If you have been playing mahjong for some time, then you have experienced at least one losing streak.

Losing streaks are an unavoidable part of playing any game where luck plays a significant role.

Even the most famous professional mahjong players will enter a slump from time to time. However, losing streaks don't have to last forever.

So, why do losing streaks happen and how do you get back from one?

More often than not, a small losing streak will push you towards sabotaging yourself, forcing you to play worse, making you lose motivation and eventually spiral into a negative trend. At that point, you will start losing more games than you should!

There is no need at all for you to continue losing more than your fair share.NP Mahjong Wisdom

One of my patrons asked how I cope with losing streaks, so I decided to write this blog post to help players in a slump.

In this blog post, I'll share with you some of my tips on how to avoid going into these unnecessarily long "bad streaks" and how to pull yourself out of them if you do happen to fall into one.

Mahjong vs Go, Shogi or Chess

In games of complete information like Go, the stronger player will win and the weaker player will lose, almost invariably every time.

However, this is not the case with mahjong where strong players can lose against less skilled players, and beginners can steal a few games from top ranked veterans.

This is perhaps why mahjong is so attractive, as it will invariably reward you from time to time, no matter how inexperienced you might be, or how strong your opponents are.

Is mahjong a game of Luck or Skill?

Mahjong is a game of both, "luck" and skill. There are 4 players in a game, and you can only control the decisions of one of them. It follows that it's fundamentally 75% luck and 25% skill.

However, a better term to replace "luck" would be "probability." You cannot control what the other three players will do, but you can definitely estimate what is more likely to happen.

In another, more practical way, long term mahjong results are 100% skill.

What constitutes a losing streak and what doesn't?

First, let's get this out of the way: losing two or three games in a row doesn't actually represent a losing streak.

In the same way, not winning a game for 5 or 6 hanchan in a row doesn't constitute a "bad run" either.

Players who believe these things are unusual have little understanding of probability and how mahjong is played in general. You should remember that even top mahjong players will only win 30% of their games.

This means that every time a top pro player sits down to play, he already has a 70% chance to fail to first place. If he loses that game and then sits down to play another one, he still has a 70% chance to lose it as well.

From Wikipedia:

The gambler's fallacy, also known as the Monte Carlo fallacy or the fallacy of the maturity of chances, is the erroneous belief that if a particular event occurs more frequently than normal during the past it is less likely to happen in the future (or vice versa), when it has otherwise been established that the probability of such events does not depend on what has happened in the past. Gambler's Fallacy

So the probability for this pro player to extend his "losing" streak 5 games in a row is (0.7)^5...

No need to take out your calculator! I'll do the math for you. That's 16%.

It might be hard to picture what this number means, so I'll put in into perspective:

With a ryanmen wait, all things equal, you're statistically expected to get ippatsu tsumo 6% of the time. This means (technically speaking!) that not winning a game 5 times in a row is almost 3 times as likely as getting an ippatsu tsumo on a ryanmen wait.

If your average win rate is lower than 30% (and it should be, unless you're a veteran player!), then you're even more likely to encounter bad runs like these.

This too is perfectly normal

Intermediate players have a 4th place rate of about 20%.

Their probability of getting 4th place twice in a row is around 4%.

Three 4th places in a row amounts to almost 1%.

Does that sound like a rare occurrence?

These things are reasonable, they happen all the time.

Then why do longer streaks seem to happen so often?

Why do losing streaks happen? Self-sabotage?

The problem is that without understanding the above numbers, you become a liability towards yourself.

The second that you begin to lose a few games you will start sabotaging yourself.

Don't worry! You're not crazy! It's an entirely normal human reaction. A trigger that is built inside your mind to defend you. It's a mechanism installed in your brain as a response towards something perceived as a threat.

By sabotaging yourself and entering a "longer than normal" losing streak, you get to run away and protect your ego by blaming your own shortcomings on bad luck.

Easy way out! Everyone knows that losing 2 games could be out of your own poor performance, but losing 5 games in a row? 10? That can be easily dismissed as "bad luck" or a "bad run" or "tilting," nobody would blame you; you get to blissfully disconnect your losses from your perception of your own "true skill."

Stop doing this! The cost is very high!

This is the prime reason why proud players enter longer-than-average losing streaks.

Instead, remember: you can't choose when you get into a losing streak, but you do get to decide how you end it. Most of these so-called "slumps" are self-inflicted.

"Did you start to lose because you lost motivation? Or did you lose motivation because you started to lose?"NP Mahjong Wisdom

Fight or Flight!

The second reason why you enter losing streaks is linked to your animal instinct, and it's much more difficult to fight off.

When you start losing, you will feel stress, as you begin to feel threatened.

Your brain doesn't understand whether you're faced with actual, real danger or not. It just feels the risk and triggers your fight or flight response.

The fight or flight response is an excellent natural response if you're out in the wilderness faced with dangerous animals and real hazards that must be either fought or escaped right away. However, it's not such very helpeful for mind sports like mahjong.

Your natural balance for the game gets thrown out the window, and you have to re-learn and re-adapt to the game because suddenly the usual wiring of your mind is changed.

To make it worse, once you are at this point there's not much you can do anymore.

That is why you need to prevent your brain from betraying you!

Prevention is the best cure! Act before it's too late!More ancient NP Mahjong Wisdom

How to prevent yourself from going on tilt

Going on tilt is the natural, immediate result of a negative mindset.

Negative thoughts will make you feel a threat where there is none, and then your amygdala will happily jump in and hijack your brain, sabotaging you. (That bastard!)

When others win a hand, do you think things like the following?

"Others have it so easy, but it's always so hard for me."
"I wish I had this guy's luck, but I'm always so unlucky."
"If it were me I wouldn't have drawn that tile."

Then...

STOP. RIGHT. NOW.


You're not doing yourself a favor, you're only wasting your valuable brainpower on non-productive thoughts.

If you still want to think about these things, do so in a positive light instead.

"Playing people with such strong luck is a good chance to test my skills!"

"If I learn how to win without any especially lucky draws, when I start getting crazy lucky hands, the game will be a breeze."

"Mahjong is fun because it's unpredictable; if everything was going my way all the time, this game would get boring very quickly."

This teaching goes for mahjong and for life as well.

If you think negatively, negative events will surround you pretty quickly. I can attest to that. So, cut those negative thoughts out.

Start thinking positively!

Why is staying positive so important?

Staying positive is so important because it is the most effective way to prevent your brain from triggering the fight or flight response.

If you feel no danger, you feel no threat. If you feel no threat, you will not tilt.

Whenever I lose a few hands in a row, or "unfair" things happen to me, I just remember these words by my friend Jangoro K, the legendary high-stakes gambler who once lost 20 thousand dollars in a single mahjong night:

"I will keep playing mahjong for many, many years. I will experience poor streaks like this one several times during my lifetime. But if I manage to stay cool, if I manage to not think about my losses during the game, and if I manage to play my current hand unphased, then no matter what tonight's result is, I am already a winner."Jangoro K - Legendary Mahjong Gambler

Write this down, print it out, paste it on your screen, pin it to your desk, keep these words near you if you need to.

That is the magic spell that has kept me positive and smiling while playing no matter how hard a time I have.

How to realize you're on tilt

Even trying all of the above techniques, sometimes you just can't help it, you just go on tilt, unexpectedly. Suddenly.

You might try to laugh it off, throw a few jokes, smile, but you're actually mad.

You will notice that you are not playing to the best of your abilities and that you keep repeating basic mistakes and realizing them immediately after.

If you begin to realize you're making decisions that you otherwise wouldn't have, that's a dire sign of tilting!

After your current hand ends, excuse yourself right away to the restroom, wash your face, drink some water, take a small break and then go back to the table. Try again, refresh yourself.

Be aware some people will actively try to provoke you

It is vital that you never, ever play with the mindset that you have to "recover" something that you lost.

Especially on Tenhou, you cannot "just" recover the points that you lost: but you can learn from your losses to make sure that they didn't go to waste.

Lost points can't be recovered, but whether they were wasted or not is up to you.Even more Ancient Mahjong Wisdom

How to stop a losing streak

If even after trying all of the above, you still find yourself "stuck" in a losing spiral in mahjong, this is the best advice I have for you:

Just play a different game; there's many of them out there.

I'm not telling you to quit mahjong. It's not about "running away."

I honestly believe that if you're having this kind of problem, then you need to experience a bigger, wider world to help make your brain realize that in the end, mahjong is just another game of the pile and not a matter of life-or-death.

Let your brain realize: There is no threat, no danger and nothing to fear.

Go out, play basketball, hit the arcades, buy stocks, just do a different competitive activity and once your mahjong craze begs for you to come back to the tiles, try again with a positive mindset, and with your priorities in order.

Re-think your priorities

When you enter bad streaks, usually your priority order is warped and looks like this:

  1. I want to win
  2. I want to get better at the game
  3. I want to play the game

That is backwards. Your priorities should be like this:

  1. Playing and enjoying the game (while helping the other 3 players enjoy the game too)
  2. Getting better at the game
  3. Winning

Not that "winning" only comes after 1 and 2.

If you make the above two points your priority, you enjoy playing the game and you study every day, then winning streaks will come naturally, more and more often.

Conclusion - Rounding up

Losing streaks are a lot more common than you think, but they don't need to last too long.

The best way to escape losing streaks is to prevent yourself from tilting.

You prevent yourself from tilting by holding positive thoughts.

A proper, positive mindset focuses long term results over the short term and on enjoying and learning the game.

Winning streaks also will follow with time. The more losing streaks you prevent, the more often winning streaks will come.

Please let me know in the comments:

Have you experienced an unusually long losing (or winning) streak? What's the worst negative streak you've experienced?