Krabman interviews…. Episode 27


In today’s episode we have two guests from the Discord channel! The first one to go is Troll of Nova:

1.  How did you start playing Riichi?
I started in 2003 trying to figure out the rules of mahjong based off of online sources. It was only in late 2006 that I managed to find the mahjong club in Montreal (the now defunct “Mah-jong Montréal”). I made a point to travel to the club every two weeks (or as much as humanly possible, including a few occasions where I missed the midnight bus home. Luckily I was working evenings and not daytime when that happened 🙂

2. What do you like the most about it?
The rules make sense, even with its minor complications. The ability to trade off speed for value is not a mechanic found in other mind games, and very few other board games. The fact that a player is always vulnerable (as opposed to simply mucking a poker hand in Texas Hold’em for nothing, a small blind or big blind) is a captivating thing, teaching players to always consider defence with their offence, negating a stereotype in other games and in society that says that “offence is the best defence”. It makes you grow as a player and as a person. Also, there is a community that exists worldwide (with sparse but vibrant gathering points) that is generally interested in meeting new people and inviting them to their cities. Some have skills to teach, some have stories to tell, some are just great to enjoy a cold beer with. Some have even offered me their couch while barely knowing them. I politely refused but made a point to visit them more formally the following year. Big thanks to 「fso」 and 「Yazphier」 for their generosity and their amicable personalities, along with their circle of friends in Linköping, Sweden.

3. How often do you play?
Well, I used to be a 90% live player until I moved a whole time zone away from Montreal. Now, I have to play more online. I enjoy interacting with the opponents I play against. It was IRC back in the day but now Discord is the go-to place for community discussion, chat and voice as well. I don’t play daily like some people do, but I do play a variable amount of times a week, every week. If you can’t bother to use voice chat when playing, it does affect my desire to play with other people. So feel free to ask me to play with voice chat.

4. Online or live Mahjong – which one do you prefer and why?
My preference is for live mahjong, but unless you have a dedicated room or location that has mahjong being played 12+ hours a day so you can just drop in, you have to complement your live experiences with online play. If you are playing live, you learn to pick up on some subtleties of players that do not exist on an online client. They are also there to explain to you things like what furiten really is, they can teach new players into learning the game, and when you’ve learned enough about the game, you can teach in turn. You can’t really do this online. Online mahjong does have its perks, so I won’t begrudge people playing online… except if they live within a stone’s throw of a club and never bother going [or within a few stones’ throws and not bothering to go once every x-period of time].

5. How do you practice/learn strategy & theory?
I tell people in real life situations to “be smart enough not to repeat other people’s mistakes”, but in Mahjong, it’s the complete opposite. It’s only when you make certain kinds of mistakes then read up on a lesson or situation that highlights a very similar scenario that you can assimilate the contents of the lesson. I mean, don’t get me wrong. You can definitely read those books and assimilate about half of it on your own, but it’s those moments that you tell yourself “why did I do that” that opens your mind to learn the lesson you may have been closed off from. Do it in parallel with actually playing. Don’t spend 9 months reading books on the toilet then going to play. The only strategy you could develop on the crapper is… poop.

6. Favorite Yakuman?
Probably because of my calling nature, All Green 「ryûiisô」, All Ends 「chinrôtô」 and All Honors 「tsûiisô」. My favorite hand though would have to be a Riichi Seven-Pair hand coupled with a Flush or a terminal hand with enough bonuses to get Haneman+… or all this at once, e.g. 1199m11225577z, Baiman even with no Dora. It can be used to deep-six other players’ progression if they are dependent on yakuhai to be relevant.

7. Any tournament achievements?
Well, let’s start with who I am, and what names I could be known by. Many people know me as either 「Senechal Duhaut」 or 「Trundle」, except that both of these are not real. Because of the existence of other variants of Mahjong, I don’t view being associated with Chinese influences as a good thing, nor can I trust others to use my name only in good context. Farming and republishing names may be acceptable given the nature of results, but the commentary (and even the poor English used) is either unintentionally offensive or intentionally insulting. I mean criticism is fair, but some of the stuff I saw written about others was just unsightly and find no need to subject myself to that. Also, the result reporting may distort the event in a way that gives a different impression of many of the hard battles players had to fight to win. You can’t resume the fight in numerical terms expecially when those terms are not explained, nor if points were carried over, cut or retained prior to these finals. I won (1st/28) the Copenhagen Riichi Open in 2011, a 5-hanchan event. It wasn’t easy, but I was riding the wave, and when presented with a life-or-death situation in Round 1, I took the plunge and got rewarded heavily. Losing Round 1 would have robbed me of the tournament win.

I took part in the next edition of the CRO in 2012 (8th/32), I did my best at WRC 2014 but had a tough field to play against (90th/120), and then ran two tournaments of my own in Montreal (referee) and took part in two in the USA, New York City in 2015 (10th/40), Rochester NY in 2016 (11th/28)… and before anyone reminds me, one bad apple in Utrecht 2011 (67th/68).

I tried running an online system, which did have a wild success of promoting people to play thousands of games (the highest frequency of games in Tenhou’s 7447 lobby since it was used as the “officious” English lobby), but ended up dying 6 months after, not having built upon it to make something greater. It mainly failed due to trying to corral people over multiple time zones.

I tried my hand at participating in various online event things over the years, starting with a few losses and recently raking in successes (3rd in the NARMA Winter Online Open, 1st/24 in the first of a new series of biweekly tournaments that 「Rosti」 is running with the staff at ).

8. Biggest Mahjong related dream?
I was about to say “I don’t have one, because I’ve done most of what I wanted to do in these 15 years of learning and perfecting my knowledge of Mahjong, and everything else afterwards is just more fun.” Except a few thoughts flashed through my mind: * I haven’t set foot in Japan, nor been to some of the key places I want to visit. I mean, bona fide tourism is fine, but I do want to see Shibuton, at least 1 ZOO and 1 Marchao location, Potti (in Kyoto), as well as the Alban shop, and a few other places that I may need introductions to visit. I believe my Mahjong and language skills sufficient to get in the door and seated at a table, but both would probably need some rust knocked off if I am to fully enjoy the experience. But this isn’t a dream, it’s just delayed reality until I can afford the time, money and lodging. I can definitely afford the food though 🙂 * There are too many countries and people to visit in Europe. 2017 will bring me to Austria. 2018 could being me to the UK, Poland or who knows where. The Americans are always bugging me to go places as well. Texas, California, Seattle…

But I think I do have dreams for Mahjong: For Riichi Mahjong to grow not by a factor of 10, but 50 or 100.

For organizations to exist, develop and integrate better with each other. If this involves having multiple competing but collaborating organizations in a given geographic area, so be it. Two is better than zero.

For the game to be on solid ground to not be reliant on other Mahjong versions.

For the playerbase to be large enough to support Mahjong parlors 10+ hours a day, 7 days a week. With enough clubs in more remote areas, the bigger focal points (where we have stuff today) should all have at least one. Or at least a game café that can support Mahjong and other mind games like chess, Go, Shôgi and Scrabble, as well as other games that I might not care about much (Backgammon, Bridge, Hearts, Skat, Belote, etc…) but don’t force you to buy a boxed game whose replay value can die within 10 games. Mind games contribute much more to society than the average boxed board game.

9. Quick tip for Mahjong beginners?

Read the first sentence per step and skip the rest if you want the cliff notes.

Step 1: Play. Do what you are comfortable with. Get some positive experiences in. [Do this at a club meeting. Do not go to a tournament without having a chance to play live.]

Step 2: Observe what others are doing. Try to reason why someone would cut a certain tile from a hand that you wouldn’t do. Do this many times. Figure out why, when and how people pull back defensively, especially when they seem to have 5200+ points in their hand. You could try to build a profile of players and playstyles, but IMHO doing anything formally is a waste of time. As long as you can notice “this person is going for an All Simples hand 「Tan’yao」, these are likely courses of action” and “that person went into Riichi after throwing 6m THEN 7m from inside their hand, you must not throw the 8m or 9m at any cost.” Profile actions and intent, but not specific people.

Step 3: Read up on relevant works of Mahjong and challenge any solid ideas you may believe. I have a book from Namba Shibukawa (in Japanese), as well as having read Daina Chiba’s Riichi Mahjong Strategy Books (currently only Riichi Book 1 is out). That book is great for people who are still beginning: they understand the basic components and mechanics of the game, but it’s an important complement to your own knowledge. The five-block theory is actually the most significant element IMHO: it may be something that you’ve internalized for over a decade, but when you read it on paper/screen, you realize that you weren’t applying this knowledge to your hand construction as well as you thought you did. Question, learn, adapt, test, perfect.

Step 4: Get out there. Join a club if it is in proximity. If it’s too far for a weekly outing, go monthly, or once a season. But don’t sit on your butt at home. If you are legitimately too far from anyone (Kansas, Montana, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Canadian territories, or southeast Europe), then consider making a vacation trip to a club that has extended club hours (don’t go for 5 hours, but a 12-hour day is worth it) or club-level events over two days. Talk to them and see if they can accomodate you. Most will bend over backwards to have you succeed and enjoy the game. An 8-hour public day plus a one-table private meeting the next day would definitely be within the purview of most club members to make happen for distant players. Don’t go to a tournament until you’ve felt the experience of a club meet or rally at least once, but do go to them once you are knowledgeable of all the game’s Yaku (and han values), and of all applications of furiten. Don’t mind not knowing the intricacies of scoring, mind the intricacies of play, then come and join in the fun.

Step 5: Have fun, and remember that your opponents are friends you play with, not people to destroy and demean.

Thanks a lot for this interesting read, Nova!

May Yakuman be with you!

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