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Gameplay in Saki

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Numerous hand and game situations are featured within the Saki series. Standard games occur frequently in practice, but many of the decisive games pit characters against one another under extraordinary conditions. While standard rules still apply, often the players must devise atypical strategies and tactics without resorting to cheating.

Intermediate rules and concepts

Terminology

Winning hands have to be complete and have at least one yaku. A complete hand consists of four completed melds and a pair. A hand can be complete and not have a yaku. A hand can be incomplete and have a yaku, like huanpai/yakuhai. And a hand can be incomplete and not have a yaku.

Each players' position relative to one another, especially to the dealer, is the player's seat-wind. The east seat-wind player, also known as the dealer, starts each hand and receives or pays extra depending on who wins. To the right of the east seat-wind player is the south seat-wind player. Opposite of the east seat-wind player is the west seat-wind player. And to the left of the east seat-wind player is the north seat-wind player. These other seating positions also affect scoring to a lesser degree. Note that these positions don't match compass directions, but mirror them.[1] The players at the four seating positions are often referred to as East, South, West, and North, as if a person is a direction.

Each round has an accompanying prevailing-wind. The first round is the east prevailing-wind. The second round is the south prevailing-wind. The third round is the west prevailing-wind, but it is only played under special circumstances. Prevailing-winds also affect scoring. (See the team tournmanent section below for a definition of a round. The rounds are sometimes referred to as East or South, as if a period of time is a direction.)

The seat-winds and the prevailing-winds have associated yakus and some players have special abilities tied to these winds.

Setup

The automatic table includes one or two sets of tiles, with blue or orange backs. With the push of a red button on the central island, it rises up and the discard ponds collapse to allow players to push tiles into the mixer below. With another push of the red button, four 17x2 walls of shuffled tiles rise up from below. (Automatic tables are real and not that uncommon, although those found in Saki are a bit more high tech and available that those found the real world.)

There are three suits of number tiles each with sequences from one to nine. The three suits are the characters, the circles, and the bamboos. The face of the one of bamboo tiles have a bird design on them. The number one and nine tiles are called terminals. The number two through eight tiles are called simples. Runs don't wrap-around from nine to one, but dora indicators do wrap-around. 27 of the 34 different kinds of tiles are numbers.

There are four kinds of wind tiles: east, south, west, and north. There are three kinds of dragon tiles: white, green, and red. Wind tiles and dragon tiles as a group are called honor tiles. Honor tiles can't form runs. They can only form pairs, triplets, and kans. For wind tiles, dora indicators point from east to south to west to north and back to east. For dragon tiles, dora indicators point from green to red to white (alphabetical) and back to green. For examples of doras indicated by dora indicators, see game setup section of the riichi mahjong article.

In tournament games, four red-five dora tiles are used. One number five character tile, two number five pin tiles, and one number five bamboo tile are replaced with their matching red tiles. Other than each being worth one han to start with, they are considered identical to the tiles they replace.

The automatic table updates scores in real time based on point sticks stored in four pull out compartments.[2] The central island has four slots where 1000-point stick rīchi bets can be placed.

An east-south prevailing-wind marker is used in hanchan games to indicate the round. The table's raised border has four recesses where the prevailing-wind marker, counters, and carry-over rīchi bets can be placed.

Reading a hand

Besides the shanten number, players look for various yaku that their hands will potentially have. They sense how likely they are to win a hand and how many points it'll be worth, and decide how aggressively they will attack or defend. Beginning players, like Kaori Senoo in the Nagano Prefecturals, mostly concentrate on completing their hands until they master more advanced yaku. They will often keep their hands closed so that they can get a late yaku by rīchi or menzen tsumo, the former allowing a player to win by ron while the latter by itself does not.

At any given time, a hand will usually have multiple tiles that will improve the hand. These tiles are called waits. Hands can be improved by (1) moving one step closer to winning (reducing the shanten number), (2) increasing the potential value of the hand, or (3) by increasing the chances of (1) or (2) occurring. Waits may refer to either the number of different kinds of tiles or the total number of instances of those tiles. When playing defense, (4) drawing tiles that are less risky to discard in a sense can improve a hand, but they aren't referred to as waits.

Game play

Specialization

There are many different styles of playing mahjong. Some players have very unusual play styles that stem from their personal histories.

Given the choice of yaku, some players may center their play around specific ones. Others may use all of them and aim for efficient play. Some may favor high scoring plays, with others may be content with low scoring ones.

Internet players try to maximize the expected values of their hand; known as Digital-style. There are skilled players who have a good knowledge of a game's progression, yaku, and plays that their opponents make. There are players with special senses, players with special abilities.Players with special abilities can be dependent on their abilities and neglect skillful play; however, certain players make skillful plays because of their abilities, such as Miyanaga Saki, using her high chance of making Kans to change the drawing order in her favour, or making an extra dora for her opponents to use so her score lowers to +/- 0.

More about chī, pon, and kan

Players will call discarded tiles to further the completion of their hand and possibly increase its value. However, calling tiles may devalue a hand, it automatically reveals information and reduces defensive options, and it often reduces the chances of further improving the hand. Players with special senses will often call a tile in order to shift who draws certain tiles from the wall. A call will always change the order of who draws the next tile from the wall. Less powerful but crafty players will call to intentionally reveal information about their hand, hoping that others will play into their low scoring hand rather than allowing a dangerous player more turns to complete a high scoring hand. Calling only in order to skip another player's turn has rarely been seen.

A player who calls a tile places the meld to her right with the tiles face up. The called tile is placed sideways in the position that shows (1) for chī, which tile was called, or (2) for pon and kan, from whom the tile was taken from.

When a player declares a kan to form an open kan, the self-drawn tile is placed next to the sideways tile of her open triplet along the longer side. Calling kan (for a discard) to add to an open triplet is not allowed. When a player declares a kan to form a closed kan, all four tiles are revealed and then the two outer tiles are turned over. If the player doesn't win by rinshan kaihō, she places the kan to her right.

Aborted hands, chombo, and etiquette

Players rarely break the rules and they don't try to cheat. Exceptions include, Maho Yumeno came close to being penalized with a dead hand in a training camp game by taking a tile that wasn't hers to draw. Hisa Takei is sometimes considered to have bad table manners. When she was younger, Hajime Kunihiro switched her self-drawn tile with a tile in the pond, the official story is that they got a chombo penalty, but Ryuumonbuchi Touka reveals that the team was forced to forfeit the tournament.

Special scoring rules

When a player wins by rinshan kaihou after calling a kan, the player who fed the kan has to pay all of the points. There may be one or more declarations of kan after the call of the kan. When calculating the han and fu values, this counts as a tsumo win, but the points payment is that of a ron.

Game continuance

When more than one player wins a hand, the east seat-wind player still repeats as east seat-wind if she is one of the winners, and places a counter on the table.

Team tournament

Lineup strategies

A team's lineup is given when it registers for the prefectural qualifiers. (Not once have any teams switched their lineups, so Teru is most likely going to play in the vanguard position and Saki will most likely play in the captain position. The only possibility of a switch is if it is allowed after one player is replaced by a reserve, like in baseball.)

  • There is no best position to place the team's ace player. Most teams place their ace in the vanguard position. Traditionally, teams placed their ace in the lieutenant position, but that has changed.[3]
  • Placing the ace in the vanguard position lessens the chance of a team being eliminated in the first battle and may calm a nervous team. Other teams may work together against a leading team, so jumping out to a big lead is more advantageous when two teams advance, rather than when there is only one winner.
  • The captain position should go to a player with good score calculating abilities, a flexible play style, and hidden strength.

Variations

Mako Someya's mahjong cafe/parlor and the elementary mahjong club sponsored by Harue Akado use the Kiriage Mangan rule, this rounds a 4han 30fu/3han 60fu hand, which is normally worth 7700 or 11600, to 8000 and 12000.

Saki hand explanations

This section includes explanations of hands requiring intermediate understanding of the concepts and rules of mahjong.

Plus-minus zero

During Saki's first visit to the Kiyosumi mahjong club, Hisa Takei notices that Saki is close to a tanyao, pinfu, and sanshoku doujun hand that is worth at least 7700 points.

RyuuwanChiiwanPaawanSanpinSuupinRyuupinChiipinPaapinRyanzouRyanzouRyuusouChiisouPassou, wait: Ryanpin or Uupin

After noticing in the computer records that Saki got ±0 in both of the games so far, Hisa is surprised to hear Saki declare a win for only 1000 points. She then sees that Saki must have drawn the nine of characters tile Chuuwan and discarded the six of characters tile Ryuuwan. Saki then won off of a two of pins tile Ryanpin that was discarded by Kyoutarou. When Saki discarded Ryuuwan instead of Chuuwan, she lost tanyao and sanshoku doujun, leaving herself with only pinfu. Hisa believes that Chuuwan wasn't a risky tile to discard, so Saki should've discarded it instead of Ryuuwan, and is confused by Saki's play. When Hisa hears that it was the final hand and that Saki once again got ±0, she figures out that Saki wasn't aiming to win the game, but that she was aiming to break even for the third consecutive time and succeeded at such an incredible feat.

draw: Chuuwan, discard Ryuuwan, ron: Ryanpin
ChiiwanPaawanChuuwanSanpinSuupinRyuupinChiipinPaapinRyanzouRyanzouRyuusouChiisouPassou Ryanpin

The table state revealed that Chuuwan is a live tile, however, there's little to indicate that another player is close to winning. So while Chuuwan is a mildly risky discard, there's little to indicate that it's much riskier than Ryuuwan, certainly not enough to justify Saki dumping the value of her hand so much. That is even more apparent since it was the last hand and Saki needed a lot more points in order to win. Nor did discarding Ryuuwan instead of Chuuwan improve Saki's chances of completing her hand, which remained about the same. The choices that Saki made makes it clear that she wasn't aiming to win.

That same night, Nodoka Haramura tries to get ±0 while playing mahjong online, but misses in all four attempts.

2 han 70 fu

The next day, Hisa makes breaking even more difficult by adopting rules that are used during the early individual tournament matches. Rather than playing hanchan games with no red-five tiles, they'll play east wind games with four red-five tiles. In the last hand of the first match, Saki needs 5100 to 6000 to break even. She is in tenpai with menzen honitsu, worth 5200 if she wins by ron.

ShaShaShaIipinRyanpinRyanpinSanpinSanpinSuupinRyuupinChiipinChuupinChuupin, wait: Uupin or Paapin

Hisa is surprised when Saki passes on Yuuki Kataoka's five of pins tile Uupin, but quickly realizes that if Saki ronned it off of Yuuki, Saki would finish with the most points, giving her the winner's bonus. The shorter east wind game may have reduced the points spread near the end of a game, which affects Saki in this case. Saki then passes on Nodoka's red-five of pins tile Uupin-aka. While it appears that Saki is temporarily furiten, a full go-around occurred (off-screen) so Saki could've ronned the tile. However, the dora from the red-five would've given Saki too many points. Again, the rules that Hisa set up have made it more difficult for Saki to break even. Nodoka declares rīchi, options reduced and the remaining option is 2 han 70 fu, 70 fu is rare, need to kan, draws 2b Ryanzou and discards 6p Ryuupin, draws 9p Chuupin and discards 7p Chiipin, draws ww Sha and kans 2b Ryanzou, menzen tsumo, rinshan kaihou, normally menzen tsumo, rīchi, severe odds due to quick succession of favorable tiles, first 2b was actually the lucky one rather than the 2nd 2b, greater difficulty made Saki use her rinshan kaihou and kans abilities

draw: Ryanzou, discard: Ryuupin, draw: Chuupin, discard: Chiipin, draw: Sha, declare kan of west wind tiles, tsumo: Ryanzou
BackShaShaBack IipinRyanpinRyanpinSanpinSanpinSuupinRyanzouChuupinChuupinChuupin Ryanzou

Hisa vs Mihoko

Shizu's National quarter-final win

Dora: Iiwan

Starting hand:

IiwanRyuuwanIipinSanpinUupin-akaChuupinChuupinRyanzouSanzouSanzouChunTonSha

Draw:

RyanzouChuupinIiwanIisouRyanpinSanzouRyanpinSanpinUnknown

Discard:

ShaTonChunRyuuwanUupin-akaIisouSanzouChuupinPaapin

Final:

IiwanIiwanIipinRyanpinRyanpinSanpinSanpinChuupinChuupinRyanzouRyanzouSanzouSanzou Ron: Iipin


Hand after the red 5-pin discard:

IiwanIiwanIipinRyanpinSanpinChuupinChuupinChuupinIisouRyanzouRyanzouSanzouSanzou

Hand after the 1-sou discard:

IiwanIiwanIipinRyanpinSanpinChuupinChuupinChuupinRyanzouRyanzouSanzouSanzouSanzou

After 2-draws:

IiwanIiwanIipinRyanpinRyanpinSanpinSanpinChuupinChuupinRyanzouRyanzouSanzouSanzou

References

  1. Alternatively, when looking at compass directions on a map and then projecting them onto the ceiling, the compass directions rotate in the opposite direction. Thus, the mahjong winds can be thought of as heavenly winds.
  2. Achiga-hen episode of side-A anime, episode 5.
  3. Achiga-hen episode of side-A manga, chapter 10.

See also

Mahjong links

European Mahjong Association website
Their Riichi Rules for Japanese Mahjong contains detailed rules and terminology. A previous version was used by Crunchyroll's Saki anime translator.
United States Professional Mahjong League
Barticle's Japanese Mahjong Guide can be downloaded from the downloads section. It contains even more detailed rules and terminology.
Wikipedia's Japanese mahjong page
Mahjong Wiki's Riichi competition rules page
How to Play page of the Cambridge University Riichi Mahjong Society
Kafka's mahjong page

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