Intermediate Lesson 4
Most forms of competitive riichi mahjong use some sort of placement bonus. Placement bonuses are modifiers applied to each player’s point total based on their placement in the hanchan. In this way, a player’s overall ranking in a larger event is a combination of both their in-game scores and their placement in each hanchan. Because of these placement bonuses, players must be aware of not only their own points, but their standing at the table relative to the other players.
At the end of a hanchan, each player’s points are divided by 1000, then reduced by 30.0 to become “total points*.” The total points indicate how far each player was from the starting or target points (30,000 points), and placement bonuses are applied to these total points. There are two types of placement bonuses: “uma” and “oka”.
The modifier applied to each player’s total points for uma varies depending on their placement. Often, the modifiers for the 1st and 2nd place players are positive, and modifiers for the 3rd and 4th place players are negative. However, the only real restriction is that more points are awarded to higher placements (e.g. 3rd place cannot gain more points than 2nd place).
As a simple example, both the World Riichi Championship (WRC) and European Mahjong Association (EMA) use a “5-15” uma. This means that the player in 1st place gains 15.0 total points, the 2nd place player gains 5.0 total points, the 3rd place player gets -5.0 total points, and the 4th place player gets -15.0 total points. Condensed, the uma would be: +15, +5, -5, -15. In this example, the uma is symmetrical (1st place gains what 4th place loses and 2nd place gains what 3rd place loses). The difference between the uma is also consistent (there is a difference of 10.0 between each placement).
However, the uma does not have to be symmetrical or have a consistent difference between two consecutive placements. There are even special types of uma which change depending on each player’s points relative to the starting points, called “sliding uma.” Outside of Japan, the uma does not get much more complex than the 5-15 uma that the WRC and EMA rule sets use.
For oka, the modifier is always the same. In rulesets that use oka, the player in 1st place gets an extra 20.0 total points. These 20.0 total points come from the players at the start of the hanchan; rather than starting with 30,000 points, each player starts with only 25,000 points. These extra 20,000 points are anted up and become the oka at the end of the hanchan. Essentially, the oka is like an uma of +15, -5, -5, -5, except that every player gets -5.0 total points at the beginning, and the 1st place player gets 20.0 total points back at the end. Rulesets that use oka incentivise trying to get 1st place, because the gap between 1st and 2nd place will be larger than between any other two consecutive placements.
Now, for an example. Suppose four players end up with the following scores at the end of a hanchan, and are using an uma of 5-15.
Next, we convert them to total points:
41,400/1000 - 30.0 = 11.4
32,600/1000 - 30.0 = 2.6
27,700/1000 - 30.0 = -2.3
18,300/1000 - 30.0 = -11.7
Then, we apply the uma to the total points to get the final scores:
11.4 + 15.0 = 26.4
2.6 + 5.0 = 7.6
-2.3 - 5.0 = -7.3
-11.7 - 15.0 = -26.7
These final scores would then be applied to each player’s overall scores. Some formats do not use these placement bonuses (or even total points) at all, but most forms of competition mahjong do.
Depending on the values of the placement bonuses, the importance of each placement changes. As stated earlier, if the placement bonuses include oka, then there is a greater incentive to try and take 1st place. Also, the larger the difference between each placement, the more important improving your placement at the table becomes. The difference between each placement is often between 8.0 and 20.0 total points, not including oka. In rule sets with lower uma such as 4-12, improving your placement by one place only gains you 8.0 total points, which is equivalent to a non-dealer mangan. But if you are playing under a rule set that uses 10-30 uma, then improving your placement by one place gains you 20.0 total points, which is worth more than a dealer haneman.
Understanding how these placement bonuses work is important so that you may account for them during a game. They should be a factor when deciding how to approach each hanchan. However, the format under which you are playing also affects how you should view these placement bonuses. This will be covered in the next couple of articles.
*In Japanese, the English word “point” (ポイント “pointo”) is used for these total points, and the Japanese word for points (点 “ten”) is used for points exchanged within a hanchan.