Professional Mahjong

Guides and beginner's help. If you're new to mahjong, this forum is for you. All questions are welcome - don't hesitate to ask.

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InterestedPlayer
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Professional Mahjong

Post by InterestedPlayer » Sun May 15, 2011 12:50 pm

Hi guys im new to this website and i must say its an excellent place to look for mahjong resources. Anyway a bit of intro about myself, im a player of the singapore/hong kong variant and lately i have been playing online japanese mahjong to get myself familarised with the japanese variant. The thing about mahjong that i enjoy the most is the thinking process and the 'guessing' of other player's tiles.
Anyway i do have some questions to ask. How do you qualify to be a pro player in japan (more specifically the JPML)? How many leagues are there in Japan (I heard in the podcast there are pro league pro amature league champions league normal league etc.. and something about A1 A2 D1 D2?) Third, i would like to ask the pros what made you decide to become a pro mahjong player (i.e. what are the major factors that you have considered)? Finally what are study sessions?
Thanks in advance for answering these question!! (ps. sorry if these questions are being repeated or answered in the website).

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Re: Professional Mahjong

Post by Shirluban » Sun May 15, 2011 5:52 pm

Hello and welcome!

For your questions, I'll let a pro answer to it.

But I can give you a list of the big organizations in Japan and their date of creation:
Cats don't do タンヤオ (tan-yao) but タニャーオ (ta-nya-o).
World Riichi Championship Rules
Comparison of riichi rules around the world

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Re: Professional Mahjong

Post by Tom Sloper » Tue May 17, 2011 3:29 pm

InterestedPlayer wrote:1. im a player of the singapore/hong kong variant
2. lately i have been playing online japanese mahjong to get myself familarised with the japanese variant... How do you qualify to be a pro player in japan...?
3. i would like to ask the pros what made you decide to become a pro mahjong player (i.e. what are the major factors that you have considered)?
Hi Int, I omitted a couple of your questions in this reply because I can't really be helpful on those. I should preface my remarks by saying that I am not a member of any of those pro organizations myself, and I don't live in Japan currently (I did live there 20 years ago), and I am not fluent in Japanese (I speak a little and I read katakana and hiragana but not kanji). I didn't play mahjong when I lived in Japan, but started learning it 18 years ago; I have written a mahjong book and I own a mahjong website now.

1. I'm aware of the Singapore variant and I'm aware of the Hong Kong variant(s) -- is it that you play one of those, or do you play a variant that somehow mixes both? To categorize a variant, I consider the number of tiles used, how flowers are used, how many tiles are held in the hand, the relative number of special tile combinations to learn, how scoring works, how payment works, and what books are available on it. Like this:

Hong Kong Old Style
Uses 136 or 144 tiles.
Flowers are optional; if used, they are melded instantly when received.
Hold 13 tiles in the hand, go out on 14 tiles.
Relatively low number of special hands (tile combinations) to learn.
Score by counting doubles, then convert to points.
Only the winner is paid.
Books: Perlmen & Chan, Constantino, Li, Lo, Tsui

Singapore
Uses 148 tiles (basic set plus 4 animal flowers).
Game requires 12 flowers (the 8 regular flowers plus 4 animal flowers).
Hold 13 tiles in the hand, go out on 14 tiles.
Relatively low number of special hands (tile combinations) to learn.
Scoring: count the fan (doubles) and convert to points.
Only the winner is paid.
Books: Celia Ching

So these are two slightly different variants. Is it that you play one of those, or do you play a variant that somehow mixes both? If it's a variant I didn't know before, I'd like to add it to my list.

2. As I mentioned in my preface, I am not a pro player. But I imagine you have to live in Japan, be fluent in Japanese, play riichi/dora majan, and apply for membership. For starters.

3. I suppose a pro will come along and add a reply, but in the interim: I imagine one does that primarily because one loves the game and wants to get better at it and wants to play at the upper levels with other pro players. I don't imagine it's a path to riches or fame.

Anyway: majan wo tanoshinde kudasai. Ganbatte!
4649おねがいします。

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Re: Professional Mahjong

Post by InterestedPlayer » Tue May 17, 2011 6:24 pm

First of all I must thank Shirluban and Tom Sloper for such comprehensive replies. Anyway, I live in Singapore but half of my family is in Hongkong so I play both variants and not a mixes of both, i hope that will clarify some of the info made in my intro.
Just to add on to my post: i love mahjong and i love it till a point that i wouldnt mind playing the game for days and weeks, even though i wouldnt classify myself as a highly skilled player. I first notice about japanese mahjong on youtube and was quite amazed that there is actually televised mahjong in japan. I went to look/research futher on japanese mahjong and then i realised that there are actually official leagues and professionals of mahjong in japan. In hong kong and singapore there are no such official leagues or televised mahjong.
Recently I found reachmahjong.com and i am thrilled because it is actually a website on japanese mahjong and other international mahjong which is manned by an english speaking community. I visited loads of websites regarding japanese mahjong and not surprisingly, most of the webbys are written in japanese but i dont have the ability to read japanese even though i am taking elementary jap classes now. Again, I must thank everyone who is directly and indirectly supporting/updating this site.
After reading most of the stuff in reachmahjong.com and listening to the podcast, it gave me a much better understanding of japanese mahjong and the leagues.
Anyway i still have a few Qs for the pros and anyone who can answer them.
1.Is the 'pro test' open to everyone? including internaionals etc.
(Repeated question)2.What made you decide to go pro and
3what are some questions that i must ask myself before making a decision on whether or not i should become a professional player? I understand you can have full time jobs even when you are a professional player but still it is a big big transition in my life if i ever choose to go pro.

Finally, Thanks in advance and ill be looking forward in reading your replies.

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Re: Professional Mahjong

Post by xKime » Wed May 18, 2011 3:17 am

EDIT: Yeah, it took me a long time to reply, and I made a few typos and grammatic errors here and there, you will have to excuse those. I'm sorry. orz
I corrected most of them... at least the ones I found... but once it becomes a wall of text it is hard for me to check. I hope the meaning stands anyway~! I wrote it in just one go. ^^;
Anything that is not throughly explained, feel free to ask more about it.
InterestedPlayer wrote:Hi guys im new to this website and i must say its an excellent place to look for mahjong resources. Anyway a bit of intro about myself, im a player of the singapore/hong kong variant and lately i have been playing online japanese mahjong to get myself familarised with the japanese variant. The thing about mahjong that i enjoy the most is the thinking process and the 'guessing' of other player's tiles.
Anyway i do have some questions to ask. How do you qualify to be a pro player in japan (more specifically the JPML)? How many leagues are there in Japan (I heard in the podcast there are pro league pro amature league champions league normal league etc.. and something about A1 A2 D1 D2?) Third, i would like to ask the pros what made you decide to become a pro mahjong player (i.e. what are the major factors that you have considered)? Finally what are study sessions?
Thanks in advance for answering these question!! (ps. sorry if these questions are being repeated or answered in the website).
I'm studying many fields and preparing myself to apply to become a professional player by at least next year. Japanese mahjong is a wonderful game and I'm glad you're interested. I tried to answer your questions as in depth as possible until an actual professional player answers.

Japan is a country with a professional circuit in mahjong, however there are many institutions. Shirluban's list is very complete. I would say the two more important ones (at least to me) are the 日本プロ麻雀連盟 (nihon puro maajan renmei or JPML) and the 日本プロ麻雀協会 (nihon puro maajan kyoukai), as they have a lot of famous and respected players; both of them also have headquarters in both Kantou and Kansai, and also renmei's 鳳凰 (phoenix) and kyoukai's 雀王 (mahjong king) titles are very prestigious. As a matter of fact, the title holders for 鳳凰 and 雀王 even get to go directly into the 最強戦 (saikyousen) tournament; this year's 麻雀最強戦2011 is currently running, you may watch some of the preliminary matches in NicoNico Nama Housou. But I'll start from the beginning.

To qualify to be a professional player you must apply for the professional test at the institution you pretend to be into. Their addresses can always be found in their websites. You will be required to buy some application forms which you will need to fill (they may require a personal photo) before attending the test on the specified date. You will also require to pay a fee. Depending on the institution, the application forms, the fee, and the test contents are different. For example, besides the mahjong test, kyoukai also has a "general knowledge" test where you will be asked just about anything, math, origami, eating manners, movie knowledge, logic problems, etc. I'm not very detailed on the kyoukai test, but as far as I know, renmei's test on the other hand becomes more and more mahjong oriented every year, that's why I personally prefer it.

Renmei's test is two days long. In day one, you have the written test which you need to pass (some people have been exceptions, but still). In day two, you have the practical test where you will be playing mahjong with other applicants (I heard J&G in one of the podcasts mentioning that doing well in this part of the exam helps you start a little higher in the league) and then an interview carried out by a member of the organization. If I recall, Jenn's interview was carried out by Asatarou Nada. If you pass the whole exam succesfully, you will have to attend study sessions and further examinations for a period of time before you can start playing in the league. Renmei's study sessions are carried out by its members and I think it's a great chance to get insight from professional players.

There are many competitions. I'm not sure if it's correct to call them all "leagues" but there are a lot of them throughout the year, and there are quite a few on renmei alone. Winning one of renmei's leagues will grant you a title for that season (which, of course, you can brag about for as long as you want). If I recall, these are the important titles mentioned and their podcast translations:

十段戦 (Juudansen; Ten steps Tournament)
王位戦 (Ouisen; King Tournament)
麻雀マスターズ (Maajan Masutaazu; Masters)
グランプリ (Grand Prix)
女流プロリーグ(女流桜花) (Joryuu Puro Riigu; Women's League)
プロクイーン決定戦 (Puro Kuiin Ketteisen; Pro Queen)
チャンピオンズリーグ (Chanpionzu Riigu; Champion's League)
新人王 (Shinninou; (King of) Rookie's League)
特別昇級リーグ (Tokubetsu Shoukyuu Riigu; Special League)
(There is also a 関西リーグ that is open for people in the Kansai region of Japan, where both pros and amateurs may play in, and you can check how everyone is doing from renmei's site. Other instituions have their own leagues, such as Kyoukai's 雀王 league, which at the same time also has its Kansai counterpart)

And of course, last but not least, "the" league of JPML, 鳳凰位戦 (hououisen; phoenix tournament) also known as only プロリーグ (professional league). Which is effectively the one divided into D3, D2, D1, C3, C2, C1, B2, B1, A2, A1.

Basically, you play a number of games during the season where your total scores are added, and the people with the highest scores on the top move up to the next league for next season, while the people in the bottom move down back one league. People in the center may remain in the league they're currently in. For D3, the best 12 players move up and no players move down (as D3 is the lowest), but as you move up in leagues, each time the margin for going up gets more and more narrow. Sometimes it happens that enough people in the league quit so that some players supposed to be going down get to stay in the same league. Not showing up for a league match may be a negative 50 or a 0 depending on the context in which you were not present (out for a mahjong related job, or simply didn't show up without any notice). The objective of the whole league is getting to A1.

The top 3 players of A1 get to play with the current title holder of 鳳凰 to acquire the title, while the current title holder plays to defend his title (obviously, the title holder doesn't need to play in the league during the whole season). It's the most prestigious competition and title in renmei.

If you move up in leagues every year, it would take you 5 years to get to A1, if you start from D3. However, it is possible to start higher in the league. For example, currently if you win in the Special League, you move up to B2, if you get to second place you move up to C1, and if you get to third place you move up to C2. Our very own Garthe got third place in the special league in 2009.

Of course, every league has its own requisites. For example, once you're over 40 years old you may not enter the special league anymore.

Also, different from 囲碁, you need to be at least 18 years old to become a mahjong professional in Japan. This is because the tests and matches are to be conducted in mahjong parlors where minors are not allowed. Study sessions are often conducted there as well.

Study sessions may have different activities, but I think it's usually professional players directing their views and knowledge and a few questions for the people attending, and everyone is expected to participate and share their opinion to help their personal growth. I think most of them are like lectures, but many different professional players also get payed to hold study sessions in different parlors. Discussion of the game is a must. Of course, in order to understand the whole session or lecture you are expected to know at least enough Japanese to understand other people's views and express your own. It depends on what you call a study session; you may hold study sessions yourself with your friends at home if you're studying, but there are also 研究会 which is like, research sessions?
In any case, you will know what the study session is about if you attend it; or if you read the program or website (if available). As I'm not currently located in Japan, I haven't had the pleasure of attending one myself (as I haven't even set foot in a parlor) but once I transfer there I expect to frequent them. Even the somewhat famous internet player Pechorin highly recommends assisting study sessions.

Personally, I decided I want to become a professional player because mahjong is the one thing I want to continue doing for the rest of my life. More than that, I want to somehow help it grow. I think it can greatly affect one person's thinking patterns, for good, and the more intellectual of a game it gets, the better I'll feel about it. My personal goal is to become really strong; even if not by having good results in tournaments or leagues, at least to be strong in one way or another (it's a game of mind and soul as well); if I can be at least theoretically strong, knowing enough of the game and having had a great development as a player, I wouldn't mind if I don't get a single title. I wouldn't mind just being a prop player at a parlor my whole life either. Or just writing/translating articles, or somehow... just being "there" in the mahjong world, because it's where I found a home and feel like I somehow may belong there. It's the only thing in which I have found a purpose. If I became a professional, that would make me feel special and motivated. That's why I have been studying for all this time, and what I want to keep studying. It's somehow the only thing I do that feels "real." I don't really know how to explain it, but I really can't see myself working with anything that's not related to it. That's why I think the best and more direct way to carry out this objective is by going through the experience of being a professional player.
Anyway i still have a few Qs for the pros and anyone who can answer them.
1.Is the 'pro test' open to everyone? including internaionals etc.
(Repeated question)2.What made you decide to go pro and
3what are some questions that i must ask myself before making a decision on whether or not i should become a professional player? I understand you can have full time jobs even when you are a professional player but still it is a big big transition in my life if i ever choose to go pro.
The renmei (JPML's) professional test is open to anyone over the age of 18 who can provide the necessary documentation, all explained in here: http://www.ma-jan.or.jp/protest/index.php
Of course, the league matches will be carried out in Japan so you're expected to be living mostly in there, and every form you have to fill will all be in Japanese, so you're expected to know the language first. The test itself is also in Japanese. There are Chinese players and American players (our very own Jenn and Garthe) of any sex, and there's no limit age.

For the second question I already answered up there, but for the third question I think it's too early to worry about that. If you already play mahjong in parlors and tournaments all the time then I don't think it will be that big of a transition, and if you don't if you're just a casual player, ask yourself if you really want to spend all that money and time into becoming a professional player. Before you decide to become pro, you won't really need to ask yourself; it probably will be the choice that comes naturally to you. I think you should begin thinking about that once you made plans to live and work/study in Japan, and right now just focus on the fun of the game and getting to really learn how much you like it and what kind of level you want to play it in. I can't see myself getting related with non-mahjong playing friends and I cannot also see myself playing without a goal, that's why I want to join the mahjong circuit of Japan. For me it's not just a choice, there is no other choice. And I think the best moment in your life to become a professional player is when you feel that same feeling.

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Re: Professional Mahjong

Post by InterestedPlayer » Wed May 18, 2011 8:00 am

xKime thanks a million for such a long post and it helped me alot.

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Re: Professional Mahjong

Post by deJENNerate » Sat May 28, 2011 2:53 am

Hi Guys,

Shirluban brought this topic to my attention last week, but with all of the responses it took me a while to read through and come up with my own response. Also I'm behind again on website updates. I'm catching up, just slowly. Thanks for your understanding guys.

Kime laid out lots and lots of stuff so I'll do my best not to repeat too much. I'll address the stuff that he mentioned first to try and avoid that. Shirluban mentioned all the big pro associations. JPML is the most stable and most well-known. I am probably biased as I'm in it, but I love it and I love being part of it and I wouldn't have it any other way. Garthe and I both have friends in just about every association as well.

First I will disagree with Kime on one point. Although the Nihon Pro Mahjong Association (日本プロ麻雀協会 (nihon puro maajan kyoukai) does have some famous players and they were definitely way up there before, I think Saikoui-sen (SNPM) has put a lot of time and effort into training their players and in my opinion they stand above NPM at this point. If I were to choose between the 2 I would pick Saikoui-sen. (I would never leave JPML though).

I can't say anything about the other tests, but JPML's is getting stricter every year. The year Garthe and I joined I think there were 40 new members and that is when D2 was created. A lot of great players came out of our year, but I think the league realized that it was a bit much and stakes went up. There less joining the next year and even less now.
The system has changed. Before you would either pass or get a trial-pass. Both required 6 months of monthly study sessions to prepare to join the league. The trial-passers had to take another test right before the start of the season. At that time if you showed up you generally passed. Now things are more strict and the trial-passers have to show improvement. They are required to play in Champions League (the only non-members allowed to) and put a lot of time into improving. This system is changing every year so it might even be different already.
十段戦 (Juudansen; Ten steps Tournament)
王位戦 (Ouisen; King Tournament)
麻雀マスターズ (Maajan Masutaazu; Masters)
グランプリ (Grand Prix)
女流プロリーグ(女流桜花) (Joryuu Puro Riigu; Women's League)
プロクイーン (Puro Kuiin Ketteisen; Pro Queen)
チャンピオンズリーグ (Chanpionzu Riigu; Champion's League)
新人王 (Shinninou; (King of) Rookie's League)
特別昇級リーグ (Tokubetsu Shoukyuu Riigu; Special League)
(There is also a 関西リーグ that is open for people in the Kansai region of Japan, where both pros and amateurs may play in, and you can check how everyone is doing from renmei's site. Other instituions have their own leagues, such as Kyoukai's 雀王 league, which at the same time also has its Kansai counterpart)
Out of this list the only "leagues" are the Women's League, Champion's League and Special League. Our biggest one is obviously Pro League, which feeds into the A1 Phoenix Cup. 新人王 is the Rookie Cup and is only a one-day tournament.
There is a Kansai League in JPML. There is also a Hokkaido League, Northeast League, Northland League, Shizuoka League, North-Kanto League (which Garthe and I play in), Northeast League, Mid-region League and Kyushu League. Each member of these regional leagues are JPML pro's and many of them come to Tokyo to play in Masters, OUI and other events.
Anyway i do have some questions to ask. How do you qualify to be a pro player in japan (more specifically the JPML)? How many leagues are there in Japan (I heard in the podcast there are pro league pro amature league champions league normal league etc.. and something about A1 A2 D1 D2?) Third, i would like to ask the pros what made you decide to become a pro mahjong player (i.e. what are the major factors that you have considered)? Finally what are study sessions?
1.Is the 'pro test' open to everyone? including internaionals etc.
(Repeated question)2.What made you decide to go pro and
3what are some questions that i must ask myself before making a decision on whether or not i should become a professional player? I understand you can have full time jobs even when you are a professional player but still it is a big big transition in my life if i ever choose to go pro.
Ok, so what hasn't been mentioned yet.
It really doesn't make sense to join the league if you're don't live here. At least not right now. Things may change in the future, but it does cost money to be a member of the league and you're expected mostly to promote yourself if you want to make that money back through means of mahjong.
The test is open to everyone but generally you would need a visa to live in Japan so that you have a Japanese address and ID. You would certainly need a means of income besides mahjong and it's not likely that you can get a visa just by working in a mahjong parlor. Being a pro for most of the JPML members does not take a lot of time. The ones that you hear about are not even 10% of the pro's. I would say that 95% of JPML members work full time or, some of the women, have families that they take care of. Some of them work full-time in mahjong parlors as well, but make a minimal wage at it.
Study sessions really vary depending on who is running them and what the purpose is. Most JPML study sessions are invite-only, even within the league. The ones that Garthe and I generally participate in have only some discussion. We play games and only mention things that stand out. We don't take hand histories and the games are fast. This is a high-level study session.
Other sessions will have only 4 members play a game and others will take hand histories. Afterward there will be discussion or maybe a reenactment of certain hands with discussion at each step. Some play open and talk about each discard while the game is going on. Some are open to anyone. There's really no "right" way to run a study session. It's just a term used when people are practicing.

As far as becoming a pro. I think at first I just thought it was cool. I only wanted to play mahjong all the time. Now I know that when I'm at the table, nothing else exists. The mahjong table is where I belong. It's too bad I'm not better at the game ;-)
But this is what I do and even after 5 years it's all I want to do everyday. I do other things like poker and translations to supplement my income, but my passion and focus is all mahjong and that's why we created ReachMahjong.com. I'm glad that you came across our site and I hope that I can get my butt into gear and get these updates all going back on schedule so that we can get more readers like you and grow the community. Maybe then someday there will be a circuit outside of Japan too!

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