This article first appeared in the Sep/Oct 2014 issue of World Gaming magazine.
Japan’s Hiroshi Yamai emerged victorious as the World Richii Mahjong Championships enjoyed its highly successful debut in France.
The first ever World Riichi Mahjong Championship is in the books.
In Puteaux, France this past July, 120 people from around 20 countries gathered to see who would be crowned the best Riichi player in the world. Riichi Mahjong is the form of the game played in Japan and this was reflected in the 50 or so representatives – most of them professional players – from the land of the rising sun, with quotas of six or less from most other countries.
This inaugural event was run by the French Riichi club TNT, with a number of sponsors contributing including the Japan Professional Mahjong League’s online mahjong site, Ron2.
The first two days were made up of four games each and all players battled for the highest aggregate scores. At the end of these eight games, the top 32 total scorers moved on to the winner’s bracket while the remaining 88 players enjoyed six more games with nothing at stake.
The winner’s bracket continued with two more games from which the top two players at each table moved on to the quarter finals, then the semi-finals and ultimately the final table.
Unlike the rest of the world, European mahjong tournaments provide food for the players and after the first game of each day players eagerly lined up for a traditional French buffet, complete with foods that only the locals could recognize and pronounce and of course an assortment of stinky cheeses. However, to the disappointment of many, the trademark French champagne wasn’t on offer so players had to make do with water and soft drinks. Despite the efforts of the master chef and organizers, with so many people from so many different backgrounds it was impossible to please everyone and inevitably cuisine from the local McDonald’s and sushi restaurants crept into the venue each afternoon.
Meals aside, the 16 players who progressed to the quarter-finals were made up of 13 from Japan, including the legendary Masayoshi Ara and the young but well-established Hisato Sasaki. There was also John Duckworth from the United Kingdom, Wenlong Li from China and Bartosz Zuk from Poland. Of these only Ara and Duckworth made it to the semi-finals, along with six other players from Japan.
On the final day, the final table was decided and it was an all-Japanese affair with Hiroshi Yamai, Kazuhiko Nishijima, Jun Nishikawa and Noriyuki Kiriyama left to battle it out for victory. Despite taking place on an automatic-shuffling table, the final table was a grueling battle – taking longer than anticipated and delaying the closing ceremony. After all, when the title of best player in the world is on the line, minutes feel like hours and the tension rises! All the players who had finished playing two games earlier waited in the wings with anticipation.
Finally the scores were tallied and the mahjong tables in the venue were replaced with chairs for the awards ceremony. The new world champion was Hiroshi Yamai of the Japan Professional Mahjong League. He stood in front of his peers with his trophy, using every ounce of energy to keep a cool face. If he was excited, happy, elated, he didn’t let it show.
After the congratulations and thanks had been said, the players joined together in one last toast and large portions of cake to say their farewells. The first world championship was a success and ended with the promise of many more in the years to come.