If you win off of a player's discard and your hand was worth 25 points or fewer, everyone pays you the value of your hand.
  • If you win off of a discarded tile with a hand worth more than 25 points, multiply the value of your hand by three. The two other players who did not discard your winning tile pay you 25 points, and the player who did discard your winning tile pays you the remainder of this amount.
  • If Player A discards any of your winning tiles and you choose not to win off of it, and then Player B discards any of your winning tiles in the same turn (without you getting a chance to draw in between) and you declare a win, it is treated as a win off of Player A instead (but with the tile that Player B discarded, in case that makes your hand more or less valuable).
    • This also means if you discard a tile that you could use to win, and then win off of another player's discard in the same turn, it is treated as a win by self-pick with that tile.
  • If your hand uses two or more yaku to score over 320 points, it is treated as a hand worth 320 points (essentially, this is a counted limit hand in Zung Jung).
    • Alternatively, some yaku are inherently worth more than 320 points. If you can score more than 320 points with a single yaku, your hand scores whatever its most valuable yaku is worth. For example, if your hand was All Honors (worth 320 points) and Big Four Winds (worth 400 points), its total value would be 400 points.
  • Each category of scoring contains one or more series, and each series of scoring contains one or more yaku. You cannot score multiple yaku in the same series.
    • For example, under the category 'pungs and gongs', one series is explicitly defined as 'gongs'. If your hand has three gongs in it, it does not score the yaku 'One Gong' and 'Two Gongs' and 'Three Gongs': It only scores the most valuable yaku (which is Three Gongs).
  • A Seven Pairs hand does not need to be made of seven distinct pairs. As long as you have not declared a concealed gong, you may treat four identical tiles as two separate pairs.
A full example of scoring can be seen on this page.