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Last time I said that the goal of the game was to just keep out of last place at all costs, and I recently had a match that demonstrates exactly what I mean by that. This link will play the whole match for you in Tenhou's replay viewer.
When I'm dealt tiles like this, I'm feeling pretty good. I'm dealer, this hand has three dora, and there's the possibility that I could grab two more of Chun and win a fast hand, get a huge payout (just under 12,000 points) and keep the deal.
The player to my right calls twice in the first go-around and his discards--middle tiles, all in one suit-- are a big warning sign. But my hand is so good! I don't want to break up my potential waits and I don't want to get rid of Chun just yet either. I almost let 9-man go, but go for 2-man instead. Of course the guy has a half-flush with a single tile wait on 2-man. Seat wind (East), half flush (hon itsu), one red dora: the concealed triple of 5-man makes this a mangan hand. I've screwed up to the tune of 8000 points on my second discard. It's a cruel game.
Losses like that are pretty demoralizing, and you have to be careful that you don't get pissed off and go on what gamblers call "tilt": you get so frustrated that you start making even worse decisions than the one you originally made. From there you just sink further, like a Fukumoto character in quicksand. So I do something stupid again the very next hand.
Look at the player to my right's first two discards: 5-pin and 8-pin.With the most typical two-sided waits there's a theory called "octaves". Two-sided waits are common, right? Like the shape 3-pin and 4-pin is waiting for either 2 or 5. 2-3 is waiting for 1 or 4. 4-5 is waiting for 3 or 6. The "octaves" for two-sided waits are:
So I'm looking at my hand (two dora this time, good shape, two away from tenpai) and this guy's discards, and nothing is 100% safe against this reach but my 5-pin. If I throw that out, I could maybe go for seven pairs but I'd probably be folding the hand. But he's thrown out 5-pin and 8-pin! Maybe 2-pin is safe! I deal 2-pin and deal into the reach-only hand. This would only cost me 2000... but he hits the reverse dora for his pair and I'm on the hook for 7700 points. Dumb move, cruel game.
He was trapping me with those discards, and I went for it like a sucker. It was a closed single wait: 1-pin and 3-pin waiting for 2-pin. The "octave" idea is a nice piece of basic theory to know, but assuming the other player is actually on a two-sided wait is a very dangerous assumption, especially when they decide to set you up. I bet a lot on it here, and I was wrong. I should have just let 5-pin go.
After this hand the dealer picks up a haneman: 18000 points. He got rich off me before, and now he's at 59,000. In this game that's about as close to untouchable as you're going to get. All he needs to do is stay as safe as possible and pick up little hands where he can, and his stack is very unlikely to be contested.
Meanwhile, the player to the left of me starts to get on a bit of a run. The player across from me, who's already in third place at 18,200, has the misfortune to deal into the guy twice, once on a haneman (12,000 point) hand. By East 4th it's a rich man, poor man table with two players well in the lead and two below 5,000 points, clinging desperately to life.
As East 1 begins, little payments have put me down to exactly zero points. Not a bust, mind: zero points. I can still play the next round, but if I have to make any payments at all (if someone else draws their hand, or if I'm not in tenpai at the end of the hand) I bust and the game is over. I have to win at any cost, so I rush for the quickest, cheapest thing: open tanyao (no terminals) and pick up 2900 points off the player opposite me. I am alive, but only barely. Most importantly, I have clawed my way into third place by only a few hundred points.
Right now the fight I care about is between me and the player across from me. The two leaders are too far ahead: either of them could win, we're unlikely to catch up. The only way we can get up there is if one of the leaders deals into us on a big hand, and they're so far ahead that there's no reason for them not to play it safe. We're both probably going to lose, but one of us won't lose any ranking points and the other will lose, and big. This will likely be decided in a single, small hand.
I could try and win at this point, but it would take at least two huge hands to even bring me into the neighborhood of second place. You have to pay attention to the risk and the reward. I aim for third place.
In South 2nd the player opposite me picks up a fast and valuable hand-- no terminals, 3 dora-- just as I (and the rest of the table) got into tenpai for my own much cheaper hand. I'm now in last place by a pretty tough margin.
In South 3rd, I have a hand and I have 1900 points. This is life or death, so I stake my life on a reach. I pull my tile and it's 4000 points (reach, tsumo, ii pei kou). I'm close to third, but most importantly I am still alive.
In retrospect I screwed up by throwing out 1-sou instead of 4-sou: this would have been a chanta too.
South 4th, second dealer repeat. The gods smile upon me after all, as I start with a pile of dragons: two pairs of Haku and Hatsu and a single Chun. The yakuman hand dai san gen (triples of all the dragons), worth 32,000 to me, is within reach. I want to stay out of last place, but I have to at least try and chase this. If the Chun doesn't come soon, I'll jump off.
Sure enough, two Chuns are dealt almost immediately and I lose my shot at the top before it even started. Though shou san gen (two triples of the dragons and a pair of the third) is still technically possible, I let Chun go. This is the end, and it doesn't matter whether I take third with 5000 points or 8000.
I could have either waited on 1-man/8-pin or 6/9-pin here. Normally you'd pick a two-sided wait off a run (6/9-pin) like this over a double pair wait: this is simply because there are more tiles on the table that could come out for one wait as opposed to the other.
All four 9-pins are discarded, though, and I already dealt 6-pin early in the game when I was shooting for dai san gen. Only two 6-pins are left at the table (remember, I have no idea that the player to the left of me is holding one.) Not only is this wait unlikely to come, I'm furiten for it, meaning I can't claim my winning tile unless I draw it myself. Not good. I go for the double pair wait and hope that one of my four tiles comes out.
And I don't have to wait long. Double ron: the second place player dealt into both of us with the same tile. Fortunately, my hand is worth 5,000 and his is only worth 1,000. I overtake him for third place and the game is over.
I've successfully avoided losing!