Today's post is about tournaments. I find mahjongg tournaments a fun way to spend a day. Some people have told me that they find them too competitive, that there are a lot of "sharks" out there who scratch you with their long, fake nails while they mix the tiles and are very quick to call you dead. Well, yes, and no. Some people take their tournaments very seriously and they shift their playing style to accommodate it. When you are a serious tournament player, every point counts toward your total score and so you might play a little more aggressively than in your weekly game.
But most players aren't really "in it to win it" and are friendly and sociable, not intimidating at all. Many times I'll see someone win a tournament and I'll think, "Well, you'd never know. She was so nice!" You have to watch out for the quiet ones.
Tournament can be of any length, from an afternoon to a weekend to a 10-day cruise. They are run by many different organizations - some are fundraisers and some are private word-of-mouth games in a community room or clubhouse. But they generally follow the same rules.
The tournament is divided into rounds. There are four games in a round. Players are assigned seats. The League rules say A,B,C,D but in some tournaments it's East, West, North and South. After four games the table breaks up and the players move around the room. If you use the A,B,C, D method, A goes up one, B goes down one, C goes up two, D goes down 2. Or with the East, West, North, South method East stays at the same table throughout the day. North goes up one, South goes down one, and West goes up two. So if the players start at Table 5, North goes to 6, South goes to 4, West goes to 7. This way everyone gets to play with everyone else and friends are broken up to avoid any possible cheating. (Yes, I said it - cheating! Although who would want to cheat at mahjongg?)
East has a scoresheet and everyone's score is recorded at the end of a game. The points mimic the values on the card. 25 for a 25 hand, 10 extra if it's a self-pick, a bonus for jokerless (some tournaments give 10 some 15). At the official League tournaments you are penalized 10 points for giving someone mahjongg, regardless of whether they are exposed or not. Not all tournaments will follow this. Some will not penalize you for throwing in to no exposures. But you are penalized for throwing in to 2 or more exposures. Some penalize you 10 points some 20, some 25, some 30! Everyone gets 10 points for a wall game. Scores must be verified and initialed by the players. This is very important, as people have been known to make a 10 look like a 70. (Oh, did I say that? Who would want to do that?) Scores are turned in to the tournament director at the end of each round for tallying.
One very important rule that all tournaments follow: Each game must be played in 50 minutes to an hour, tops. That gives you about fifteen minutes a game which is how you should gauge your tournament readiness. If you can keep up, you can bluff your way through a tournament. The two best rules to follow are keep up, and don't give anyone else mahjongg no matter what. Do that, and you'll be OK.
If you go to enough tournaments you start seeing the same people. The mahjongg community is not that big, and the tournaments are great networking opportunities. You can hook up with other players in your area or to places you go on vacation.
It is important that the tournament director lay down the ground rules at the start. Tournament regulars know that there are little differences in how the tournaments are run. For example, in the last year or so a rule has been implemented in some tournaments but not others - that is the rule that when you call a tile for mahjongg, when you take the tile you must put it ON your rack and not IN your rack. If you put it IN your rack you will be called dead. Bear in mind this is NOT an official League rule, but a rule that some tournament directors implement. If this rule is in place, it's important to follow it. In my regular game, we use the "on" the rack method simply because we don't want to be in the habit of getting called dead at tournaments. But if someone who isn't a tournament player plays with us and puts it in their rack, we don't call them dead.
So I was at this tournament last Sunday. It was one of the word-of-mouth get-togethers in a community room at an undisclosed location :-} Serious addicts only. It was on the smallish side, with only seven tables, but all the players were of the highest caliber. It was brown bag lunch but everyone seems to have baked chocolate chip cookies, and I'm on Weight Watchers! I think there were cut up vegetables on the table but they were hard to see amidst the brownies and the cheesecake. I was playing pretty well, nothing to write home about. I had a good first round and came in with a nice quint hand that I picked myself, which gave me a leg up. I never threw in, so didn't get any minuses. There were six rounds in all, three in the morning and three in the afternoon. The second through fourth rounds were pretty average. I think I just won two or three games, but the seventh round was a charm for me, I got 105 points with a singles and pairs picked (60) two wall games (20) and a 25 point consecutive run. So this pushed me ahead with a total of 250 for the day, and it was enough to take fourth place. The winner had an extraordinary day, and ended up with 450 points.
Don't ask me how! Sometimes people get really hot and just seem to win game after game.
While the tourney was fun and I would go again, I did have some problems with it. One person had a set that was very old and faded. It was hard to distinguish the flower from the 1 bam (even for a seasoned player) and some of the tiles were chipped and hard to see. Another issue was the scoring was sort of loosey-goosey. Each table followed a different protocol and many times the scores were not verified. One table just told the players, oh, keep your own score. It doesn't matter. Believe me, I eyeballed her score because it did matter. There shouldn't even be the perception of malfeasance! The organizer of the tournament was doing it for the first time, and hopefully these things will get tightened up so that everyone can play fair and under the same rules. I certainly couldn't complain about the refreshments! And the people were nice to be with.
So, don't be intimidated by tournaments. Maybe you could organize one at your clubhouse or senior center or just pull together as many people as you know play mahjongg and try it out. You'll get hooked, I'm sure.
I am posting the NMJL tournament rules on the blog to the left.. Or you can click here. I'm hoping it's not too hard to read. The League will be happy to send you a copy if you like. Enjoy!