If you are a Tenhou player, you should have known that there are 4 different rooms for 4 different levels: Ippan, Joukyuu, Tokujou, Houou. Before getting to the main parts of this article, let’s see what those 4 levels are about – those descriptions are from the famous Riichi Book I, by Daina Chiba.
一般 (ippan; lower-level room)
This is the only room where you can play initially. Games in this room can sometimes be a bit random, even chaotic at times. Some of the players in this room probably do not understand the rules very well. You very rarely come across strong players here.
上級 (joukyuu; upper-level room)
You can play here if (1)* your rank is 1 級 *or higher or (2) you buy a two-month membership.
Games in the joukyu room are more reasonable than those in the lower-level room, but you still see many players who do not defend at all, do meaningless dama / unreasonable riichi, and make serious mistakes in maximizing tile efficiency.
In my impression, games at EMA tournaments most resemble games in the ippan and joukyuu rooms.
特上 (tokujou; advanced room)
Requirements to play in this room are pretty demanding. You have to have a 四段 or higher rank and a 1800 or higher R. The latter requirement is particularly difficult to satisfy for intermediate players. As I wrote above, achieving the rank of 四段 is not that difficult, but satisfying the R ≥ 1800 condition requires that you take mahjong rather seriously. Since weak players are shut out from the tokujou room, games in tokujou are qualitatively different from those in the joukyu and ippan rooms. Games in this room feel similar to those you’d experience at regular mahjong parlors in Japan.
鳳凰 (houou; phoenix room)
This is the highest-level room in Tenhou. In order to play in this room, you have to have all of the following: (1) a 七段 or higher rank, (2) a 2000 or higher R, and (3) a paid membership. Satisfying the first two conditions can be really, really challenging. This is arguably one of the highest-level mahjong locales in the whole world.
The article is mainly for Joukyuu players –my suggestion on what they could do to achieve Tokujou level. Including players that have reached Tokujou but drop back easily. (And yeah, there’d be article(s) about Tokujou players. Probably not as good as this one.)
I. Get your mindset straight
In my opinion, this is the biggest problem for players in our community right now.
If you want to reach higher than just tokujou, then you need a lot of skill, and skill would be more important than mindset. However, for joukyuu players to just break into and stay solidly in tokujou, mindset is the first thing that should be fixed. As Daina said, this level requires that you take mahjong rather seriously. I would say it more directly: “If you don’t really want to reach Tokujou, then you will never reach it.”
Mahjong is the kind of game that easily leads to misconceptions. It’s so tempting to make a big, big hand. It’s so tempting to go for rare yakus. It’s so tempting to push every hand without any consideration for defense. In mahjong, bad plays doesn’t always lead to punishment. There can always be a “reason” for any move you make. Often, when that “reason” works out for joukyuu-level players, they say that decision is correct, they win because of skills. And when the bad play hurts them, they either think it’s because of bad luck, or never remember anything of the bad play at all.
Without any knowledge, and without any drive, it’s natural that people think like that, and I understand. That’s why the goal is the most important thing – if you want to be at tokujou level, you need to set it as your biggest goal. The knowledge part is not that hard, if you follow English guides mentioned later in this article, it’s enough to get to Tokujou. But if you don’t have the goal, you won’t ever read, or follow those guides at all. After all, playing casually and making toitoi/honitsu/chinitsu/yakuman is so “fun”, right?
After having that goal and reading guides, now you need to understand: “Your previous way of playing is bad. You need to follow advice from better players and improve.”. I still find it hard to believe that so many players never, ever understand this. Let me point out an obvious thing: If your tenhou rank is lower than another player’s, especially by 3-4 levels, then you are clearly doing something wrong, and if they have something to tell you, you need to listen to it and follow it. Saying something like: “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion” never helps, because as you have already seen, your results are worse, which means your opinions are worse than better players’.
Remember that, if you don’t change your way of playing, do not expect that your results would somehow magically improve.
There are also players who, after losing at ranked matches, run away and play unranked (7447) or IRL matches. This may or may not come with: “(Reaching Tokujou is nice but) Tenhou doesn’t fit me too well, playing unranked/IRL is a better way to show and improve my skill”. This kind of mindset is also unhelpful. Playing without any goal like that only worsen your skill, as it makes you come back to your casual, bad playing habit. Besides, your opponents in those matches probably aren’t even that good, so you may develop illusions about your skill level. Use all your possible time to play ranked, only 2 unranked matches each week is enough.
II. Reading guides
Guides provide you with a shortcut to reach higher levels. Going without reading them would make your journey much longer, and prone to mistakes.
I would recommend the two following guides:
Puyo’s guide to Efficiency, Defense and Riichi (translated). Puyo is a player from Hong Kong, currently 8 dan on Tenhou.
Daina’s Riichi Book I. Daina is an English-Japanese player. This book of his is well-known in the English-speaking community.
If you truly want to get to Tokujou level, reading and following one, or both of these guides can take you there, without the need of anything else. Puyo’s guide is more concise and directly touch the most important problems at this level, but it’s a translated version, so there can be some mistakes, besides, its original source has died, so some images are gone. Daina’s book explains things more clearly, and has the 5-block method which is not featured in Puyo’s guide, but it’s a long one and may be daunting to read, and some parts are not that needed if we only talk about reaching Tokujou.
Keep in mind the following things:
– Strictly follow the guides (except for parts related to calling). You are not yet at the level to question them. You might sometimes “think” that doing A, B, C is better than playing according to the guides because of reason X, Y, Z; but most of the time you’d be wrong! The guides are based on proven theories, that’s why following them would make you play correctly most of the time. Sure there are some exceptions, but they are for people who have completely understood those theories. And to completely understood them, you have to strictly follow them first.
By the way, don’t trust anything said by a non-Tenhou or non-Tokujou player that’s against these guides. They don’t know shit. The guides’ authors are seasoned Tokujou (or higher) players. I am a long time Tokujou player too. We know what’s best for you. We know that following the guides would make you a better player.
– Efficiency is your best friend. “Efficiency” is pretty much about how to complete your hand as quickly as possible. Riichi and defense are also really important, but your efficiency need to be improved first. It’s always tempting to go for various yakus, but remember that only the quickest player to complete a hand would win and gain points. Therefore it’s crucial to maximise your speed. We usually play tenhou with 3 red doras, so it’s easy for your quick hand to become big as well. The guides are also written for 3 red doras by the way, so pay your best attention to the efficiency part written in them.
– If you haven’t known how to calculate score yet, learn it now. You can see that some parts of the guides require you to be able to calculate score. The best way to learn that is trying to calculate every winning hand in your games. The games give you the answers, too.
– Play a lot of games while remembering to apply anything you have learned. After that, re-read the guides again, find out what you haven’t learned yet from them. Proceed to play more games to apply new things, and repeat. I suggest re-read the guides every 6 months.
III. My own suggestions
The most important things have been mentioned, I would only add a little more here.
– If you are 2-3 dan and R1600 and below, or 4 dan and R1700 and below, and have played more than 400 games with the current account, just make a new account. It’s easier to get 4 dan R1800 with that new account than improving low R after 400 games. Provided that you have followed part I and II of this article, of course.
– Try to play at least 3 ranked matches per day. For most of you, that would be doable if you cut down on unranked matches/ anime and manga/ other games/ mahjong community stuffs/ etc. You might think spectating high level games (on tenhou or pro games) is useful but it’s actually almost useless, that time should be converted into ranked games too. Don’t waste time with 3-player or with platforms other than tenhou too.
– Don’t play when you are almost certain you’d get interrupted/ disconnected because of bad Internet.
– Don’t be afraid to go alone in your Tokujou journey. It’s normal that none of your playing friends has the same goal. If you want to be a better player, don’t be afraid to be different and be alone. There may even be a point that you can’t play with them anymore. Accept that.
– And finally, don’t give up!