Author Topic: You can't win by losing.  (Read 2425 times)

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You can't win by losing.
« on: October 19, 2013, 01:49:01 pm »
I was staying away from this particular topic but it seems to be a topic that won't settle down, and so I've decided to venture in: why so many "good" riichi players at the European Riichi Mahjong Championship in Bad Volsau were bested by "rank amatures."

I'm sure if you follow any of the many mahjong blogs, you'll see this topic everywhere:
Mahjong News
Mahjong News- Dutch
Osamuko's Blog
Reach Mahjong

A common theme being addressed is an observation that beginners were beating the best riichi players in Europe, followed by the assessment that this fact detracts from the game's illustriousness, which then raises the question as to how to prevent this in future tournaments, and then often concludes with a proposal of stratifying players to systematically prevent a beginner from beating an expert in the future.

It reminds me of last night's soccer football game between Spain and Georgia, wherein Spain beat Georgia 2-0 in Albacete. After the game they interviewed Georgia team captain Jaba Kankava, and he attributed their loss to the fact that they were unable to defend against Spain's goals because Spain didn't know how to properly attack the net. He lamented the fact that this resulted in the lessor team winning, and that there should be new rules implemented to prevent a lessor team from beating the better team in the future if the lessor team doesn't know how to properly attack the net. You remember seeing this in the sportscast last night, right? Of course not. It would be a ridiculous assessment to make, because both teams were bound by the same set of rules, and, within the constraints of those rules, Spain was more skillful at scoring more goals than Georgia. There isn't a proper way to score goals outside of the rules already being enforced by the referees, and so there can't be made the argument that there is another set of skills by which Georgia should have been judged the better team. The objective is to score goals. Spain was better skilled at scoring goals under the confines of the rules at hand, and so Spain has won the game.

Skill is not a game of rock-paper-scissors, where rock would be champion if only paper were kept out of the competition. The point being that rock can't change and adapt to gain the upper hand over paper... rock is bound to be a rock in all situations, and against paper, he will invariably lose.

Skill, however, is the ability to adapt... to assess your opponent, and to adjust your strategy accordingly to maximize your strengths over your opponent's weaknesses, and likewise to minimize your weaknesses over your opponent's strengths. The competitor who best manages skill within the confines of the rules being played will be victorious. If a player is unable to beat a particular style of play in competition, then the player has found himself to be the inflexible rock.

Some blogs argued the some beginners didn't even know all the rules, and so by rights shouldn't have won. They may not have known all of the rules, but clearly they knew enough of them to find their opponent's weakness and defeat them in fair play. That has to speak to their experience in mahjong in general, if not riichi in particular, and so perhaps as a "beginner" they were underestimated. You can't be mad at paper for not knowing how to lose to rock.

In fair and equal competition, there is no need to systematically handicap a beginner, because his handicap is already in place manifest by his inexperience. Enforce the rules as they are already accepted to be, and the best player, statistically over the course of a tournament, will be the player who plays by those rules to his own benefit the best. That is the spirit of fair competition.

China didn't complain that the French don't know how to properly lose when the French bested China in May's mahjong competition.

Being that all players are judged fairly by the same set of rules, if the outcomes are not as one had hoped, then it is the rules, not the players, that need assessment.

One rule that wasn't addressed was the format of the tournament itself. The players were pre-assigned tables, and weren't assigned tables based on their similar standings at the beginning of each hanchan. Even worse, players were assigned in an orderly fashion such that no French player ever met another, no Dutch player met another, etc. This introduced significant statistical chaos into the ranking, which can be better understood by studying the science behind the Swiss Tournament system. Based on match-ups alone, it's not only possible but actually very likely the best players all knocked each other out of the rankings, or conversely the worst players elevated each other up the rankings, leaving a vacuum for a statistically anomaly to fill.

Further, if the goal is to have more skillful players win the day, then rules which favor skill over luck should be favored. Red fives increase luck. While there is still some skill involved in optimizing a hand toward more potential dora, the fact is dora of any kind tip in favor of luck over skill.

If it is the goal to have more beautiful elaborate hands win the day, then use rules which favor such styles of play. The larger the uma, the more it favors winning as many tables as you can as quickly as you can, and leaves less reward for winning just some tables by large margins and losing the others by narrow.

I recall one hand I played at the ERC, there were 6,600 table points to be won. Three of us had opened our hands early, except the player across from me, who declared a very late riichi adding another 1000 to the table.  It was the player to my left who won the table with a 1-yaku hand (dragon pon). 7,600 additional points is not a bad rake for such a cheap hand, and I said out loud "obviously we were all going for a quick hand to get those table points," and the riichi player said, "maybe YOU were, but I wasn't." He may not have been going for a quick hand, but he didn't win 7,600 extra table points either. In fact he lost the table all together, and was penalized another 30,000 points by the uma. That same player was at one time at the top of the rankings, but finished the tournament in the bottom half. I'm not trying to single him out, but I think this hand illustrates a player who stood fast like a rock against the information on the table, and lost as a result, grumbling about the luck of beginners.

You can't win by losing.


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Re: You can't win by losing.
« Reply #1 on: October 21, 2013, 11:06:21 am »
I think you correctly identify that the rules are the problem. The truth is riichi is not adapted to the needs of tournament play. It is more adapted to the needs of gamblers. It was that milieu from which it emerged. Whilst some of the rules do emphasise skill, for example rewarding skilful defensive play (or rather punishing sloppy defence), other aspects, such as dora and red fives, emphasise the luck element of the game. And with all due respect, many of the complaints following the European Open sounded not dissimilar from the sort of griping that gamblers might make after a bad run of luck,
Riichi is a really fun game to play, with a group of three other like minded individuals. But I'm not sure that any amount of tinkering with competition draws or tournament arrangements would really resolve the basic problem that is not designed to be a tournament game.
I know I invite huge amounts of scorn from committed Riichi players by suggesting it, but I suspect that both MCR and Zung Jung are better adapted for competition play. Overal I would characterise Zung Jung as the rule set most favoured by "gamers" (it seems to be the form of the game most discussed at boardgamegeek for example). Perhaps it should receive wider support as a competition form of Mahjong that avoids the complexities of MCR. Which is perhaps as its creator, Alan Kwan, intended it, a "middle way" between the other forms of Mahjong.


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