Gaming Mahjong

Your humble columnists at the WSOM

Written by Jenn Barr

This article first appeared in the Nov/Dec 2010 issue of World Gaming magazine.

Walking in to the 2010 World Series of Mahjong felt different than it did in 2007 and 2008. The venue was different, the buy-in was different and the format was different. For a lot of people this was probably their first Mahjong tournament ever.

Mahjong tournaments outside Japan are few and far between, but I have been to tournaments in Copenhagen and Hannover, and sponsors Riichi tournaments all over Europe. When I’m in Japan I play in some sort of league event or tournament virtually weekly, and I have to say that after five years of that, even though the WSOM prize pool was much bigger, I didn’t feel any special pressure. It is a privilege that I get to play some of the best players in the world on a regular basis and what better way to prepare to go against the world?

From start to finish I felt like I was simply competing against myself, rather than my opponents. I was more interested in how I fared against my fellow professionals than my result against the field in general. After two years of disappointing results in this event I was eager to beat my own record and nothing else.

During the first two days I was calm and played well. I got lucky, I lost sometimes but I always brought it back and I made it to the top 16. Until the final announcement on Day 2, I never looked at the standings. I didn’t want to know the border, I didn’t want to know who was ahead, I just wanted to play my game and concentrate on the tiles. I think it paid off.

The final day was one of the most disappointing days in my career so far. I made it all the way to the end and could not put anything together. I took last place for Day 3 (16th place overall) and while some of my opponents were very strong, the level was much lower than the competition I’m used to and that’s always tough to lose to. I wish I could have been luckier that day, but now it’s over and I’m back to daily training for my regular tournaments and next year’s WSOM.

The WSOM uses a unique set of rules. Luckily I am part of a mahjong gaming group that holds regular meetings for WSOM rules so I was able to get some solid practice in before the event.

I was not playing very well in our regular meetings, but I had a very good start in the WSOM. I almost couldn’t believe that I earned positive points in all six preliminary rounds, especially for the third round where I won three big hands consecutively. In the end, I finished second of the 200 players for the preliminaries. I just hoped that I could keep my luck through to the final table.

Luck was not with me on the third day. In the round of 16, I got many potential big hands but they all became dead ends. One hand was interrupted by my opponents, and I dealt to some fast hands which could not be avoided. I was placed 11th for the round of 16 and couldn’t proceed further, but I think this is a very good result for me.

Mahjong is full of complexity and strategy. In this world event I identified several of my weaknesses, and I will try to find more time to practice and improve. I am looking forward to beating my record (of making the last 16) in next year’s WSOM.