Mahjong game reviews are fantastic for improving. There's only so many ways that you can effectively progress in riichi mahjong, and getting Tenhou logs reviewed is not only fun for the player but also for the mahjong coach. Sometimes people approach me to ask to have their mahjong games, mainly on Tenhou, reviewed or commented, even while many of them usually have no idea of what a game review comprises. So, I will post here an actual example of a game log I was sent recently to review. Maybe you can find some mistakes in common, and it can help you improve.

Riichi Mahjong Game Review

Audit, comments, guidance

Let the (mahjong) game (review) begin

2018.12.01

INTRODUCTION: Reviewing what to fix about your mahjong game

Thank you for sending me this game log for reviewing your mahjong plays. I hope this can help you improve. My first impression while looking at this game is that you don’t need to dig too far into advanced techniques, but you must absolutely fix the wounds in your fundamentals first: especially tile efficiency. You’re prone to going back shanten for no good reason and choosing discards that aren’t the best for neither defending nor attacking. It’s essential that your discards are good for one of those two things (or both!). It also seems you don’t really know how to handle your honor tiles, and you just opt to systematically discard all of them at the start no matter the kind of hand you receive, I’d also like to fix that.

HYPOTHESIS: How to fix and improve your mahjong skills

I believe that if you review basic shapes over and over, you’re going to stop making basic tile efficiency mistakes. There were many errors that I’m sure that, if you were to stop and think calmly, you would realize by yourself. I understand Tenhou has a time limit and that’s likely the cause; so the only way to reduce your thinking time is by practicing more, it’s sadly not something that can be taught, it has to be drilled. There's an excellent way to practice this and get your head moving faster. Get your mahjong set, grab 13 random tiles by yourself, then draw random tiles and quickly discard while trying to get to tenpai without sorting your hand. This is the way some parlor owners train their members to play faster, and this training will cut your thinking time in half when you’re finally able to play with your tiles sorted, giving you more time to think about the strategic side and spend less time trying to figure out the shape. You will also most likely become able to recall your hand without looking at it, which is a tremendously useful skill to have.

Things you will need after this game review

I would like you to start playing while thinking about how many steps away you’re from tenpai (shanten number), and if you decide to take a step back (or forwards), you do so consciously. You don’t need to count when you’re farther than 3 shanten, but I’d like you to be aware when you go from 3 shanten to 2 shanten, or when you go from 1 shanten back to 2 shanten.

MATERIALS

  1. This book (you don’t need to understand the Japanese, just look at the answers)
  2. This training (mentioned above), mahjong tiles for it
  3. Perseverance!

PROCEDURE

  1. Become able to recall every correct answer of the book, one chapter at a time.
  2. Try to think of the reason why that discard is the correct one.
  3. Practice by yourself for 30 minutes as explained above.

Mahjong Game Review from a Tenhou Log

East 1, 0 Honba

This hand has no dora, no yaku, and only one ryanmen. Pairing yakuhai will give you the speed boost it needs to make up for its low value. 1p and 9p are relatively less useful than your other tiles. If you draw 2p, 1246 isn’t an efficient shape (1 is unneeded), same with 4689 (9 is redundant). The 13469 or 14679 shapes are slightly okay, but since you have a completed run (567m) and a ryanmen on souzu (78s) you’re not going to go for the ittsuu full straight here. In the end, 1p and 9p are only useful if they get paired up. Same as your white and green dragons, except that they will actually give you a yaku and a chance to call if you pair them up. Considering defense for the future as well, 1p and 9p are not that useful to you, but they might become someone’s ron tile later on very quickly. I suggest you discard either 1p or 9p and keep yakuhai in hands like this.

Key point #1
Hands with low value need a speed boost or safety to make up for it.

If you discard 2m, you’re missing on the ryanmen improvement by drawing 3m. Ittsuu is too far away, and it’s only a 2 han yaku. Pinfu is worth only 1 han less, but it’s immensely easier here. To get that ittsuu here you need to draw 2p 5p 7p 8p in the right order and within the remaining draws (before anybody reaches and wins, too), and it’s not too realistic. Discard 9p. (Keep 6p for ryanmen/sanmenchan improvement and sanshoku evolution)

I think defending here was a good call, good job. East opened up his hand, and his discards look pretty fast (plenty of middle tiles and Yakuhai as his first discard these combined are signals of speed and value), while your hand is slow and cheap. It was an excellent choice to fold. However, next draw…

Key point #2
Many middle tiles discarded early on, and yakuhai as a first discard are signals of a fast, decent hand.

This 3m is not a safe tile. Sure, it is also not an “incredibly dangerous tile,” but it’s an unnecessary small risk. You have plenty of safe tiles to defend all the way to the end. The sum of these little mistakes will add up in the long run. Discarding 3m doesn’t move your hand forwards, and it’s not a safe tile (it can still deal into toitoi, chanta, junchan, ittsuu, sanshoku, and yakuhai ankou, etc., all of them can use the dora as pair as well). Don’t give people chances like that when your hand is as cheap and unwinnable like this one.

Key point #3
With cheap, slow hands it’s crucial that you do not give people chances.

Your hand is cheap, your tenpai chance slim: only 6s and 9s, 5 tiles in total. Even if you do get tenpai, your wait will be 4 tiles at best. On top of that, you’re against a riichi and East who was already dangerous. 8m itself isn’t “too dangerous” (given that you see three 7m), but it’s an unnecessary risk for no reward. Choose 7m and fold correctly.

This hand is too terrible to close your eyes and chase it blindly like that. Save those points for when you get a decent hand.

Key point #4
When you get poor hands, don’t gamble unnecessarily; save your points to invest them into your better hands.

East 1, 1 Honba

Here you went back from 1shanten to 2shanten for no reason, and tearing apart the sanshoku you were trying so hard to build. You still don’t see a single 7m on the board yet, so is there a reason why you’d break up your hand and discard a tile that is neither safe nor leads you to tenpai?

It’s normal to discard 3p here. I understand you might feel uneasy about having a penchan shape, but this kind of detour is only playable in the first row of discards; after that, you fall behind everyone. You're lucky it worked out in the end, and you didn’t deal into anybody.

Key point #5
Long detours are only playable in the first row of discards.

East 2, 0 Honba

I think by this point you had probably already decided you’d go for hon itsu. That’s good. Nevertheless, there’s a technique you can use early on when you have decided to go for hon itsu to make your hand a little bit easier to win: discard the suit that you have the more tiles in first. In this case, sou tiles. By doing so, you don’t reveal the actual color of your hon itsu to your opponents right away, making it harder to respond to your calls.

If you discard 1m 7s, then you immediately inform everyone that you’re going for pinzu right away. However, if you dump 7s 2s 1s, then nobody can pinpoint whether you’re going for manzu or pinzu just yet.

Other than that, this hand was average, and anybody would’ve played it with the same result. That’s a good thing. It is essential that you don’t let the simple hands slip away.

Key point #6
When locking in towards hon itsu, start by discarding the obsolete suit that you have the most tiles in.

East 3, 1 Honba

3m becomes ryanmen with 2m or 4m. 9m never becomes ryanmen. The value of 3m is higher than that of 9m. Please discard 9m. There’s also a small chance for 234 sanshoku naturally in the distance.

(234m234789s23466s or 234m234789s234sEE depending on the timing and order in which you draw your useful tiles)

There’s no good enough reason to discard the dora ryanmen instead of the 58m ryanmen. Riichi, tsumo, iipeikou, dora 1 is already mangan chance. It’s a waste. If you were playing with red fives, 56s is also an option.

3p just passed, you get a free pass to discard it safely and keep the larger 1 shanten. By shedding 5s, you lose the 47s tenpai chance, iipeikou chance, and the chance to discard dora safely. The only thing you earn in exchange is participating in the lottery of drawing one of the 2 remaining dora while dragging the risk of having to release it later on. I don’t recommend you buy into that lottery. Please, keep the larger 1 shanten shape. Riichi, tsumo (and iipeikou) are already 2-3 hand (consider the chance for ippatsu and ura as well). Menzen riichi is very strong!

Key point #7
Mahjong is a game of choosing what lottery you want to participate in. Choose carefully, for every lottery has a different cost, probability and payout.

If you’re going to take the chance of discarding dora vs. dealer riichi, you should at least riichi yourself for the value boost and for the right of winning on 36s as well. It’s a better lottery.

East 4, 0 Honba (Tonrasu)

Shape. Discard 5p. There is no need and no “natural” way of turning this hand into 345 sanshoku anymore. You're forcing too much, and you don’t need the value so badly right now. A good shape Menzen East riichi is a stronger choice. Discarding 5p gives you the most considerable tenpai chance, all of which leave you with a good wait.

Key point #8
An early good shape menzen riichi hand is your most reliable ally when you’re East

5m just passed, and two people didn’t change their hands. Don’t give your opponents the chance to call pon/chii/kan/ron on 2m. Discard 5m.

South 1, 0 Honba

If you discard this live Chun 10 times, it’s bound to deal in once. Just because it’s an honor, it doesn’t mean it’s safe. Since you’re folding to this East riichi (because this hand is terrible in shape and value), it’s an unnecessary risk. Discard 3p first.

East riichi and 1 person pushing. You’re not supposed to push 2m while noten (and with that 7s penchan that’s half dead); it’s too naïve, you’re only giving people chances. Please fold.

9p and 3p are safe, but 6p hasn’t shown up yet! It’s not “safe.” Therefore, that's just another unnecessary risk.

Key point #9
Double check your safe tiles - suji doesn't equal safe.

South 3, 1 Honba

Key point #10
Even if all options are right, there is usually one better option

Disclaimer: All things considered, riichi isn’t really bad, it’s a bet that will give you an excellent average placement. Also, dama wouldn't be a bad choice either. After all, if you were playing Tenhou Rules I’d probably choose dama. So let’s get that out of the way first.

However, I do believe that neither of them is the best choice in these (and under most of the existing) rules. The best discard is 8m for the points and shape.

3456m is a shape so strong that it has a name for itself (yonrenkei) and it can quickly evolve into ryanmen, or sanmen (3 sides) waits. You also keep the chance for 456 sanshoku. You can also improve the wait to a 36 nobetan after drawing 47p. There are too many tiles that will enhance the hand, and it’s still before the 9th draw, while you can really use the extra points to improve your placing in the tournament. After discarding 8m, you will have the following hand improvements:

  1. 2m (furiten 3menchan)
  2. 3m (47p wait, sanshoku)
  3. 4m (25m ryanmen wait)
  4. 5m (47m ryamen wait)
  5. 6m (47p wait, no sanshoku)
  6. 7m (furiten 3menchan)
  7. 4p (36m wait, sanshoku)
  8. 5p (467p three sided wait)
  9. 7p (36m wait)

And yes, you will riichi with a furiten 3menchan wait. A kanchan wait for a 3 or 7 and a furiten 3-sided-wait have pretty much the same winning chance, with the latter being more expensive than the former (thanks to the extra han of menzen tsumo). Therefore, if you’re willing to riichi this kanchan, you might as well be prepared and ready to riichi that triple wait!

Bonus key point
Reaching your furiten hands actually increases their hand win percentage, as it increases the likelihood other people will step out. A three-sided wait furiten riichi has almost the same winning chance as a middle tile kanchan riichi.

Considering all of the above, I don’t think I fully understand why you chase improvements and yaku that are so out of hand in the mid-game, but then you won’t pursue them when there are so many tiles and possibilities. Please, keep this kind of shape in mind. This could have been the turning point of the game.

As for what happened in the last hand in All Last, I don’t think there’s much you could’ve done to avoid that.

Those are the most critical comments for this game. I believe you were probably very much aware of these things while you were playing when given a chance to think about it you can make the right choices. To improve that aspect, please don’t give up on studying and practicing shapes. After you master the basic rules, you can begin bending them to your will!

Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist” is a quote attributed to Pablo Picasso.


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Good luck at the tables and see you next time!