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10 Tips to Help Your Games Run Smoothly 
by MJS

March 29th 2019

Here we will go through 10 things you can do to help your games of mahjong run much more smoothly.  You may notice that as you build these good habits, your play will speed up as well.


Building the Wall

Of course this requires practice, but in riichi mahjong, you have to form 2 rows of 17 tiles to build the wall.  After doing so, you push both rows forward, then take the row that is closer to you and put it on top of the further row.


The key is that the rows are 17 tiles long.  Players commonly count each tile as they form the first row, or they will grab several tiles and count afterwards, but there is an easier way to do this.


Try gathering the tiles in groups of 5, 6, and 6.


Take 5 tiles to start. Then, grab 3 tiles in each hand and place them on either side of the first 5 tiles.  Repeat that step, and you will end up with 17 tiles.  Do this all once more, and you will be ready to build your wall.


There are other methods to build a wall quickly, but this one is natural and easy to remember.  With some practice, you can become a master at building your wall.


Memorize Which Wall to Break Based on the Dice Roll

When you roll the dice as dealer, the sum of the dice will be between 2 and 12. Try to memorize which wall corresponds to which numbers.


You break the wall to your right when you roll 2, 6, or 10.


You break the wall across from you when you roll 3, 7, or 11.


You break the wall to your left when you roll 4, 8, or 12.


And you break your own wall when you roll 5 or 9.


Usually, the player whose wall you have to break will break the wall for you to make it easier.  But in competition mahjong, the dealer is the one who has to break the wall.  It is not difficult at all to remember these patterns, and doing so will speed up your game.



Breaking the Wall when the Dice Roll is 9 or Above

This will also take practice, but you should be able to easily break the wall when the number on the dice is 8 or below.  The problem is 9 through 12.  Counting the tiles in the wall one by one, or even two by two, takes longer than necessary when starting from the right side.

Of course, you do have to break the wall 9 or more tiles from the right side when you roll a high number, but you could always count from the opposite side.  Knowing that the wall is 17 tiles long, you could just subtract the number on the dice from 17 to count from the opposite side of the wall.

For instance, when you roll a 9, you could just count 8 from the opposite side of your wall. After taking your first 4 tiles, there will be 6 stacks left.

Rolling a 10 means counting 7 from the opposite side of the wall to your right. After taking your first 4 tiles, there will be 5 stacks left.

Rolling an 11 means counting 6 from the opposite side of the wall across from you. After taking your first 4 tiles, there will be 4 stacks left.

Rolling a 12 means counting 5 from the opposite side of the wall to your right. After taking your first 4 tiles, there will be 3 stacks left.

Once you become used to this method, it is very simple.  This is just another way of speeding up your play.

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Organizing Your Starting Hand

There are several ways that players can organize their hands, but the problem here is taking too much time to organize before discarding their first tile.  You would have to find a method that works best for you, but there is something everyone can do to help speed up this process.


Try organizing your tiles as you draw your starting hand.  When you get your first 4 tiles, do not wait to start looking at them.  It is common for players not to look at their tiles until they get all 13, but this is simply wasting time.  It is easy to stand up your tiles, 2 at a time, and organize them as you draw them.  By the time it is your turn to draw your next 4 tiles, your first 4 tiles will already be organized. Repeat this process, and organizing your starting hand becomes much faster and easier.


Do Not Put the Tile You Drew Into Your Hand

It is very common for a player to, when their turn comes around, put the tile they drew into their hand before discarding a tile.  The correct thing to do is place the tile you drew on one side of your hand (right side if you are right-handed, left side if you are left-handed), discard a tile, then place the tile you drew in your hand. This ultimately saves time, as the next player can draw their tile while you are organizing your hand.


You might be thinking, “But what if I can’t figure out what to discard unless I put the tile in my hand first?”


When you play a mahjong game like Tenhou, it does not put the tile in your hand for you, but you can still figure it out, right?


This may require some practice, but being able to figure out what to discard without putting the tile in your hand is important.  It is okay if you are unsure of what to discard, but you still cannot put the tile in your hand first.  If you have this habit of putting the tile you drew into your hand every turn, just think of how much time is being wasted. What if everyone at the table were doing that?


Not only is it bad manners to make the other players wait unnecessarily, but you may incur penalties in competition games by breaking this rule. It may be a tough habit to break, but it is definitely worth it to help your games run more smoothly.


Pay Attention to Point Stick Exchanges

In East 1, the dealer wins a hand worth 4000 all.  You have to pay 4000 points, but how exactly should you do that? If you pay with all 4 of your 1000-point sticks, then you will not be able to declare riichi during the next hand unless you get change from another player.  In this case, it is better to pay with a 5000-point stick and receive 1000 points in change.


Even if it is for the same amount of points, there are better and worse ways to make those payments.  The most important thing is to make sure that you always have a 1000-point stick so that you may declare riichi during the next hand. If you notice that you do not have a 1000-point stick, ask for change between hands so as not to disrupt the pace of the game, if possible.


And when you have a lot of points, make sure to organize your point sticks so that you can easily tell how many points you have.


Point Declarations

First, you have to remember how to score hands.  Unfortunately, most of this is just memorization, but it is still necessary.


Second, start thinking about the score of your hand once you are tenpai.  Counting the han and fu of your hand after you have won is too late.  Think about how much your hand would be worth by tsumo and by ron, and do this before you win.  Once you start getting used to that, think about if the value of your hand increases by 1-3 han due to ippatsu or ura dora.


Lastly, if playing with a friend who does not know how to score hands, give them a little time when they win a hand.  You could always say the score for them, but then they would never learn how to do it for themselves.  Help them out if they need it, and as they get used to scoring hands, the game will run more smoothly for everyone.


After You Make a Call

When you call another player’s tile for a chi or pon, what is the correct procedure?


    (1) Declare, discard, then take the tile


    (2) Declare, take the tile, then discard


The answer is: both are correct.  They are often used in different contexts, though.  At places like mahjong parlors, you would likely see (1).


But in competition mahjong, (2) is much more common.  The reason is so that a player’s hand does not have too few tiles (during the time between discarding and taking the tile), and to avoid the risk of forgetting to take the tile.


However, the main issue we wanted to discuss was that many players decide what to discard after making a call.  Just as we described in the previous section, you should be thinking about what to discard if you able to call the tile you want.  Deciding afterwards is too late.  You should have already decided what tiles you will call if they come out, and what you would discard afterwards.  This may be a little overwhelming for beginners, but as you get used to this way of thinking, it will help speed up your play.


Discarding Cleanly

After you discard a tile, either the player to your left (kamicha) or the player across (toimen) has a chance to call for a pon or kan before the player to your right (shimocha) draws their tile.  Of course, your shimocha has to take care not to draw too quickly (or even before you have finished discarding your tile!), but there is something you can do to help.


When you discard a tile, make sure that you discard it in a way that allows all players to see the tile at the same time.  This is especially important if you are left-handed.  It is much easier for a left-handed player’s hand to block their kamicha’s view of the discards, so left-handed players should be extra careful of this.


There are plenty of discard techniques that allow the other players to see the tile at the same time.  But, the easiest thing to do is to place the tile upright before the discard pile, then let it fall into place.  This is not a particularly fancy way to discard, but it allows the other players to see the tile clearly.


Have Everyone Agree on the Rules, and Practice Good Manners

In competition mahjong, players must move the walls forward, roll the dice, take their starting hands, put down the rinshan tile, and flip the dora indicator when the game starts.  The dealer also has to make sure that the north player finishes drawing their starting hand before making the first discard.  If any of these things are not done before the first discard, then it becomes the dealer’s responsibility.


Obviously the rules you use do not have to be as strict as these, but you should be aware of the rules at the table where you are playing.  There may be different rules and expectations everywhere you go.  You need to make sure you understand what is expected of you before you start playing, so as not to cause any problems during the game.  Keep this in mind, and it will ease the burden of everyone else at the table and help your games run more smoothly.

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