Three months after my unceremonious descent in online mahjong rankings, I have managed to not only claw my way back to my original ranking, but also surpass it and move up to the next level. I am now a “3-Dan” on Tenhou, and I’ve learned a few lessons since September. Hopefully I keep them in mind so I don’t drop down again.

As much as it would appall Akagi, trying to go up the ranks on Tenhou encourages fairly safe and conservative play. The only way to actually lose points and risk dropping down is to get last place, so while being 1st is ideal, being 3rd isn’t so bad either as it means you are as far as you were last game. At the end of the day, if 1st place is way out in front, it’s generally not worth it to try and make a desperate counterattack, as it might just land you in 4th, something that has happened to me on many, many occasions.

In one match I was in 4th place in the last round. However, I was less than 1000 points behind 3rd place, and in this final round 3rd place was also East, meaning that if he wins he gets more but if another player wins by self-draw then he pays a higher price. So after seeing another player Reach, I simply abandoned my chances of winning and counted on that player drawing his winning tile, as it would allow me to barely get 3rd without doing anything. That’s exactly what happened in the end and I got away without losing any ranking points just by, as Sub likes to put it, “playing to not lose.” It was kind of dirty, but that was the reality of the situation.

Watch out though, as aiming for not-4th can be a trap in itself, as you can end up in a situation where you’re behind and desperately aiming for anything to keep you in the game, which in turn can make you prone to rash decisions. This is pretty much what killed me when I first dropped back down to 1-Dan, as you have the disadvantage of not only of letting your emotions get in the way but also giving up too soon. Doing so may even blind you from the fact that you could win if only you had the patience and clarity of mind to see that.

Though it might seem to contradict what I said about aiming to not lose, it’s actually all just a part of gauging your situation at all times. Let’s say you’re in 4th place. Ask yourself, in my current situation, what would it take to get in 1st? What’s the point difference? How likely is it for me to get a hand that can overcome that difference? If there’s no hope, what are my options then?

Now keep in mind that this is doesn’t have to be cold, hard logic. You don’t have to be calculating statistics, and can even be based on how the game feels at the moment. A small loss in points isn’t as bad as losing a lot of points, and if you’ve lost a lot of points you could always potentially drag down 3rd place. And if you drag down 3rd, you might be in range to get 2nd. There’s room for optimism, however small.

So while Akagi obviously scoffs at “digital” mahjong, that is, a style based on analyzing ratios instead of playing based on “feel,” it’s clear that going up the ranks in Tenhou isn’t all related to probability. Just as you’re trying to claw your way up to 1st, so is everyone else, and inevitably there are human traits to exploit, be they greed, fear, or even relying too much on statistics.

Though deep down, I feel like this is my limit when it comes to online mahjong. At 3-dan, getting 4th place actually makes you lose more points than you would gain if you had gotten 1st. Whether I can overcome such odds is something I’ll just have to see. Still, that I’m here in the first place is something I can be proud of, even if I’m not the best mahjong player out there.

Lastly, to celebrate:

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