Tenhou Secrets

Tenhou Secrets

Hi. xkime here. So, you have learned all yaku, played for a few years, you are very confident about your tile efficiency skills, and whenever you defend you rarely deal into anyone, but somehow you just cannot rank up at Tenhou. I hope that these little hints will help you.

Note, if you are still below average, you might want to check this link first. Beginners go here, but if you're a pro then visit this mahjong blog about tenhou.

Tips for Tenhou

What kind of game is Tenhou?

To understand how to beat the system, you must first learn how the system works. In other words, to win in mahjong you must be really aware of what the rules of the game are, and what is considered “winning.” Obviously, getting second place in a game is pretty neat if you are in a tournament where the top 2 players move forwards, but it is just dreadful if only the guy on top will advance towards the finals. Tenhou’s golden rule for ranking up is very straightforward: do not get last place. It is as simple as that.

Why is last place so bad?

If you are at any rank higher than 3rd Dan, you probably know how the distribution of points works for each placement. You can find it in Tenhou’s Manual. In short, as your rank goes up, the reward for first place is relatively medium sized, for second it is a small sized reward, third place gets nothing, and last place gets a huge punishment. Bigger as you rank up. To get the most out of the points you get from the table, you should play in a table according to your skill level as it is displayed in Tenhou. Sure, a higher level table means stronger players, but the rewards are also worth of it. Not only the point rewards, but the experience rewards as well.

L0000 (the free lobby) has 4 rooms for players of different levels. They are as follows:

一般 (ippan)GeneralAll players
上級 (joukyu)Dan1 Kyu or greater & Premium
特上 (tokujou)Upperdan4 Dan R1800, or greater
鳳凰 (houou)Phoenix/Gigadan7 Dan R2000, or greater
Of course, you are aiming for either Phoenix Room shorter-term, or Tenhou Rank in a far longer term.

Whenever you feel like playing, play ranked and with your account. Don’t fall in love with your stats.

It is alright to take a break once in a while and play friendly matches, and we all love starting new accounts because it feels like you are “cleansing yourself of all sins” and that “now this shows your REAL skills!” but the truth is, if you add a lot more of pressure into a single point, you will get much better results. Just keep playing ranked. Thousands of games. Never fall in love with your stat screen, for two reasons. 1, you might avoid playing because of the risk of losing. 2, they are probably worse than you think anyway. If you want to fall in love with your stats, wait until you are 10th Dan or so. Also, in order not to falter in your way and motivate yourself to play, you might want to read Pechorin’s suggestions.

Last Place Avoidance

I already explained how avoiding last place in tenhou is vital towards ranking up or, in some cases, towards not ranking down. Leave aside any pride, all your “heroism,” and “positive thinking,” and begin being more logical and taking into account the worst possible scenarios. If you riichi nomi with a kanchan wait, and then the dealer pursuits you and you deal into a 12000 points hand, you deserve it. I can’t stress that enough.

The basic of Last Place Avoidance is ORI. If possible, never deal into the player who is last. Let him sink.

Let us remember a little bit how point exchanging work in mahjong. If someone gets a tsumo, everyone sinks below that person. Okay, cool. However, if you discard someone’s winner, you sink below everyone. Which of the two is more likely connected to getting last place? You will have to make up not only for the point difference that you originally had, but now for the point difference that the player who was fourth set on you as well. If your opponents are any good, once you fall to a solid last place, you are likely to remain last unless you find some magic sand. **As you get deeper into Tenhou, the amounts of magical sand decrease. **Go back into your games and see how many times you ended up last because of dealing into the last place player. You might be surprised.

Dama** is important in South Round! (Hanchan)**

By the time you are into the south round, everyone’s positions are usually more or less already decided. First place usually has somewhere between 30 and 40k, and the player in last is usually between 10 and 20k. In most of your games, you will be around the middle. And now I want to talk to you about situations where you riichi looking for the hope of first place. There is nothing wrong with that, if your hand merits it, but you must look at the contents (and I also mean value) of your hand, the current score situation, and of course, your wait. That is because the player in last (and sometimes the other two as well, depending on their hand) is likely to come at you. Especially if he is the dealer. And of course, after you riichi everyone with marginal hands will already have pulled out. This means that if your wait isn’t very good, and/or your hand isn’t very expensive (pinfu nomi, tan yao nomi), you must dama.



No point in declaring riichi. None at all. Obviously, this is also true for the player across. You don’t riichi to “win harder,” and don’t be tempted by bonuses like ippatsu and 5 ura dora for an amazing comeback. Leave those for friendly matches. Needless to say, if a riichi comes in from the people below you, at least try to fold unless you are sure it is impossible. And, of course, if you are the player in last for quite a bit and you need points, you can go back and use the normal criteria for riichi (basically, anything with an extra yaku or dora up to 4 han, riichi).

When there is no risk of falling to last place, go for first!

****Second place is not such a big deal in Tenhou. It is more of a consolation prize than anything. And of course, first place is pretty beneficial, while last place is just a dreadful pit full of poisonous snakes. This means that, whenever you can aim for first place without the risk of falling to last, you should go for first place! We can say the line for “risk zone” is direct mangan distance (don’t forget to count your riichi stick if you decide to riichi!).


I have very few logs in this computer and I couldn’t find a better example from a ranked game, but the point remains. Just looking at the the score (quite a great distance from last), wind seat (East!) and the quite decent starting hand we received, it is obvious that you will have to push this hand to the very end, unless it is pretty obvious that North’s winning condition (score-wise) is cleared. Take into account the other players’ reactions as well. I am not too sure about that South tanki; it was likely that someone had a pair, and I was expecting them to deal it immediately as a “safe” tile, and this would be effective under a situation where everyone is closer to each other. However, in this situation, no one has much motivation to fold. Except maybe for West, but he doesn’t look like the one holding South. In the end, South did have a pair of Souths, but held onto them and obviously (and logically) pushed to the end. Drew the fourth one. Lucky!

If possible, don’t go into All Last as the last place player.

I mean, if possible. If you won a mangan in South 3, but you are still in last place for all last, that is alright. But when you are 2000 points away from third place in South 3, don’t go and make a 1000 points trash hand to start All Last as the player in last, as it is high risk and low return. The opposite is also true, do not fall to last place right before all last! Even if the difference is 1000 points, and all you need to do to get out of last place is win any hand, just try to find a way out when the point difference is small. Nevertheless, mind you, if the point difference is wide, of course, you want to make it narrower. Just don’t do things like the following:



I understand what he was thinking. If I deal into anyone in all last, or someone gets a huge tsumo, he will be saved. Also, there are a lot of threats at the table. However, it is still possible for him to defend. It is not like it will hurt him if the oya gets a renchan. And also, there is a possibility that -I- will deal in! If he was planning on attacking with that hand, maybe he was better off keeping it concealed, at least until he adds a dora to his hand. orz

I don’t see a lot of meaning in that win. When you enter All Last in last place, you are virtually obliged to win a hand. And your theoretical odds of winning the next hand is under 25% if everyone plays the same (if you account for ryuukyoku, even lower). Of course, if you go under the pretense of pushing everything, you might rise it to some… 30% chances of winning the hand? So, 70% of the time you will be getting last place. In some alternate universe, even discarding the dealer’s winner and trying for a mangan next hand was a better idea. orz

If you care to know the result:


I would recommend folding in his place. The only other possible catastrophe if he folds is if North and West exchange points, or if someone gets a very cheap tsumo, which seems a bit unlikely. He can also see that after the riichi I pon’d 4p and pushed 2p. That should have been a cue. Perhaps he was afraid my hand was around mangan class and that I would win it.

And last place avoidance means just that. Going for first place when it is possible, and stepping it out and evading the negative point penalty when it is not. Then make logic decisions based on those grounds. It is pretty hard to acquire the right balance for that. The better you are at balancing it out with your mahjong, the higher your rank will be, of course.

Don’t go for useless renchan

You might want to use common sense there, but don’t push for a 1500 hand when you have a good lead as dealer near the end game when you could have passed the button safely. You are just asking to either get ron’d that hand, or get tsumo’d for a mangan/haneman the next one. Fukuchi Makoto, when I played him in one of my trips to Japanese mahjong parlors, was the current dealer and actually declared himself noten in a ryuukyoku when he was truly tenpai, to put me (second place player) into a tougher situation for a comeback, having one fewer round. And yes, it would have been pretty pointless for him to declare himself tenpai only for the 1500 points of noten payments that he would have gotten. If someone reached and his winning tile came out, he would have won on it, of course.

Having safe tiles is vital

Keep track of what tiles are safe against each player and make sure not to put yourself into a situation where even though you are not tenpai you are not able to fold either when a riichi shows up. It is also difficult to keep a balance between safe tiles and tile efficiency. It is important, many times, to get ride of dangerous tiles that you won’t use, early. Use your better judgment.

Before jumping to dangerous decisions, observe.

****This kind of strikes against the last tip, but when you can’t really assess the situation as it currently is, don’t begin by discarding a dangerous tile that could possibly cost you the hand or even the match. Discard a safe tile, and observe and assess the situation. If your hand then comes together good and well, and you have assessed that it is not as bad of a discard, you may proceed. This, as well, is a problem of balance. But remember that the ultimate goal is to decrease the amount of times you deal in and improve your defense.

For tonpuusen, it is important to take the initiative, and defend if you lose it.

For players who prefer tonpuusen, remember that every match is a match with a score situation, and winning conditions. Much more than hanchan, because of the different in length. Dealing into a single mangan will, in most cases, cost you the game as it is. The basic strategy is attempt to take the initiative, hit tenpai before anyone else (lower hand values have a higher significance. 3900 point hands are ideal) and just be prepeared to defend if someone else seems about to outdo you. It is hit and retreat, and feels a lot like sword fighting. In any case, I don’t suggest you choose tonpuusen for ranking up until you have a very good knowledge of how to play a hanchan’s endgame.

What to do when you are already in last place?

Attack! You are the reason why people may choose not to riichi, the person everyone is more likely to defend to. Because no one wants to be you! You are in a pretty tough spot, but if you look at it from the other side, you have all to win and nothing to lose. It doesn’t mean that you should be reckless, but your judgement of whether to attack or defend should start going more and more towards the attacking side as fewer hands remain. And when you are dealer, show no mercy, renchan is your first priority. Comebacks are much more easy from that position. Don’t lose track of your distance to third place, and how many points you need to escalate him. Especially in all last.  And this is imporant: don’t let third place renchan. If second is just as close, don’t let him either. Once everyone else got an oya mangan, you will be in a hole where not even Akagi himself will be able to rescue you from.

Persevere and Study

Never give up, it takes thousands of games to actually see any progress. As with everything, tenhou is also a matter of trial and error if you take it seriously. Study your games and why you lose/win, and try to understand why others do things the way they do. Especially the better players. You can look at many of the logs of ASAPIN, the first human being to ever achieve tenhou rank, and his quest for perfecting last place avoidance here.