Pressing Issues – a Mahjong discussion

Hi! One of the most recent posts on Osamuko made me think of a little discussion topic. Let’s press the issue!
Main points:
1. How do you learn Mahjong? I don’t mean the rules here, but rather strategy & skills. How do you learn new concepts and ways to look at different situations? Do you think it’s more fun to discover everything yourself or use any help you need to improve faster/smoother?
2. Do you think it’s possible to become a good player (upper Tokujou/Houou) without reading ANY strategy materials, getting help from stronger players?
3. Do you think “style” applies to Mahjong? Many situations are quite clear cut (tile efficiency, safe tile choice/order), other not so much – push/pull decisions, going for certain types of hand more/less often.
Can any reliable “style” be developed without knowing the fundamentals of offense/defense/situational play etc.? Newbies like to talk about their “gut feeling” or “intuition” they play by. What do you think about that?
My 3 cents:
I used to learn mostly by myself until I started playing Tenhou. When I got to 2d and hit a wall, I realized how much I sucked. I was lacking solid fundamentals. I thought I had no choice but to ask other players for help. I posted games on Osamuko, started reading strategy articles in English. I began to play with more awareness of what I was doing. Slowly and gradually, I improved.
Another huge thing for me was Daina Chiba’s book which opened my eyes to some new concepts and helped me eliminate my worst habits. I followed other players’ advice and started playing fast Tonpuu to learn to think faster and get more comfortable in tight game situations.
As things stand now, I know I have what it takes to get to Tokujou with decent R. That’s my first milestone. I’m not there yet but I WILL get there. It’s quite likely that I will hit another wall and will need to get a hand from stronger players, yet again.
Mahjong is not rocket science. I think you don’t have to be a genius to figure it out by yourself (basic tile efficiency, suji etc.), but I think it’s more likely you will just develop a plethora of bad habits that way. And you will not even realize some of them because of hindsight bias. The learning process will be longer and bumpier. I can’t even imagine getting into advanced strategies…
Some may say it’s more fun to learn everything through trial and error. A matter of preference. One thing’s for sure – what you learn that way, sticks faster.
I think our Mahjong depends on individual predispositions too (and experience with similar games) – some people may naturally grasp the basic concepts and improve quicker from there. It’s their minds being more logical, I guess (???).

In my case… well, even stuff like “hey, I have 245 – I don’t need that 2 that much!” took surprisingly long to digest. Perhaps I wasn’t really paying attention back then.

Final thought: I think that initially it’s better to rely strongly on advice from better players and then, as we develop our skills, try to understand the game better on our own. A mixture. A concoction. A fusion. Sweet!

It’s definitely possible. People do that (as far as I know, DdR_Dan is self-taught and got to 6-7d on Tenhou) but (high) chances are that you’re not one of them. There are enough good materials in English and strong players willing to help. Taking advantage of that can DRASTICALLY reduce the time you need to take your Mahjong to (a) new level(s).
I admit that this is the part where I have the least to say without pulling stuff out of thin air, due to my current skill level… Bear with me 😉
Anyway, there’s certainly an element of style to Mahjong. However, I don’t like to use that word in this context at all. There are different ways to approach decision making (digital/analogue, logical/occult) yes, but it’s always you vs randomness (and those 3 other guys). I don’t think there’s a lot to develop in terms of style. Maybe I’m wrong…
If you don’t follow the most efficient (in both defense and offense) path 99% of the time, you will get nowhere in the long rOn. Your own situational twist may show through later on, once you’ve got the basic/intermediate stuff down. Before that – don’t even mention “style”. This isn’t figure skating. Just stop. Please! You either play well or badly – deal with that.
That “style” often leads to terrible misplays/really bad playing patterns being called just that. Some people get offended when stronger players point out their obvious mistakes. And they won’t give up easily. Oh no, they will stand by their “style” even after admitting their mistake. Why? Why??? WHY???? If something doesn’t work, just discard it!
I’ve heard players mention “intuition” which mostly mean blind guessing & being occasionally right. That stuff ain’t gonna work IN THE LONG RUN (and some people can’t look past their current successful crystal ball guess) until you really know the mechanics of the game really well. I think all that mumbo jumbo may come from confusing real Mahjong with some Manga/Anime.
Unless you’re a Marvel character, you probably won’t get to a level high enough to develop Mahjong “intuition” (which is nothing more than logical reasoning based on your knowledge of the game & experience) without at least a few hundreds of games played & reviewed with full focus on your and other players’ decisions. And that’s only if your mind is hard-wired for that game. Otherwise, you’ll probably need a lot more. And I mean A LOT.
I’m done. Quick bonus:
7 commandments of a Houou-to-be:
1. Thou shalt play A LOT (but not too much!)
2. Thou shalt always THINK while you play
3. Thou shalt study Mahjong & your past games
4. Thou shalt be humble & ask others for advice (even for the games you won!)
5. Thou shalt accept constructive criticism
6. Thou shalt learn to take good advice
7. …and Thou shalt learn to use it
Repeat ad infinitum 🙂

Looking forward to what any of you have to say!

May Yakuman be with you!

3 thoughts on “Pressing Issues – a Mahjong discussion

  1. I’m not that good of a player, so feel free to disregard this 😉

    1. I guess for the most part it’s training: playing, playing, and playing again. No matter how you look at it, you need to input basic concepts in your brain so that you don’t even have to think about it when playing and can use your thinking time to solve the harder part (kind of like basic calculus is a must for an accountant). As long as you can’t see basic shapes instantly, you’ll need too much time figuring it out to have any time left to balance out outer elements in your decision. The training part also includes reviewing your games, not necessarily all of them, not even most of them, but at least the few that matter. Those where things you don’t understand happened can teach you a lot.

    That being said I don’t believe training itself is enough. In the same way as if you train your body without knowing how it works you’ll probably hurt yourself, having insight in mahjong is crucial. It is especially true since mahjong is luck based, meaning you can do complete shit and still win a game or play perfectly and lose, so it is very hard to judge for yourself. To direct your training reading theory is very useful (needless to say), but also confronting with other players. That’s especially true if they’re stronger than you, but even if all you have is players of the same level or even lower it helps put perspective on things. Just finding new words to explain simple concepts to beginners sometimes helped me pinpoint them more clearly for myself!

    Another thing to train is what I’d call “mental strength”. There are definitely times where I don’t perform as well because I can’t focus on the game or, worse, I can’t get myself to do what I know I should. When I’m tired and just want to get over with, or I’m depressed and just want a big hand, I may discard dangerous tiles although I’m perfectly aware of the danger. Fighting this requires some moral values like confidence and humility, whereas on some days you’re just greedy and it gets the best of you.

    2. It’s probably possible since there are some example of people who did it. But is it the fastest way? Definitely not. Figuring things out takes time, more or less depending on how you’re trained to play different games, how well you can analyse your situations, etc. but it will always be slower than being taught. True, it’s funny to find out things by yourself, but it’s also funny to get stronger and know what you’re doing. I always think about mahjong as a craft. Sure, you can build a house all by yourself without knowing anything about carpentry, but chances are it won’t be as solid or as comfortable. Purposefully doing this would be the same as willingly putting yourself in the shoes of a prehistoric man. Sure, you may get somewhere, but I bet you’d rather take advantage of what other people discovered before you and save some time and comfort!

    There’s also maybe a humility problem, and sometimes I think it may be cultural. While Japanese people around me seem eager to listen and perform well, going along people they know have superior skills, French people (I lack experience with other Westerners) seem eager to not listen and try to prove themselves by confronting those higher-skilled players. Usually with results that lack consistency.

    3. When I see players, including strong ones, playing, I can’t help but think that there definitely are styles. That being said, all styles are definitely not equal. I always talk about the “Ministry of Silly Walks” to new players, and tell them that although there is no definite advantage to walking with longer steps than smaller ones, both of these styles are definitely superior to those shown in that Monty Python sketch. I then go on to say how sometimes when I see players who don’t want to listen to advice I feel like I’m watching said video, and that the “it’s my style” excuse doesn’t work.

    So although I think there are different valid styles (just look how advanced players don’t agree about some WWYD), they are all based on the same theory and just differ in the finer points. They don’t question the theory but rather interpret some outcomes differently. It means good players with different styles will make the same move most of the time, because that’s just what you should do, and only choose different ways in special situations. There again I have a comparison at the ready for new players: although Picasso had a pictural style that was very special, he started by studying Fine Arts and painting in an academic style, and once he got a hold of that he tried new things. So while it’s not impossible that you may be a genius and figure it all out by yourself, it’s much more likely that mastering the academic play is a necessary step before you can even judge that a style is good and start thinking about your own style.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment, Simon!

      1. I agree with what you wrote. I think that once you get a decent understanding of the game, you know what to focus on when reviewing your games by yourself. Getting feedback from other players is always very important. There are so many nuances to Mahjong that players may have many blind spots they are unaware of. And hindsight bias lurks around the corner at all times! 😉

      2. Yes – learning from others IS fun but our fragile egos don’t like it that way 😉 I liked your caveman analogy hahaha I guess that not many Europeans are serious enough about Mahjong to participate in public discussions/analyses. ERMC 2016 only proved to me that European Mahjong is by and large very casual. Many players don’t play anything but friendly real life games/EMA tournaments so they can’t even review their games properly let alone ask for feedback from stronger players (who are probably nonexistent in their circles). And that’s fine. As much as I wish for Euro Mahjong to grow & develop, I can’t really walk around preaching to people on how they should get serious about the game or bitch about other players sucking so much and winning. Everything will come in the right time, at its own pace. Or not come at all.

      I’m always willing to help others to the best of my abilities, in case anyone asks.

      3. I love Monty Python! That was a cool explanation – I will say again that there are so many nuances to Mahjong that there will always be this 1% of situations (just a rough calculation for the sake of my argument) which don’t have that one and only perfect solution. And that’s also what makes this game so beautiful and awesome.

      Thanks again and I hope to see you comment more, my blog could use some more traffic hahaha


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