Wednesday, December 05, 2007

New ReachMahjong Website

Reach Mahjong has remodeled and we will no longer be posting new columns on this blog. Please check our website: Reach Mahjong: The Only Way to Play for your favorite blogs plus tons of new content! Here is the press release for the new RM: Celebrates its First Birthday and Reopens its Doors


On December 3rd, 2007, Reach Mahjong: The Only Way to Play reopened at with a brand new design, content management system and new columns and articles for the thousands of regular readers already loyal to the site.

Active ImageReach Mahjong (RM) first opened in December of 2006 as a website devoted to the Japanese style of Riichi Mahjong. Upon opening, RM had 3 regular columns written by professional Mahjong players Jenn Barr and Garthe Nelson and the third written by Jenn’s student of the game, Gemma Collinge. The site included rules explanations, articles about newsworthy events in Japan and beyond, links to important Mahjong websites and interviews with professional players. Some important coverage included this year’s World Series of Mahjong and Open European Mahjong Championship. In its inaugural year, RM is already known worldwide as the best English source for Reach/Riichi strategy and many new players that have emerged this year have admitted to learning all they know from RM.


Active ImageThe new Reach Mahjong: The Only Way to Play has kept all the great columns from the first year and has added a great new line-up for the second year. Jenn Barr has maintained her leading role overseeing everything that goes on the site while Yakitori Online forums founder Andy Barzhagi has joined the team as the IT specialist and official blogger. In addition to Andy’s blog which is expected to start within a few days of opening, RM has added a weekly “What would you discard” question updated by Gemma Collinge which provides space for readers to leave comments and discuss discards of certain hands and a section for book reviews. An official Ron2 tutorial (the online game endorsed by the Japan Professional Mahjong League), the world’s first Mahjong Podcasts and a new glossary, more comprehensive than before will be added later this month. With the new content management system, RM updates are expected to be much more timely than before, bringing the world not only the best English strategic information on the game, but bringing it to you fast.


The new design of RM is pleasing to the eye and makes navigation quick and easy. “Reach Mahjong has always prided itself on content and now we have the beauty to go with the brains,” says Jenn Barr. The green background meant to represent the felt of the Mahjong table and the token 1,000 point scoring stick at the bottom never lets the reader forget why they came to this site. The bar menu now includes drop-downs for easy navigation, each page features a “Navigator” so that users can glide from subject to subject, and there is now space for rotating banners and RM is looking for banner-exchange opportunities with other Mahjong sites. The tab menu at the top of the screen gives viewers easy access to RM’s partner sites: MahjongMart and Yakitori Online. MahjongMart ( was founded in October, 2007 by Jenn Barr and Andy Barzhagi to provide authentic Japanese Mahjong sets to locations outside of Japan. Yakitori Online ( is the busiest online forum founded by Andy Barzhagi in June, 2007, dedicated solely to the Japanese version of Reach/Riichi Mahjong. RM plans to continue partnership with these 2 sites and lead the way in spreading the play of Japanese Reach/Riichi Mahjong throughout the English-speaking world.


All inquiries and content submissions (including tournament information, links and banner exchange) should be directed to Jenn Barr

Thursday, November 08, 2007

In Garthe's Hands #16

November 9, 2007

In Garthe's Hands #16

I return this week to more hands that it may be a while before you ever get to see in the field. You may wonder why you should even bother remembering such hands if the possibility of finishing them is really so small. Indeed, they may not get finished often, but they will still have an impact, even when they aren't finished. The reason is that they tend to be nearly impossible to finished concealed; after a couple bumps, everyone already has a pretty good idea of where the hand is headed and will be very careful with tiles that are likely to finish the hand. I give to you All Terminals and its little brother All Terminals and Honors.

Let's begin with the Limit hand, All Terminals. That's right, limit means it's another hand that will get you the most points possible if you can finish it. The name says it all: the hand is entirely made up of terminals, meaning, 1's and 9's. Because there are only 6 of these types of tiles, a 1 and a 9 in each of the three suits, this hand can only be finished as 4 triples plus the head. Because of the extreme unlikelihood of being able to draw 13 of the 24 available tiles yourself, bumping tiles is allowed. However, bumping twice will make everyone pretty suspcious, and after a third bump, you're not likely to see anyone dropping a 1 or 9 for the rest of the hand. I have seen this hand finished a total of once and it wasn't even at the same table I was playing but the one behind me. I may have seen it ready once also so it is indeed another in the Extremely Rare category.

Because All 1's and 9's is so difficult, it's nice that it has a slightly easier version too: All Terminals and Honors. It's as easy to figure out from it's name as it's big brother, it's entirely made up of 1's, 9's and honor tiles. It will also generally be in the all triples shape though because there are is a total of 13 types of tiles to use, 7 Pairs will also be a possibility. This hand is actually only worth 2 points but because it will also always contain at least one other 2 point hand (All pairs or All triples) it is essentially worth 4 points. It is similar to Little Dragons in this respect. This hand is also fairly rare for similar reasons. Generally at least 2 triples will need to be bumped and as soon as that happens, everyone becomes much more careful with the remaining 1's 9's and honor tiles. But it can become a monster if a couple of the groups are Value tiles, one of the groups is Lucky dragons, it's a half flush, or all of the above. Try giving it a shot when any of those situations are near, or if the Limit hand seems to have become impossible.

Here are some examples:

All Terminals

Limit hand so it's 16000 points from each player if the dealer won, 8000/16000 if drawn by a non-dealer

All Terminals and Honors

We have Red and White dragons, Half flush, All triples and All Terminals and Honors for a total of 24000 if the dealer won, or 16000 if it was won by a non-dealer

And one question:

1-dots was the lucky dragon (dora). The dealer drew the winning tile himself. It's the first hand of the east round. How many points did he get?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Jenn's Corner #17: New Developments

Reach is becoming bigger and bigger and is helping to lead the way! Coming up on our 1st Birthday (sometime in December), Reach Mahjong: The Only Way to Play has been part of lots of great new plans and is working on more as we speak!

First, I'd like to announce the opening of Your 'jong Experts. Andy from Yakitori Online and I have teamed together to bring you a brand new online store offering Mahjong goods at reasonable prices. We already have a variety of tiles including an affordable version of tiles inspired by the character Washizu in the popular Manga/Anime: Akagi and an easy to use, easy to carry Junk Mat, which includes a place to keep your scoring sticks in plain site. Each tile set purchased on our site comes with a 12-page English rule booklet that covers the basics of the game and explains scoring. The book includes 4 reference cards with tile explanations on the front for your friends who can't read the Chinese characters on the tiles and a list of the Hand Points on the back for quick score-counting and help while you play. A score card is also included with the Dealer's score-chart on one side and Non-Dealer's on the other. Reach Mahjong was never so easy to teach and play!
Check out our Press Release!

Next, has been working on a new design and we will be ready to open next month. The new format will make it easier to get news to you faster and update our columns in a more timely manner. We will include an interview link system with our partner-site Yakitori Online as well as a new strategy section to compliment our rules section. There will also be an official Ron2 tutorial to help non-Japanese speakers navigate the site. This is a temporary solution until the full English version is ready to go. We have a million ideas and our excellent staff is growing, so look forward to a fully-functioning Mahjong portal, bringing you all the latest in Reach Mahjong.

In other news, our second season at JPML started this month and we have lots of tournaments going on! Our League tournament happens on the first weekend of each month. I'm happy to report that both Garthe and I did well in the first session (there are 5 sessions in each season) of D2 league and are both ahead in the point count. Garthe currently up 16.7 points in 15th place and I am up 81.7 points in 4th place. Each season the top players in each level move up to the next level, so cheer us on!

A new season of Champions League started as well and Garthe made an appearance the first weekend. Champs League is a league open to all JPML members with no predetermined ranking system. There are 15 sessions of 4 games each and each player must play in at least 5 sessions. The games are timed: 50 minutes for each East/South round. JPML A-Rules are used, so no First-Turn Wins for Reach and no Quad-Drags (Kan-dora) or Hidden Drags (Hidden-dora). All players are matched up against each other regardless of experience, ability or ranking. I'll be joining this season from November, so cheer us on there too!

And finally, one of JPML's biggest tournaments, open to pro's and amateurs alike throughout Japan in its entirety, OUI, has already started. Qualifiers are currently taking plays throughout Japan and Garthe and I will try to qualify the 2nd weekend of November. Unlike the Masters tournament in April (also open to the entire country), OUI uses A-Rules, meaning no first-turn wins or extra drags (dora). The current defending champion is Takki. The year before that, Takaharu Oui (no pun on the name) won the tournament. Wish us luck on that one as well! And if you are in Japan, there may still be time to qualify, so send me an e-mail if you’re interested.

For now, I'm busy, busy, busy! Lots of stuff to work on and I'm running good in poker so trying to make the money while I can. Keep in touch all!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Gemma's Journal #15

October 11, 2007

Gemma's Journal #15

Teaching Week One

Finally, back in Taipei! Unfortunately my last Mahjong buddies all left me for mainland China, however, I now have a whole new group of Canadians who are more than a little keen to learn and enjoy the fantastic game which is Mahjong!

So, now that my journal has taken you through the trials and tribulations of me, as a beginner, learning Mahjong, now you get to hear my experience of teaching it to other beginners. Maybe I can even convince them to write some words on what they thought of the game, and perhaps even an evaluation of my teaching methods!

I suppose the aim of my next entries is to give an example of teaching Mahjong to encourage you all to go and recruit some more players. I'm not sure how good my teaching will be, so advice will be welcome along the way! I do hope that this will be a contribution of sorts to the community and if nothing else at least we will have three more players!

My students are a mixed bunch. One has actually played a little Mahjong before with me, one has played some computer Mahjong and the other is a complete beginner. Two do not speak Chinese and one is learning. So I'm expecting that they'll advancing at different rates and this is my main concern at the beginning; to make sure none of them are left behind, yet balancing that out with steady progress.

Lesson One is pretty much decided I suppose. We basically just played with the tiles for half an hour. I gave each of them a suit and got them to find 1 through 9 of that suit to get them used to the tiles and what they looked like. I think it's easy for people who've been playing for a while that it does take a bit of time to get used to the patterns. For example, the one of bamboos is always an issue and even the eight of bamboos was making my students squint at the tiles!

Then we looked at the honor tiles. I tried not to fuss them too much with what each one exactly meant at that point as the non-Chinese speaking were having enough trouble with the numbers on the grands (wans). (I was using a Chinese set with no arabic numbers. I do in fact have a set from the UK with the Arabic numbers written in the corner. That would have been a life-saver this week!)

After that, we looked at what made a basic hand. This seemed to not be too much trouble although I'm not sure I was doing a good job of explaining!

Then, we set up the table and played! We played a first few rounds with our hands open so that we could talk about what we were doing, then when they were confident we played out hands closed. I think overall it went well. All three seemed to have no real problems with the basic progression of play. I think the biggest problem that was encountered was most definitely lack of English on some of the tiles. However, that could have easily been overcome with a different set.

We started talking about hands but, as I didn't want to overload them with information, I avoided it and have saved it all for next week. I mostly wanted everyone comfortable with the feel of Mahjong and accustom people to the tiles.

I can predict there are going to be a lot more problems in the making!

Anyway, have any of you taught Mahjong? Any advice for me? Let me know your thoughts!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Jenn's Corner #16

October 3, 2007

Jenn's Corner #16

Note: There was information that I forgot to add to the final 2 problems in Garthe's last column. I've fixed the problem, so please take a look and write your answers in the comment section.

Now for MY column.

I've spent a large amount of my time lately playing and watching a lot of poker. I have already mentioned how much I think learning poker has helped my mahjong game. Everyday I spend watching tournaments, playing live or online and discussing poker, I find more similarities to the two games. One thing that many poker players have learned is that playing a variety of poker games helps you notice things in your main game that you would never notice before. For example, playing Omaha instead of Texas Hold'em. The same holds true in mahjong.

Besides the A-Rule and B-Rule variations in JPML, the commonly used cash-game rules (similar to JPML's B-Rules) there are also a variety of 3-player and 2-player games.

The easiest way to play a 3-player game is to use the MFC 3-player rules because the Hand Points are all the same as the 4-player game. Take out the numbers 2-8 of the Grands (cracks), making the deck 108 tiles instead of 136. Declaring Chow is not allowed in the 3-player version. If the Drag (dora) Indicator is 1-Grands, then the Drag (dora) will be 9-Grands. Other than that everything will play the same. For self-drawn wins, the score will be split in half by the other 2 players. Hands won on a discard will be pad by the discarder as usual.

The 3-Colored Runs hand will be impossible and since 1/3 of the simples (2-8 tiles) are gone, Inside Hands won't happen as much. You'll find yourself going for bigger hands and lots of Flushes and Half-Flushes. The swings will be much larger than in A-Rule games because people will be going for big hands most of the time. There will be lots of limit hands too.

Slimming down the deck like this is great for looking closer at your game and tendencies. There are less tiles, so less to think about. Try it out and you might find holes in your 4-player game. You'll definitely find yourself playing differently than you did before.

There are other versions of 3-player mahjong. My favorite includes using the White Dragons as jokers. That game is great for training yourself in difficult waits and planning ahead in your hands.

Join in and tell us what your favorite Mahjong variations are. I can't wait to try some of them out!

Friday, September 21, 2007

In Garthe's Hands #15

September 22, 2007

In Garthe's Hands #15

Had a hard time deciding where to put today's column. It was originally just a response to Gemma's column, but then it was getting so long, it seemed like it might just be better to put it in with the columns. Hope I'm not stealing any of your thunder there, Gemma.

So the topic of course, is the All Pairs hand. I have certainly shared Gemma's frustration with it and have complained about its orneriness (ornerity? ornerosity?) quite a bit myself. To review, it's one of only 2 hands in Reach Mahjong which will not be of the normal form: 4 groups of 3 (runs or triples), plus a "head" or pair. This is one of the reasons that it's difficult to see when players are aiming for it and makes it something of a wild card in the Mahjong group of hands. A completed hand will simply be 7 pairs of different tiles. When I say different, I mean that it is unacceptable for 2 of the pairs to be the same tiles, in essence, a concealed quad remaining hidden in your hand. Personally I find this restriction a bit arbitrary and lame, but there it is. Here is an example of a finished hand:

It is surprising how hard it is to complete this hand despite how close one may seem in the beginning. I'll start thinking about it as a possibility with even just 2 or 3 pairs if a lot of the singles I have are outside or honors. And the road to 4 or 5 pairs is often very short. It's that 6th pair to make the hand ready, and the final tile to win that are the real problems. I'll always be waiting for something to match a tile already in the hand so at best I have 3 possibilities for each one of those singles. Let's think about it in terms of how many tiles are available and maybe it will become clear why these last tiles are such big hurdles. If I had just a Peace hand that was one away from ready with two open ended waits, there would be 16 possible tiles that make the hand ready. When my All Pairs hand is one away from ready, I'll have 3 singles waiting to pair up meaning that at best, there are only 9 tiles that could possibly make the hand ready. When I get to ready, that Peace hand is going to have 8 possible tiles for the win and the All Pairs will only have 3. (Of course these numbers will be affected by what's already out on the board but for this situation let's just think of the optimal numbers) So from the get go we know that All Pairs is going to be a harder than normal hand to complete.

So the now the issue: how best to work it into your game. If it's going to be a harder hand to complete, the reward for completing it should be greater too right? How to make it pay off? The most important thing is going to be finding the right tile to wait on, but let's start with one of the other decisions you'll have to make first, namely whether to go for All Triples or All Pairs. Factors affecting this decision will be what kind of pairs are already in the hand, if any of them are triples already, and whether any of them are Lucky Dragons (dora). If I already have 4 pairs with one of the pairs being lucky dragons, I'm going to be a lot more proactive about winning the hand, probably bumping (ponning) tiles the first chance I get and sending myself off in the All Triples direction. If my pairs are more towards the middle, I might consider the fact that other people are probably going to be using those tiles and no matter how long I wait, I may never have a chance to bump them. I tend to dream big, so as soon as one of my pairs becomes a triple, I'm already starting to think about 3 or even 4 Concealed Triples. That silly dream is why I personally end up going for All pairs more because I opt not to bump tiles when they first come out, hoping that I'll draw the last remaining one for the chance at the limit hand. Another big benefit of keeping my hand concealed is that I can Reach when it's ready, and in most games, Reaching allows me a chance at the Hidden Lucky Dragon (Ura-dora) too. My little 1600 pointer can turn into 8000 pretty quickly with a lucky turn there or even become 12000 if I manage to draw it myself. Lots of points to think about and we still haven't even gotten to putting the hand together yet.

So let's say the decision has been made to go for All Pairs. Now we want tiles in our hand that other people are not likely to be using: honors and the end tiles and especially, tiles on the outer side of pairs in our hand. In Reach Mahjong there is a defensive term called a "wall". a “wall” is when all 4 of one tile towards the end (2s, 3s, 7s and 8s) are showing, making the end tiles (1s, 2s, 8s and 9s) unusable in runs and also seemingly safe to discard. This concept of a "wall" is very useful in many situations, one of which being here, when we want tiles that other people can't use. For example, if we have a 3 of dots pair in our hand and can see another 1or 2 of them on the board, we know it's going to be difficult for other players to use the 1 and 2 of dots. We can more reasonably expect those tiles to come out or possibly still be in the deck if they're not already out on the board. Also, when things get dangerous because someone has Reached or someone may be quietly Ready to win without Reaching, these tiles will be useful as safe discards.

Finally when we have to decide on our "wait", there are two things to think about. First, same as before, we want to choose something that people are not likely to be using. Second, especially if we decide to Reach, it may be useful to set a trap. Not only is the 1 of dots probably a good wait anyway, but it looks especially safe to other players if there is a 4 of dots in our discards. Remember the Missed Win Rule (Sacred Discard) prohibits winning not only on a tile that we've already discarded, but also on any tile if any of the winning tiles has been discarded. Because players tend to aim for open-ended waits, any tile 3 above or below a tile in our discards will look a little safer to players looking for something safe to discard. So another example would be choosing to wait on the 8 of bamboos because we have a 5 of bamboos in our discards. This defensive concept is called Piano Keys. The idea is, opened ended waits always consist of a combination of 1-4-7, 2-5-8 or 3-6-9, meaning that a 4, 5 or 6 in a player’s discard makes 1 and 7, 2 and 8 or 3 and 9, seem safe, respectively.

As always, working more Hand points into a hand is the best way to make it really pay off. However, a lot of the standard "extra" hands won't be an option with All Pairs. Obviously, anything using runs or triples is out. Sometimes All Simples will be an option, but I tend not to aim for it because middle tiles tend to be more useful for other players. Remember, we want tiles that are NOT useful for other players. Also, a bunch of middle tiles are probably just going to end up falling into runs and it'll be easier to make it a pay off with a Reach/Simples/Peace combination. A Half Flush combined with All Pairs also seems to often come close but it's much harder than it looks to finish. Usually, something will pair up in another suit, and then that has to be discarded, but then everyone notices that a pair of something came out of my hand and then NO one discards anything from the suit not in my discards. So the best way for me to get lots of points out of it tends to be saving those garbage tiles that nobody wants and trying to make one of the pairs the Lucky Dragon (dora).

Looking at my stats on Mahjong Fight Club (Konami), it's definitely in the a-little-short-of-major category, occurring with slightly less frequency than 3 Colored Runs. If you find you go several games without finishing this hand once, you shouldn't actually find that too surprising. However it is harder for other players to read and it's possible for it to turn into a monster with a little luck so you should try working it into your game. The opportunities will come.

Let's get people's opinions. What would you do in the following situations and why?

South seat, 3rd hand of East round, 3000 points out of first place, 5th draw, Lucky Dragon (dora) is 9 of Dots

East Seat, 4th hand of South round, 4000 points out of first place, 5th draw, Lucky dragon (dora) is 8 of Bams
West seat discards 4-Grands(Cracks)

East seat, 3rd hand of East round, even with Dealer in first place, 5th draw, Lucky dragon (dora) is 6 of Dots
North Seat discards the first Red Dragon

Remember, no right or wrong answers so give em a shot.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Gemma's Journal #14

Sept 6, 2007

Gemma's Journal #14

So, I'm in a bit of an in-between stage of my column. My next plan for my column is that I'll follow the progress of some new students of Mahjong to see how they fair. Hopefully we'll get their comments on the game and learning, and also your comments on my teaching method. It would be even better if I can motivate more people to spread the word as well! My new group of Mahjong players are a mixed bunch with two speaking no Asian languages and one with a good grasp. It'll be interesting I think to see their different reactions and what exactly interests different backgrounds with respect to Mahjong.

However, I've had to come back to the UK briefly and my three new students are waiting for me in Taipei. Therefore I've had to come up with some 'filler' entries... Sorry!

I thought that I would share with you my feelings on the All-Pairs hand. It's been really getting to me recently. I despise it. I can never pull it off, and if I lose big, I can almost guarantee it was a hand where I was trying for All-Pairs. I've summarised my All-Pairs experiences as folows:

1) I get quite a few pairs at the beginning so I become excited and think; "Yay! It's half started for me. Let's try!" But yeah, so I try and try and watch all those tiles that I could have Bumped (pon/peng) to give myself an All-Sets hand go by at the beginning but I'm still feeling confident. There is always a moment when I realise that this was a disastrous decision and it all goes pete tong. (Non-Brits that's your research project for the week! "Pete Tong")

2) Actually the whole thing goes pretty well until the last pair where I manage to obtain multiple "pairs" in my discard pile instead of in my hand.

3) I get nothing that will remotely help me and find that I can't get out of it because of "sacred discard" (furiten) etc...

To add to it all, I don't know whether it's because I'm so stressed out by this hand now, but for some reason in the process of trying to obtain this hand I mess it up by throwing a tile someone else needs. Perhaps I'm just not concentrating...

Then the few times that I do manage to pull off this hand, I'm never satisfied with the reward. Points-Stress ratio is just not good enough! For the days shaved off my life in those five minutes I need more!

Above all, is it just me or does this hand just not fit well with the other hands? I mean I like the way I can make links between hands and I rarely go all out for one particular hand and usually have ideas that I can do with it depending upon the tiles that I draw. The All-Pairs hand I just don't seem to have so many options. It just refuses to work with other hands. It sits there like a thorn in my side. It doesn't look that hard so why do I mess it up! It doesn't even fit in the normal scoring system!

I hate it so much.

I dislike it when other people pull it out on me. I never see it coming. I always predict something else. I make my discard. And there it is opposite the table. I've looked over past games to try and get the patterns from the discard so I can level up on this but no progress.

I hate that hand so so much.

I'm sure someone must like it though! So people go ahead and tell me that I'm wrong. Someone enlighten me. Someone prove to me that the devil did not add the All-Pairs hand to torment Mahjong players! Or, perhaps you have a hand that you equally despise. Share your woes!