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Discussion regarding rule sets based around Riichi, MCR, ZJ

Posted: Thu Apr 14, 2011 7:31 pm
by Mordachai
Hello, I'm new to the forum although I have been following the site for quite some time. I'd like to state my view on the title subject and open up for a discussion on preferred rule set among the readers of this article. I would like to apologize for the lengthy text.

A background of me as a Mahjong player is in order (a full gaming background can be found here I am an avid gamer, having played board games (and other games) since my childhood (born -78). I first came into contact with Mahjong as a teenager in the form of the Classic Chinese rule set. While I was fascinated by the game (as I was by most games) it was a brief encounter that left little impression.

The year 2000 I spent a summer in Japan studying Japanese and briefly came into contact with Riichi. A few years later I encountered the game again, this time with the Hong Kong rule set and then MCR. I found both rule sets very interesting, with MCR being the better one. Mahjong was played for a while in my gaming group and then died out.

Then in 2009, in a new city due to work, my new gaming group was introduced to MRC at a gaming convention and it became the main game in the group, being played regularly. This rekindled my interest for the game and I started reading up on some basic strategy. While doing so I read up on the different rule sets and became more and more interested in Riichi.

In 2010 my gaming group didn’t play much so I joined Mahjong Time and tried the different rule sets out. When MT severely restricted gaming for non paying members I stopped playing there (I didn’t play regularly enough to warrant a subscription).

Finally, in the fall of 2010 I started studying Japanese again and once again came into contact with Riichi. My gaming group is currently playing once a week and in April of 2011 I managed to successfully introduce Riichi. I am also playing a bit online (currently replacing Dragon Kong with Tenhou).

Back to the topic already!

I feel there are a couple of important differences between Riichi and other rule sets of Mahjong that make Riichi a better game for me as a gamer. This is of course very subjective, but I’ll try to describe these points by comparing to MCR, the main rule set played in Sweden (and Europe).

The issue of win on self draw versus win on discard.

In MCR (and most other rule sets) a win on self draw yield a much higher reward than winning on a discard from another player. A MCR min point hand of 8 points will yield 48 points if self drawn (8+8 from each player) and 32 points if won on discard (8+8 points from the discarder, 8 each from the other two opponents). Thus, a min point hand yields 150% the points if self drawn, not that big of a deal.

The higher the hand points, the bigger the difference though. A medium scoring hand of 22 hand points (e.g. one color straight, all chows, voided suit and three flowers) would yield 196% the points if self drawn (30*3=90 for self drawn and 30+8+8=46 for won on discard).

A monster hand such as little three dragons, half flush (70 hand points) yields 234 points if self drawn (78*3) and 94 if won on discard (78+8+8). That means a self drawn is worth 249% the points of a won by discard one.

I regard winning on self draw a win because of getting lucky, rather than a win because of outplaying the opponents. Theoretically, if I draw your winner and discard it, I have made a mistake. Depending on how far into the hand we are and how many melds you have made the mistake can be considered lesser or greater. On the other hand there is no way to defend against a self draw and yet it yields a much higher reward. A self draw also hit indiscriminately, disregarding the way the opponents behaved. Thus, it could be said that while you don’t want to be the one discarding the winner, your favored situation if an opponent is waiting is to have one or both other opponents playing very loose to lessen the risk of you having to pay the price of the self draw.

In Riichi this is not the case. A Tsumo yield the same amount of points as a Ron with one exception, when you Tsumo with a fully concealed hand, in which you get an extra yaku. What does change between Tsumo and Ron, however, is which player(s) responsible for paying. With Tsumo, the opponents share the responsibility, with the dealer paying double compared to the others (the downside of always getting 150% of the points and another go as dealer if winning). With Ron, the discarding player is responsible for the entire sum.

In other words, winning on self draw is not rewarded in Riichi (unless you have a fully concealed hand) compared to if you claim a discard. Instead the entire burden of a win by discard is placed on the player that made the mistake of discarding the winning tile and this brings us to the second issue, defending.

The issue of playing defense.

In MCR playing defense is a quite difficult. I may very well be wrong here, but it seems that the best defense in MCR is building the quickest legal hand possible. The exception to this is when one of the other players is in an obvious waiting state with a potential big hand, but even in that case defending is problematic.

In MCR all tiles are drawn before the round is declared a draw. That means that waiting player(s) winning tiles will get drawn, either by him/her self or by one of the opponents. With the preface of you not being the one waiting, the latter option naturally is of preference since a victory on self draw will cost you as much as if you had discarded into the winning hand yourself. If the tiles are drawn by you or the opponents a willful act of keeping it in hand is necessary to keep the tile from flowing out and ending the round. But, even if you manage to deduce the wait and keep the dangerous tiles in hand, you will end up paying a penalty if the winning tile flows out (the fact that all players pay a minimum of 8 points to the winner is another, albeit smaller problem). At that point one can only hope it was a win by discard and not a self draw.

In Riichi the situation is quite different due to two important rules; the dead wall and furiten. The dead wall consists of 14 tiles that will never come into play. This means 10,3% of the tiles will never enter play. In other words, the winning tiles have a chance/risk of never being drawn by any of the players which in itself means that good waits become all the more important. Hell waits are called hell waits for a reason.

Furiten is the rule that set Riichi apart from the other rule sets and state that you cannot win on a discard if one of your earlier discarded tiles could be used to finish the hand (although as long as you have a yaku you can still win on self draw). This means that any and all tiles discarded by a waiting player are now safe to discard (in regard to that particular player). This also means that other tiles can be sorted into a scale of very dangerous to probably safe. Combined with the dead wall, this make defending a much easier task in Riichi compared to MCR.

Also, since discarding the winning tile make you responsible for the entire sum to be paid while a victory by self draw will set you back much less than that (most of the time) defending becomes an important part of game play. In several cases “folding” your hand to lessen the chance of dealing into an opponent is the correct choice. These cases are mainly when you have a hand that is either, a) far from ready, b) not quite ready and cheap or c) ready or close to ready but consisting of dangerous tiles that need to be discarded to maintain the ready state. The more obvious it is that an opponent is waiting, the stronger your own hand must be to keep pushing for a win yourself. There are, of course, other factors to consider, such as current standings, but in the end what matters is who pays who. You can’t win in Mahjong unless you win hands, but if you keep throwing other players their winners the climb to victory will be that much steeper.

Final thoughts

Thanks to the rules of the dead wall and furiten, Riichi gives the player a much greater chance of playing defense than offered by MCR. Also, the potential benefit of playing a good defense is much greater in Riichi since only the discarder pay in case of win by discard and there is no inherent benefit of winning by self draw. This all sums up to my personal conclusion:

Riichi should be the gamer choice of Mahjong rule set since it is the rule set that most benefit the individual who can correctly deduct when to play offense or defense and actually give the player a decent chance to play defense when so desired or needed.

I would like to end with pointing out that I am currently quite the Mahjong novice, but I aim to become better. If you want to play a game, look me up at Dragon Kong or Tenhou. My ID is Mordachai on Dragon Kong and ジェスパー on Tenhou.

Jesper Edmark, 2011-04-14

Re: Discussion regarding rule sets based around Riichi and M

Posted: Thu Apr 14, 2011 10:59 pm
by Jiazzz
I agree on most parts.
The only mixed feelings I have with Riichi is that players who always play defensively do not get punished when they don't win (when somebody gets a ron on somebody else's discard). Luckily the yakitori rule covers that.

I recently visited the local mahjong club and they play MCR.
I was familiair with HK and Japanese rules, but I couldn't win because the others had more luck.

Re: Discussion regarding rule sets based around Riichi and M

Posted: Fri Apr 15, 2011 12:40 am
by Shirluban
I also agree.
There is just some little things I want to add:

In Riichi, a tsumo on a concealed hand gives one han (double) and a ron on a concealed hand gives ten fu, which is barely equivalent to half a double for the score. So Riichi rules really rewards concealness more than self-drawing. The (anecdotal) reward for self-draw is even less than it seems at first.

Beside the dead wall and the furiten rule, defense is easier in Riichi than in MCR because Riichi have few scoring patterns, so it's easier to guess what kinds of hands your opponents are doing.
Furthermore, Riichi have a low minimum score requirement to go out and yaku are quite flexible, letting you enough space to switch some parts of your hand (to keep a dangerous tile, ...) without totally ruining your hand.

Re: Discussion regarding rule sets based around Riichi and M

Posted: Fri Apr 15, 2011 1:42 am
by xKime
Great post. It addresses my problem wit MCR in a very detailed and articulate way.

Even though I seem to notice that today's mahjong is progressively becoming more about going for it (without dealing in with obviously dangerous tiles) and gradually less about pure defense. Open tan yao + red dora play a big role in that, and also shuugi chips at parlors. So, I don't think "punishing players who don't win" is something necessary, as they are always being punished -as it is-. When you don't want to waste your points into an investment that's not going to pay out for you, you shouldn't be forced to pay up for someone else's mistake, mainly because -his- hand and -your- hand weren't the same. A player that has nothing to push for the win with, having to pay because of a player who pushed just because he felt he could win doesn't make it a very fun game. Maybe for people who like to go for it every time anyway, who say "folding is boring" and such there may be no difference, but if ultimately mahjong became a game where we all go for it every hand because folding has some to none merit at all, it would become much more about luck and less about "read" and skill.

You sound like a very defensive player, though. I suggest you don't get too tight sometimes. I couldn't help but notice ... rn=&tn=&l=
out of 43 games you have only 6 first places, but a huge amount of thirds. Until you reach third dan or so, play a little bit more for first. The punishment for fourth is not as big yet.

I really feel the game is highly based on "the punishment" and "award" there is for different choices, and hence I feel strongly against a ruleset that is very likely to award bad decisions and punish the good ones so often. Riichi does too, just like any mahjong version, but at least you have some sense of "control."

Re: Discussion regarding rule sets based around Riichi and M

Posted: Fri Apr 15, 2011 5:00 am
by Tom Sloper
You might have just graduated from novice with that post! (^_^)
Yes, MCR is not very defense-friendly. The Japanese-style orderly discards and marked exposures help a little, but the rules permit activity that circumvents defensive play.

Re: Discussion regarding rule sets based around Riichi and M

Posted: Fri Apr 15, 2011 8:14 am
by Mordachai
First of all, thank you for the replies!

Jiazzz - Havn't played with Yakitori, although I guess that would make lesser hands more prevalent. As I wrote I especially like the fact that a defending player isn't punished for playing a good defense, so I have to disagree with you there. Paying for someone elses mistake is just plain wrong.

Shirluban - Good point about the 10 extra fu for hidden hand and Ron. As you said that also lessens the inherent value of Tsumo. The many ways of finding points in MCR is certainly one of the main issues that make defending so hard. One of my favourite structures in MCR is Knitted Straight just for this reason. The opponents have a hard time detecting it and by itself that structure gives the hand enough points to be eligable for a win. Sure, you can't call the straight, but that is just another reason to keep the hand hidden.

xKime - Thank you for the praise, unfortunatly I am more versed with words than with the tiles. I wish that what you said were true, about me being too defensive... unfortunately my many 3rd placements have been because I tend to push a little to hard and throw into a mangan or worse early on. Since I have only played TonPuuSen games on Tenhou so far, that means I have been hard pressed to try and make a comeback. While most of the time I manage to get past at least one other player, I seldom get all the way to second or top (hence my comment about the climb to the top being steeper if you throw other players winners). When I start out a bit more careful I usually have a higher chance of ending up 1st or 2nd. I am probably more suited for HanChan games, since TenPuuSen is more luck driven being half as long. I'll probably switch to HanChans later on.

Tom - If only eloquence helped me do better at the table... Yes, the structured pond in MCR does help a bit, but it is much harder to read ponds in MCR than in Riichi and I'm not very good at it in Riichi either. I tend to throw tiles I think are safe just to find I have read the wait wrong, which is quite annoying.

Incidently, I posted this article at BoardGameGeek as well and got other kind of responses there. It seems many of my gamer peers advocate Zung Jung over either Riichi or MCR. What are your thoughts about Zung Jung?

Re: Discussion regarding rule sets based around Riichi and M

Posted: Fri Apr 15, 2011 3:36 pm
by Torgo
I wrote about ZJ on BGG. I don't think you'll find too many fans of it here. After all, look at the top of this page for the site's name. My impression is that folks here love riichi. Some to the point of being blind to its deficiencies. Others are well aware of them, but resigned to them, as attempting to make it better would seem impossible. AFAIK, only I and Alan Kwan are ZJ's proponents, but William Hung (yes THAT one) seems to enjoy it too. I believe both Jenn and Garthe have played in the WSoM, but they live in the world of riichi. It has a rich culture.

I still believe no current style is perfect, and none may ever be. Zung Jung is the only one that seems open to improvement.

Re: Discussion regarding rule sets based around Riichi and M

Posted: Fri Apr 15, 2011 5:57 pm
by Shirluban
Zung Jung is probably the easiest rule to learn. I think the most complicated part is the payment sharing below 30 points.
Compared to Riichi, which have some tricky parts, and Chinese Official, where most players just give-up learning the scoring system's exceptions and asymmetric logic, it's a big advantage.

It also seems that the scoring pattern's values are well balanced regarding their difficulties.
Furthermore, the lack of the round wind and of East's inflation make it a very good rule for tournaments or other situations where you have to stop playing at a given time. Nobody get advantage of being East or double wind more times than others.

Unfortunately, I've never played Zung Jung so I can't tell for the actual gameplay.

About what Torgo said, it's sure the comments here are biased in favor of Riichi, since people who don't like it would find few interest for a site dedicated to Riichi. They're welcome anyway.

Re: Discussion regarding rule sets based around Riichi and M

Posted: Fri Apr 15, 2011 6:03 pm
by Mordachai
Yes, as you both said I expected alot of support of my view on riichi on this forum, but I still felt it a place to post the article. However, the article itself was first and foremost written with in mind, since I've been active on that site for a long time now. As Mahjong (Riichi) is the only game I've been playing lately, and the fact that I've been lurking on this site for quite some time, I felt it prudent to publish the article on both sites. Input from different sources is always welcome as well.

If anybody is interested in the responses on BGG I can copy them to this site if requested.

Re: Discussion regarding rule sets based around Riichi and M

Posted: Fri Apr 15, 2011 6:21 pm
by Shirluban
Mordachai wrote:If anybody is interested in the responses on BGG I can copy them to this site if requested.
Or just give the link, if the forum is public.
(I looked for it, but I still haven't found what I'm looking for).

Re: Discussion regarding rule sets based around Riichi and M

Posted: Sat Apr 16, 2011 3:22 am
by Tom Sloper
Mordachai wrote:It seems many of my gamer peers [on BoardGameGeek] advocate Zung Jung over either Riichi or MCR. What are your thoughts about Zung Jung?
I haven't played ZJ but I've looked over the rules and I know the designer.
The main thing to know about ZJ is that it was designed by an expert player, expert in HK and Japanese rules. His goal was to design a new variant to overcome what he saw as flaws in both. The ZJ rules were adopted by the World Series of Mahjong for use in their money tournaments, so it's undergone some serious usage and possibly a couple of refinements.

Re: Discussion regarding rule sets based around Riichi and M

Posted: Sun Apr 17, 2011 1:46 pm
by Torgo
Shirluban wrote:
Mordachai wrote:If anybody is interested in the responses on BGG I can copy them to this site if requested.
Or just give the link, if the forum is public.
(I looked for it, but I still haven't found what I'm looking for).
Link -> ... focused-ar

Re: Discussion regarding rule sets based around Riichi and M

Posted: Sun Apr 17, 2011 3:33 pm
by Mordachai
Thank you, Torgo!

Re: Discussion regarding rule sets based around Riichi and M

Posted: Thu Apr 21, 2011 9:31 am
by Mordachai
Got some interesting replies from Alan Kwan, creator of the Zung Jung system, over at boardgamegeek. Follow the link (two posts) above to get there.

Re: Discussion regarding rule sets based around Riichi and M

Posted: Fri May 27, 2011 7:55 pm
by zzo38
I think Zung Jung is not bad rules. Japanese Riichi rules also not bad. MCR is horrible in my opinion, it has a lot of stupid things in it. Of course regardless what you play, you can play variants, such as Washizu Mahjong (including or not including teams, including or not including hit points), or you can play 2/4 transparent or 1/4 transparent if you dislike 3/4 transparent, you can also change other rules like, I have read on this forums, even, some computer games that have variant rules with you can see the previous player's tiles, you can see all tiles that are in all player's initial hand, yakitori, wareme, etc. Or make up the rule that menzen count for the requirement but is not worth any extra points.Also, tsumo win is sometimes worth a bit more than ron win even in Japanese Riichi mahjong, due to rounding. If you want to simplify by making all hands count 25 fu then there is no rounding and it will be worth the same amount.