"Professional mahjong player" is an interesting title to hold. If you asked me "so... do you play mahjong for a living?", I'd have to answer...

"Yes... no... sometimes..."

Guest'ing at a Mahjong Parlor

What do pro mahjong players do?

Professional players in sports usually receive big salaries from their team, their sponsors, agencies, etc.

You'd imagine that mahjong players as well would share some fame, glory, and a steady income from mahjong itself.

A lot of people seem surprised to learn that most mahjong players aren't making a living off mahjong. In fact, the system is made so that you sort of need a stable job and a decent salary just to pay for your monthly/yearly fees and mahjong expenses.

"Fees you say!? You pay to be a professional!?"

Yes. Belonging to a professional mahjong association costs pro players a lot of money. Namely:

  • Pro License fees
  • Yearly League entry fees
  • Multiple tournament entry fees
  • Transportation fees (especially if you have to travel from other cities to Tokyo)

Depending on how many competitions you enter, and what organization you belong to, your payments can amount to anywhere between $600 and $3000 US dollars per year.

This is not a denouncement nor is it a complaint, but now you can see why it's necessary that professional mahjong players have a steady source of income.

Tournaments yield a very low return on investment no matter how often you can win, so they will never really become a steady source of income; the most important prize that comes with winning a tournament is the title itself, and the "bragging rights" that come with it.

It's necessary for professional mahjong players to have a steady source of income

Fame and a polished image are vital to mahjong players because it allows you to re-invest in yourself and sell yourself, get your name out there and market your own name. You have to build a brand around yourself.

How can you make money off mahjong as a player?

There are, nonetheless, a few ways that can help you turn mahjong into your main source of income as a professional player.

The most popular ways are:

  • Working in mahjong parlors as a member or guest (especially female regular guests are in somewhat high demand)
  • Publishing mahjong books by yourself or with others
  • Appearing on mahjong broadcasts as a commentator, invited player, or otherwise
  • Working as a mahjong teacher or adviser
  • Offering other mahjong-related services

The big shots out there also get to appear on TV and movies, or perhaps even play for money against CEOs... who knows. Usually, professional players will not admit to being involved in gambling.

Why would you decide to become a professional mahjong player?

As a pro player myself I can say it straight out: it's not the best idea to become a professional mahjong player.

That is unless you love the game so much that it borders both obsession and addiction.

You will find that pro players who stayed active for more than 10 years are stoic, and all in "for the game!". Many of them also believe they're the best player in the world...

But some players also like a small taste of fame and the fancy title.

There are plenty of reasons why to become a professional player, but it's pretty difficult to stay for the long run unless you have some high form of motivation.

Every year it's getting easier and easier to enter professional mahjong associations and the image of mahjong pros isn't precisely the best right now (although it is slightly getting better thanks to M League).

Many of the strongest players in Japan are actually living as amateurs (or teachers, or gamblers!) with no intention of joining the professional mahjong world.

It's getting easier every year to become a professional mahjong player

The two biggest merits of becoming a professional player are:

access to big tournament titles and media coverage.

If you plan to release a mahjong book, you better have those two points covered. Every month at least 2 new mahjong strategy books get released, so readers are becoming pickier and pickier about what they read.

How do you become a professional mahjong player?

It's not difficult to become a professional mahjong player now. The hard thing is not quitting.

There's a huge influx of players but the vast majority of them stop after a couple of years.

You can literally become a professional player from scratch in just 1-2 years time. All you need to do is:

  1. Find the association you want to join and check their Pro Test dates
  2. Study their rules, regulations, and famous players
  3. Pass a written exam, an interview, and a practical exam
  4. Go through the basic training (usually less than a month)
  5. Pay your fees
You can become a professional mahjong player in less than 2 years

Do you make money off of mahjong?

Sometimes; it's not my only or my main source of income.

I'm hoping I can switch to a full-time mahjong player someday. Would you like to help me towards this goal? Even a little bit? Please, support me here: patreon.com/xkime

Are professional mahjong players strong?

Not all of them, but many strong players also happen to be professionals.

The only requirement for entering a pro organization is knowing the rules of the game inside out and paying the fees. You don't have to be "strong," this is not evaluated by any association.

Nevertheless, the competitive environment of any mahjong league will definitely make you stronger very quickly if you put in some effort.

Who are some notable professional mahjong players?

There are a few, legendary-level, very strong players I admire, including but not limited to:

  1. Suzuki Taro, Murakami Jun and Tsuchida Koushou (Saikouisen)
  2. Ogura Takashi, Kim Taehyon, Yajima Gaku (NPM)
  3. Ooi Takaharu (RMU)
  4. Kobayashi Go (-Myu-)
  5. Horiuchi Masato (ex JPML)

But there are many others. You can find footage of their games on YouTube.

So how about it? Would you like to learn to play like a professional, too? Maybe get started with these free riichi mahjong tools.

And of course, I'm a professional mahjong player myself, so is there anything you would like to ask me? You may ask anything you want through email, or in a coaching session or through my Patreon page. I'll always be glad to help you.

See you at the mahjong table!

1st and 2nd place of an Osaka local tournament: Nicolas and Takaharu Ooi