Berries and Boss Fights in Bad Vöslau

Let us know if they are safe to eat If you’re a follower of our humble blog, you’d know that the Osamuko community has a solid and active European contingent, who frequently get together on the EMA tournament circuit. Indeed we’ve collected a rather respectable array of tournament wins and rankings, that I’ve often thought it would be nice, if a little show-offish, to have a page celebrating all the accomplishments and loot we’ve hauled back from our conquests. Earlier this week our motley crew headed to picturesque Austria to show them some of our own architecture, the magnificent pon palaces and chi castles that litter the little Tenhou lobby we call our own.

As expected, the journey was not without incident. Not long after setting off, our protagonist Sir Osamu himself ran into a bit of bother along the way. Through some unfortunate circumstances he found himself stranded in the middle of nowhere with no money, accommodation, food or transport. However such is the brotherhood of fellow mahjong players that a few phone calls were enough to secure everything he needed. We would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to those honorable gentlemen who graciously helped him out in his distress, or we would have no one to renew the domain. Those of us who didn’t attend the tournament had to content ourselves with following the progress of our friends through coverage provided by the esteemed However what caught my eye was not the coverage but this rather interesting piece.

At first glance, it seems amusingly ironic how the person who has benefited the most from poor players to rise to the top of the EMA rankings is complaining about the same. Well, I’m a bad player, and I’ve spent all my days playing bad players. Let me tell you about bad players. When we deal into a hand, we do not concern ourselves with which hand we are dealing in. We just want to get rid of our useless tiles. Even though it seems like we favour particular players, allow me to assure you that is not the case. We believe in equal opportunities, and all you need to do is seize that opportunity to chalk up another win. Mr C. has doubtless enjoyed a great amount of questionable deal-ins in the past, and the law of averages was bound to catch up with him sooner or later. Or does he attribute his wins to skill and his losses to bad luck?

Subsequently there’s a lament for the “riichi style” of play, whatever that means. Supposedly it loses to pon palace and calling like crazy? If so, who would want to adopt a losing style? Over all the games of riichi mahjong I’ve played, if there’s one common theme in winning playstyles, it’s being able to read the situation. I can but speculate that the increase in calling was prompted by the disallowing of kuitan (open Tan Yao). Do you know what calling does to your hand? To put it in a nutshell, it decreases randomness and increases the speed of your hand. Instead of drawing a random tile, you give up potential score and safety to pick up a known tile. Kuitan allows you to turn almost any hand into a fast hand. Disallowing kuitan shoots the random luck factor through the roof, as the importance of your opening hand is emphasized heavily – you either have something, or you’d better start calling tiles early on if you want even a small chance at making a hand, any hand. Were I in attendance, I wouldn’t be shy at all to call aggressively under such rules. Ironically enough, what the EMA presumably fears is an endless onslaught of kuitan hands if it is ever allowed in tournament play, which is – surprise, surprise – countered by their vaunted traditional riichi playstyle. Calling twice and watching someone riichi will put you between the proverbial rock and hard place, forcing you to risk a large hit for minimal value, or give up a fast hand to form a shaky defense.

However, that’s not the most surprising of his declarations yet. He even advocates that players preferably be grouped by country. Now I am an online player through and through. I see no reason whatsoever to leave my comfy chair and venture into the outside world, to find three other people of varying skill to play mahjong with. Fiddling with counting scores and building walls and rolling dice? No sir, not for me, thank you very much. And yet it’s a trend that’s getting more popular – even as our little community grows, people very much want to meet up and face each other across real live tiles. And I know why.

I have often thought it somewhat a paradox, that people play riichi mahjong together, yet everyone ultimately plays alone. Online, it’s a given to view your opponents as a non-entity, an artificial or even alien intelligence. It’s hard to care about the perspective of Aさん or Bさん when thinking about one’s own hand and score situation. Indeed, it’s easier to group them all together into a single three-headed mega-opponent, and so every game becomes a boss fight. Playing together in real life breaks down these barriers. The opponent on your left wears glasses and sniffs a little whenever he draws a good tile, the one on your right looks a little sleepy and has hairy ears. You can’t deny their humanity when they’re sitting in front of you. When I’m playing against people I know, I feel more sympathetic towards their ingame situation, and when I trust their skill, I know that had I been in their seat, I could easily have suffered the same adverse fate. Being able to interact with your opponents truly enhances the experience, even if you have nothing to say at all. It is because of this that we have been growing our community and expending effort towards maintaining online leagues. Even as I write this, I can see four players good-naturedly chaffing each other on IRC while playing, and I would include some of the chat if it weren’t so… unpublishable. More so than in other games, community in mahjong is important, if only to dispel the looming impression that you’re playing against a three-handed monster who wins 75% of the time. Respect your opponents and see them as human, and you’ll already have cut their winrates down to 25% each. It is this mutual respect and friendship between players that the EMA should work on cultivating.

In conclusion I would advise Mr C. to be happy that he was fortunate enough to meet less-skilled opponents. Good players should always be happy to play bad players, unless they have some bizarro playstyle that only works against good players. If he is frustrated it is because he failed to see them as fellow mahjong enthusiasts but as an annoying combined boss fight that he was unable to coast through. Perhaps in aid of this, the liquor contributed by various participants should be shared before, rather than after the games.

Stay tuned and find out if I can bully some people into writing trip reports.

The photo above is a bunch of berries Osamu found while lost in the wilderness and was considering eating. We still do not know whether they are safe for human consumption. In case you run into a similar situation in the future, he recommends you start your own mahjong blog.

19 thoughts on “Berries and Boss Fights in Bad Vöslau

  1. I agree with this a hundred percent. What you point out is very true and their criticism is largely baseless because I don’t find them to be remarkable players themselves; only when compared to the others within that very same community of the players they are criticizing. I don’t even understand what are they going on about when they speak of good “riichi mahjong.” To them, good mahjong is probably relative. They are ignorant to what it really is, because judging by that kind of criticism, they most likely have yet to play someone who is in fact good at the game, say at a 8-9d or more tenhou-level, so they need to make such generalizations based on their erroneous conceptions of what good mahjong should be. We’ve all had those “oh, you shouldn’t open your hand, open hands are bad” sets of hard and fast rules, but it’s a lot more complicated than that black and white notion. Situation assessment is the number one skill to have, an objective grasp of the current standing.

    In the best of cases, they might have adopted such notions watching mondo videos, and in the worst of cases by taking one-liners from mahjong anime. We can’t precisely blame them, what other information about mahjong do they have? It’s not like they have books on mahjong out there (real books, not the whole random lot that are out there). They have very few access to theory or statistics, few to no understanding of probability, and if it wasn’t for this blog maybe none of that stuff would be available online for mahjong in English at all. The Japanese community don’t have such a problem, and everyone bragging about being strong while being at a R1700 level or less like the author of that article would be laughed at enough to have them refrain from making fun of their own community like that. “The level is kinda low…”? Do you really think your mahjong is that good? Do you know how you would fair against actually good players? In fact, would you prefer a competition where players are only allowed to be your level or more? More so, do you think your current level is by any means the “acceptable minimum standard”? Everyone in most games seems to think other people should play just at their own level or more. I do not think it so, and think that the skill gap is not even that big yet. At all. It seems big to them, maybe, but objectively all you need to do is teach those people to calculate their scores and perform their utterances properly.

    On what grounds would they base themselves to imply such superiority? Mahjong is not something you can just play your way to become good at. If you mainly play offline, all the more time it will take you to grab important concepts. Most people at those tournaments just play for fun. Improving the level of your community starts by improving your community which starts by improving yourself.

    In fact, the whole conceited air of that article and some of the comments just twists my stomach. Someone who wrongly insists on writing “koku shimusou” instead of kokushi musou and “tango” instead of tan yao should not even be allowed to imply he’s better than any other mediocre player that might be out there if they at least know the name of their yaku. Or to call them mediocre. I was always amused by the low quality of the posts in mahjong news, but this one has shocked me. I hope he comes out to clarify what he meant soon.

  2. I was under the impression, having spoken to the person quoted in the Mahjong News article, that the real problem was having people present who just didn’t know the riichi rules well enough. For example, people checking yaku sheets during a hand in play, not understanding when they could ron, and comments such as “We don’t use furiten in MCR. That’s a stupid rule.” I can understand the frustration of players if you’re sat at a table like that. Some of us literally spent well over a 1000GBP (me) to come to the ERC, but even the average spend must have been around a grand with flights, hotels, subscriptions and food taken into account. I don’t mind playing some pon-happies, but I won’t be as invested in the game as when I have challenging opponents. I like those games where I lose, but I can walk away thinking that was a strong game.

    However, with high exceptions for the ERC you then sit down with a player who you get the distinct feeling has been drafted in to make up numbers, or seemingly would prefer to play a totally different game, it’s irritating. People came wanting a challenge and some were grossly disappointed. I can sympathize with that.

    There should be some sort of minimum knowledge level when it comes to 5 MERS tournaments and to have at least availed yourself of the rules or there should be strong encouragements to do so. The odd rule clarification is fine, but when you’re instructing people how to play the whole game, it’s very difficult. (Not that it’s then an excuse for losing, but it does disrupt your concentration.)

    All that stuff you wrote about the riichi style and perception of what a ‘poor’ player is is totally correct.

  3. Reading the article once again with what Gemma said in mind, my frustration at the writer is misdirected, as in fact the controvertial one was C_____ himself and no one else. The writer seems actually enthusiastic about their players. Still, it’s the writer’s bad for quoting him on those comments with little context to the point that I now have to take a dislike on someone I don’t even know for a comment that is out of context. He makes C_____ sound like a jerk who judges people by the way they call tiles or build their walls.

    It is still nevertheless my most profound belief that people who cannot count their own score should not participate in any sort of -competitive- event.

  4. I think Nic got used in the sense that the article got turned into a gossip piece with him on the short end of the stick. I think TACOS fucked up on comprehending the country competition remark but other than that the rest of the analysis is sound in the osamuko post here.

    MN has got to love the post because it’s a falling from grace post that both matches the intensity of the crime news on the site and avoids to talk about the elephant in the Lowlands: 14 out of 18 Dutch were in the bottom half, a statistical improbability if they were of equal skill.

  5. To clarify the statistical remark… the chance of having 0 to 4 players in top half is only 1.544%… the reverse being that 5++ out of 18 should have occured 98.456% of the time. To me, that’s either improbable or the assumption of equal skill is flawed. Well beyond two sigma…

  6. I think there are two issues here.

    One is that players who don’t know the rules can delay or disrupt the flow of play. The other, which is more complicated, is how very aggressive/offensive play affects the balance of the game. I do not claim to be an expert, so I welcome your opinion on the following.

    Beginner players often play very offensively, completely ignoring riichi declarations, open pons of dora and so on. Intermediate players (like myself) will try to balance offence and defence. We will usually defend if the situation looks dangerous, unless we think it is worth pushing for a big hand. I’m not an expert, so I can’t tell you how they play.

    On a table with four intermediate players of this style, the winner will be depend on who is best at reading the situation, who has the best balance of offence/defence and of course luck. This is mahjong, after all.

    Now suppose we have three intermediate players and one beginner. The beginner probably deals into the hands of the intermediate players and ends up last.

    What if we have two beginners and two intermediate players? The beginners feed each other. Probably, one of them is luckier and gets a big first; the other gets a big last. If the other players use their usual style, they fight for second and third. But the danger level is much higher. There is a much higher risk of an unlucky tsumo or an unlikely-looking ron putting them in last, behind the beginner. If one of them plays more defensively, they probably get whittled down by tsumos and end up third. If they play offensively, their chance of winning is little better than that of the beginners.

    Now, if you have a tournament with a number of very offensive players and only a few hanchan, there is a good chance that one of them will win by being lucky (and a lot of them will lose very badly). If this is the strategy that gives them the best chance of winning, you can hardly call it “wrong”. But I think it is understandable that a player with well-balanced offence and defence, who would probably fare better over a thousand hanchan, would be frustrated by this style of play.

    I would love to read a strategy article on how to play against two very aggressive opponents.

    1. If your opponents are aggressive, be aggressive yourself and outplay them with your superior tile efficiency and situation assessment skill.

    2. And if you can’t do this, consider that you are not that much better yourself.

      Beginner players in mahjong are probably around the R1500 area. R1400 if in addition to being new, they are bad. Most western players (with very few exceptions) are under the R1800 area. So, let’s say you consider an intermediate player like yourself to be R1700 or so (which I still wouldn’t quite call intermediate)? You see, the thing is, a 200 points rate difference doesn’t mean you will win that much more often. A R2200 player will win that much more often than a R1500 player, but between R1700 and R1500 there isn’t much of a difference in terms of their total winnings even if to you it feels like the skill gap is big.

      If they feed each other, it happens. It’s not like they are doing it intentionally. If you were playing against someone better, you might be feeding them instead. If you don’t feel confident that your winning chances are that much higher than your opponents, then you are not that much better than them.

      Even if in a single one time event their noobness screwed you over (say, for example, you were in second place and the guy in fourth decides to kill the game assuring himself fourth place), you had just as much of a chance of being the guy in first place who got benefitted by this behavior. The problem is, you would look at this one time event and make a judgment on it thinking that this sort of behavior reduced your chances to win when in fact, it lowers THEIR chances of winning thus increasing your own chances to win. You seem to believe only sucky players can get lucky, when in fact you have just the same chance to get lucky yourself if not more.

      There is another problem with it, however, and it is that it cheapens victories while making losses frustrating. But that is exactly the problem in any game when you feel you are better than the competition. The solution is to either find a more skilled crowd, or to stop improving at the game so as to not overcome everybody else. People who suck seem to have a much more fun time playing.

  7. Huh, it sounds like he and some others went there mistakenly believing that they were going to play some Japanese Mahjong and got upset when they found out it was just “European Riichi”.

  8. Hello mates,

    I heard about this article and It was a real pleasure to read it, after I saw the result AUT last tournament.

    Mean reason on my thread :
    Please, don’t put my last name on your article, because I’m freelance and It’s not fear for my next customer (research on google is not my friend @ the moment). Call me what you want I don’t care… Buddy / your Pimp please feel free…
    By advance, tanks I appreciate.

    So, I’m not agree (of course) with your article, it’s just stupid and babyish.My point of view is not there.

    e.g I agree with you you need to adapt your own style with other players,
    But see 90% of players do not know the rules @the European Championship it’s just pathetic.

    Why participate?

    At least, about my “progression” , it’s honorable for the players I beat…
    they will appreciate, right Gemma ?

    Contrary what you might , I’m still a lover of the closed game and not of bingo or something like that.
    So I didn’t take advantage of feeder.
    I knew won with one maybe two players who have the similar game play, no more.
    I must admet against three players, I do not yet adapt of this type of game. I prefer defense.
    Especially when a player are already declared 3 pung wind and other player drop the last missing wind with glibly

    Counter you , I never cried around the table :
    Tiles loves me
    I’m the best
    I can not lose because I’m really strong .
    Fortunately for you, you don’t speak Italian, means. other player often talk about your mom while keeping a smile.
    I must confess I laughed about it

    so please for the next event keep humility and accept defeat or victory (for sure) and do write after it.

    For resume :
    Thank you to remove my lastname.
    Learn to be lowly before writing articles.
    Take your personal diary to write this.
    Waiting your excitation decreases, should be better.

    King Regard
    Mister C

    1. Hello from Asia, I think you must have confused me with someone else, as I did not participate in those tournaments. As per your wishes I will of course remove your last name from the article.

      I do understand your point of view, and I think it is bullshit.

      If the standard of the players is not to your liking, don’t blame them, blame yourself or the organizers. Or complain to the EMA, it is none of my concern. Don’t forget that you rose to the top of the rankings because of these players, and now that you suffered a luckless setback, you forget their kindness immediately. Why didn’t you complain about the players when you were winning? Or did you win against strong players and lose to weak ones?

      Please return to your little club where you sit around the table and discuss how superior you are to players of other countries, even though it seems the European rankings do not favour you at all. A club where everyone is a good player but oh-so-slightly worse than you. Every mahjong player is of course allowed to believe that he is better than everyone else. Just keep it to yourself.

  9. If you don’t feel comfortable writing in English (because your comment is mostly… shit, I don’t think even cryptographers could understand what you were trying to say), feel free to write in Italian or French. I’ll follow up. It’s not that hard. Also, good luck getting your name out of the article and avoiding responsibility.

    There is indeed a conceited air around you and the way you worded your opinion, and while I do agree that players who can’t score their own hands should never even worry about competing, you fully knew what you were up against from the beginning. Besides, you are not precisely 10 dan material yourself, are you?

  10. Hi,

    You are absolutely right,
    In fact I made two big mistake.
    My comment does mean nothing and I’m wrong about the author.

    Next time, I will stay focus and I’ll avoid writing crap like that…

    My apologize for that. Shame on me.

  11. ….all this mess in response of a *cough* article on mahjong news…that we all know for the impartiality of there/is redactor.

    no offence but buddies keep that in mind…. right?

    1. If you would like to clean up messes and write an article yourself, feel free to submit an article to and we will be glad to let people assume their personal biases.

      More importantly, if you want to do something in French, drop me a line, and we’ll talk.

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