2018 Seattle Riichi Open Review

Hello everyone! Another Seattle Riichi Open has concluded and we have a new champion! Of course, last year’s champion, Charles McDonnell was not able to attend, so of course it had to be a new one, but details…

We had a group of 24 people participating with members from University of British Columbia, the Pacific Mahjong League, LA Pride of Mahjong, and even from the Nine Gates/USPML from New York! All in all it was a great turnout.

Streams for our feature table can be found here (Day 1, Day 2). Standings as of the cut can be found here (our pairing program sadly was not usable after this round).

The results after Day 1 seemed to indicate a very close spread, with the exception of Canada’s Lillian Hoenig who had put in a strong first place finish in Round 4 putting her over 10 points clear of 2nd place.

Instead, a triumvirate was able to get through the ruckus and join Lillian atop the peak led by PML’s Rachel Halperin who secured 2 first place finishes and jumped to the lead, 16 points clear of Lillian. Seattle’s Blaise Ritchie and Nine Gates’ alumnus Michael McLeod got a first for themselves, trailing Lillian by about the same margin.

For the final 4 spots, it was pretty much a bloodbath. Setbacks from Seattle’s Shane Rideout and William Gosewehr opened the door for others. LAPOM’s 2 representatives, Ruriko Duer and Terry Jane Kurobe both put in solid 2nd place finishes and methodically moved into 5th and 6th. Same went for Seattle’s Patrick Nguyen, who even after losing 1st place in the 5th round, put in 2 seconds and ended in 7th. The person he lost 1st to in that round, PML’s Daniel Moreno, did just enough in the 6th round to sneak into the playoffs.

Now unfortunately, I had changed the format of the tournament to have no adjustment of scores between qualifying and playoffs (more on that in the Tournament Director’s post-mortem). This meant that going into the semifinals, there would need to be a major stumble by the top 4 and a huge score posted by someone below to make up the deficit.

On Table 2, such a result was posted. In fact, Michael McLeod had run away at the table, posting a score for 32.7 moving him to a net score of 96.3. This came at the cost of Lillian Hoenig though, and with her -26 suddenly found herself with a score of 47.4. And while neither Ruriko or Patrick could take advantage, the focus shifted onto the feature table.

Things were looking pretty grim as Rachel continued her hot streak, jumping to over 40000 points early and making the task of catching up near impossible. However Blaise, who had been sitting in 3rd, was in danger of finishing last – a danger that became critical when Rachel hit him for a mangan hand, bringing his point total to 16500. If that score and placing held, that -28.5 score would have brought him down to 36.8, putting him in distance not only from Terry Jane (3.4 behind), but Daniel as well (17.2 behind). Daniel would need a haneman hand, while Terry Jane would need to just overtake Daniel to pass Blaise overall.

The first hand of S4 was nuts. Rachel was isshanten for kokushi musou (13 orphans) needing both the chun (red dragon) and the hatsu (green dragon). Daniel reached on a chiitoitsu (7 pairs) hand. Any uradora would make it a mangan, so he would either need to tsumo or have Blaise deal in to garner sufficient points. That was made relevant when Terry Jane closed kanned the 5 man, revealing 2 pin as the new dora, automatically giving Daniel the mangan hand he needed. Meanwhile, Terry Jane was tenpai waiting on the original dora, which hadn’t come out.

The hand would go to ryuukoku (draw), and Blaise and Terry Jane both were tenpai. That meant that Terry Jane was in 2nd and as long as Blaise did not win a hand, she would be in 4th overall.

Starting the next hand, Daniel’s hand seemed far away from mangan status, Rachel’s certainly wasn’t yakuman caliber but wasn’t terrible either. Terry Jane’s had all the trappings of a big hand, while Blaise’s hand was close to tenpai.

Terry Jane pushed calling pon on the North, then subsequently on the South. Rachel too had called twice into tenpai, looking to put and end to the game.

Instead, Blaise declares riichi, ippatsu tsumos (wins on his very next discard), and when he flips over the uradora, gets one more han for a mangan, effectively ending both Daniel and Terry Jane’s chances.

The standings after the semifinals were:

  1. Rachel Halperin +121.6
  2. Michael McLeod +96.3
  3. Blaise Ritchie +71.1
  4. Lillian Hoenig +47.4
  5. Patrick Nguyen +31
  6. Ruriko Duer +23.8
  7. Terry Jane Kurobe +21
  8. Daniel Moreno +4.6

So finals we would go, with Michael within striking distance, Blaise needed some help and Lillian needing a lot of help. But then disaster for everyone as Rachel hit Lillian for a mangan hand jumping out to a big lead.

Michael responded in kind with a riichi-ippatsu-tsumo-dora for a mangan of his own and it was game on between the two for first overall.

By the time all last came about, Michael led Rachel by 4000 points. That meant that he would claw back 14 points of that deficit leaving him behind by 11.3. A mangan direct hit off of Rachel or a haneman hand would be enough to overtake. He’d start the hand with 2 dora in hand and then having called twice, draws the third! Tanyao-dora 3 makes for an instant mangan!

But instead, he takes the win off of Lillian, meaning that by a margin of 3.3 points, Rachel Halperin wins the 2018 Seattle Riichi Open!

  1. Rachel Halperin +137.4
  2. Michael McLeod +134.1
  3. Blaise Ritchie +52.3
  4. Lillian Hoenig +12.6
  5. Patrick Nguyen +57.3
  6. Terry Jane Kurobe +22.8
  7. Daniel Moreno +18.6
  8. Ruriko Duer -18.3
  9. Matt Myers +85.2
  10. Kira Nebilak +83.1
  11. John Erickson +73.2
  12. Shane Rideout -2.9
  13. William Gosewehr -9.9
  14. Bichen Wang -20.2
  15. Anthony Hsieh – 23.5
  16. Kinyan Lui -36.3
  17. Ayako Shigamatsu -40.3
  18. Abby Hipolito -40.5
  19. Nels Johnson – 64
  20. Luke Powell -84.4
  21. David Li -89.5
  22. Jaben McCormack -123.9
  23. Richard Tai -128.6
  24. Zachary Francks W/D

Tournament Director Post-Mortem

As with my tournament last year I am providing a post-mortem about the tournament format.

The biggest glaring issue is the actions post cut. In looking at the 2017 results, there was just a 13 point gap between 1st and 7th. I perhaps thought it was because of the tournament format, so a division of scores was not necessary. However, this tournament shows that no format is immune to such a result, almost making the playoff rounds inconsequential.

So what to do then? Does the format then fail?

Perhaps the best answer is, it depends. First, the field was smaller this year than last (24 vs 36), making the pool of players smaller and possibly concentrating the differences in skill levels. In addition, the gaps became worse when the Top 16 were paired against each other, not better like in 2017.

In fact, it would have been fine if with 24 players we had a 4 person playoff instead.

So perhaps the first adjustment to be made is that with 24 players, playoffs include the top 4 only.

In addition the quartile pairing system used in the first 4 rounds somehow prevented people from pulling away outside of Lillian in the 4th round.

Maybe then, the correct thing to do is to play 9 rounds in all. 5 rounds of qualifying, then a double hanchan for the semifinals and finals.

In the end, I don’t think the pairing system failed, instead it just needs to be adapted better to the situation.

The other thing is with respect to wind assignments. I think until we find a way to automate the process to balance winds and reverse any seating position when players play each other a second time, it may be a variable that is too much to take into account at this stage while trying to keep a schedule.

Looking back and looking ahead (onto 2018)

The book has closed on 2017, a year which has seen growth in our club internally and externally. Our club has basically added a table on average each week meaning that instead of having 16-20 people, we’re at 20-24 on average with at one point 32 people in a single week (including our teaching table). It’s not a lot per-se, but we now have a larger group of regulars and semi-regulars.

Externally, the 2017 World Riichi Championship was held in Las Vegas in October. 10 members from Seattle participated in the 224 player event and while we didn’t blow the covers off (I mean, we were playing Japanese pro(s) each round), we didn’t disgrace ourselves either:

  • 29th – Zach Francks (Lost in round of 32)
  • T-121st – Charlie McDonnell/Shane Zamora
  • 147th – Kevin Shi
  • 157th – Matt Myers
  • 162nd – Edwin Dizon
  • 166th – Kinyan Lui
  • 173rd – Anthony Hsieh
  • 174th – David Li (now part of PML)
  • 220th – Shane Rideout

I think what a lot of people from our group realized was there was still a long ways to go, and a lot to learn and improve upon in the run-up to future international tournaments.

While the book for 2017 closes, a new one for 2018 opens and with it comes a full year to plan and do things. Our club had our first retreat over the New Year’s Holiday with 20 people attending, including some visitors from California.

We’ve come out of it with a better, unified vision for our club. And a lot of it involves well… more involvement.

The opening months are already being filled up with things to do. Our main event is the Sakura-con Mahjong Room (March 30th-April 1st) we’ve held since 2013. We’ll be in the same location (Rooms 309-310), but will have a couple new wrinkles for the attendees. These include a video rig for one of the automatic tables, as well as introducing mahjong video games. The video games will span many consoles, but we will also plan to have a dedicated Saki PSP table with a tournament during the con. There will still be tables for teaching and playing of course, but we thought it would be interesting to bring in other forms available.

We’re also on the move to different locales as well. In a couple weeks’ time the University of British Columbia Mahjong Club (January 27th-28th) will be hosting a tournament. It’s definitely more laid back than other tournaments hosted around North America, but it has allowed the two clubs to build a good rapport between the members.

Have tournament, will travel… and so soon after that tournament Seattle is sending 3 teams of 4 down to Los Angeles for the LA Pride of Mahjong’s Best in the West Tournament (February 17th-18th). This is the first live team tournament that I know of in the States, though it’s more of what you saw with the current ladies’ team tournament from JPML (Japanese Professional Mahjong League).

There are other tournaments for sure – Rochester Institute of Technology (March), and Dallas-Fort Worth (April), but those are a bit further away so participation will be tougher. In addition, there are plans for a North American Open as well as the 2nd Seattle Riichi Open slated for sometime in the latter half of this year.

Our group is looking forward to an eventful 2018, as we hope to continue the successes of prior years. We hope those of you who are able, can join us on the journey.

2017 Seattle Riichi Open Results

(Final results can be found here)

The 2017 Seattle Riichi Open was played over this past weekend, and could be considered a success for our first major foray into tournaments. Everything went basically on schedule with little downtime (for me anyways) which means that spacing was good.

We had managed to reach 40 registered participants at time of check-in, but late withdrawals brought that number down to 35, which meant that one of our planned subs had to fill in. It also meant that instead of the possible 4 seats on offer, we were down to 3.

The schedule was aggressive in my opinion with the time limits set at G/75 (that’s chess term for game in 75 minutes). But by the end of Day 1 most tables finished before or at the time limit so in terms of finishing people were able to get it done. By the end of Day 1, and with only one round left to go in qualifying, the Top 4 were over 25 points clear over 5th place.

Something must have happened overnight though because all 4 wound up on the wrong side of the ledger in the 6th round, effectively crunching the top 7 into a range of just a smidge over 12 points. Factor in the 1/3 division of all scores and it meant that if you finished 1st you were guaranteed to be in the finals. 2nd place would give you a good chance, but not guaranteed.

Another situation that occurred was that 4 of the top 8 already held a WRC seat. Which meant that we actually had 4 people for 3 seats! There was all to play for going into the playoffs.

In the semis, the last hand resulted a tie for 1st in one semifinal meaning that the two players (Zach Francks, Kevin Shi) actually split the uma. At a +10 for each it meant that Charlie McDonell, who had finished 1st outright in his semifinal held a 10.2 point lead going into the finals. With Daniel Moreno rounding out the field it meant that Kevin Shi, the only player out of the quartet who did not have a seat yet, would automatically earn one.

That also meant that for the other 3 – Kira Nebilak, Anthony Hsieh and Sakina Toyota, they were fighting for 2 spots. Kira had almost a 16 point advantage over the other two, while Anthony had just a 0.1 advantage over Sakina! That meant that Kira just needed to avoid trouble and Anthony and Sakina would try to make sure they were ahead of the other.

As the table progressed though, I noticed that with half of the time elapsed the table was still on East. And when I looked closer the reason was apparent. Anthony was dealer on East 3, and was on yonhonba (4th dealer repeat). He also had the majority of points which meant that barring an Atlanta Falcon-style collapse, he all but secured the 2nd WRC seat.

That left the final seat between Sakina and Kira. Kira had a lead of 15.8 over Sakina, so to hold onto the position Sakina could not finish 2nd and Kira 4th, and if Sakina finished 1 place ahead of Kira, she could not be ahead in points more than 5,800. And while I didn’t hear the point counts exactly it sounded like Sakina was in 2nd and Kira in 4th which meant there was all to play for.

But when I got the table report, Sakina was in 3rd place and Kira 4th. The point difference? 4,100.

Which meant that by 1.7 points Kira secured the 3rd and final WRC seat!

With the seats determined, there was the matter of figuring out the actual winner of the tournament. Kevin with nothing to lose perhaps went more aggressively than before and paid for it at the table finishing with (5,100) points. That meant that the other 3 players – 2016 PML Open winner Charlie McDonell, 2014 WRC Top 32 finisher Zach Francks, and PML’s Daniel Moreno – who has finished in 2nd or 3rd in all tournaments he has played in, were all in contention.

Heading into all last Charlie was in the lead with Zach in 2nd and Daniel just 100 points behind Zach. Going for the title, Zach declared riichi looking to overtake. But when he didn’t win the hand he fell from 2nd to 3rd.

Which meant that we now have a multiple tournament winner as Charlie McDonell wins the 2017 Seattle Riichi Open! Congratulations to you Charlie!

Now for a couple of comments as the tournament director side of things…

Pairing Format

This tournament featured a pairing format trying to put sense to the pairings that is normally random. It doesn’t make sense to me that in one of the final qualifying rounds that say in a cut of the top 8 of a 36 person field like this one, you could have a random pairing of players in 4th-7th-8th-28th. Coming from a tournament director background in chess, I originally thought about implementing a swiss-system format. But with cutoffs for the top players, this made such a system completely unfeasible because you wound up with a situation like the above where someone above the cut is guaranteed to finish 3rd or possibly 4th and drop out right when the cut happens.

That’s where I came up with the ordinal pairing system, which just split the groups into quartiles based upon scores and paired top down from each group for the opening rounds, with the final qualifying rounds being paired in groups of a size of the cut*2. Duplicates were going to happen, but that was going to be an inevitability unless we had a large enough field that switching two people in adjacent tables wouldn’t still create a duplicate pairing. The system was breaking down about the point I expected it to, and the switch in Round 5 to the cut*2 group size worked well.

But what I learned from this tournament is that having the tables filled from the top to the bottom of each quartile isn’t as important as perhaps filling it with one from each quartile. In other words, the importance of having the 1st table filled with 1st-10th-19th-28th in a 36 person field is minimal as just having Top Quartile-2nd Quartile-3rd Quartile-4th Quartile. So I might change the format so that it just has to be the latter, and duplicates are swapped out unless it absolutely cannot be avoided.

Condensing of points at playoffs

In the first tournament I participated in, which was the 2015 NYC Riichi Open, I was introduced to having the points halved when players passed through the qualification rounds. And from each of the tournaments I played in, it seemed like that division was insufficient to collapse the field enough for there to be much drama to who might finish in 1st – especially for those at the bottom of the cut who almost had zero chance to come back. That’s where I had thought of the idea of dividing the points by a factor equal to:

  • Number of Qualifying Rounds/Number of Playoff Rounds

In this case it would be 6/2 or 3. But when I implemented it in this case, it collapsed the field so much that the difference between 1st and 8th was less than the uma difference between adjacent placings. It almost made it equivalent to Montreal’s tournament which was a clearing of points and a straight top 2 advance which was not the intention of this method.

It is my opinion that we need to balance the importance of games in qualifying with the ability for those in those at the bottom part of the playoffs to have a chance (not significant, but greater than say being hit by lightning) to come back to win.

The other thing to think of is that we in the North American region are as a whole are still in its infancy in regards to the riichi mahjong scene when compared to other main organizations in the WRC such as the JPML (Japanese Professional Mahjong League) and the EMA (European Mahjong Association). As such we have players with a wide range of ability which could lead to inflated scores such as what we saw in the 2015 NYC Riichi Open.

But what we’ve seen in recent tournaments is that perhaps this gap is narrowing as we hold more tournaments and the floor for our players rises. It’s possible that there may be no need to have such a division of points after qualifying – especially if I carry my pairings of the final 2 rounds of qualifying grouping people in sizes of cut*2 as those players (in this tournament’s case the top 16) will be beating each other up and score ranges may narrow. Perhaps next year we have a schedule of the following

  • Rounds 1-4 – Quartile Pairings
  • Rounds 5-6 – Cx2 Pairings (where field is grouped into sections of cut x 2, and paired internally
  • Rounds 7 – Semifinals (Players grouped into sections = cut size, and paired as follows:
    • 1-3-5-7
    • 2-4-5-8
  • Round 8 – Players grouped into 1st-4th in each cut section and paired
    • 1st-4th
    • 5th-8th

Other notes

The location was great for the field size, but if we have a larger tournament, we will need more TV’s as players will move outside of the playing area we were at and may not have line of sight to the TV and the timer.

We had extra space and people, and realized that with that public location we could have a place and personnel to teach people if they were interested in learning. Great recruitment tool.

And for some of the personnel I had, the division of labor could have been better with someone on the admin side helping me enter things into the computer and confirm player scores instead of having the runners just verify scores. They can also teach if necessary.


Overall, I think the tournament went well. There were lots of things to take away and work on to make next year better, which should be the case anyways. Hopefully next year will be even better.

State of the Club – May 2017

Hello! Back here again with a new update about our club!

Our post-Sakura-con bump continues as our “newbies” become regulars! I say newbies in quotes because some of the new players – especially those who just found us from Meetup and the like are not new to the game at all, but do need to get around playing with the physical tiles as opposed to playing on sites like Tenhou. We’re over double digit new members, and still growing with 3 more coming later today for our Memorial Day mahjong. Yes, mahjong doesn’t stop for us on holidays. In fact it only stops if the weather becomes too inclement (which it did earlier this year).

And so we’re really glad to see an influx of new members, so welcome to Dan, Sakina, John E., David, Chris, Kon, Mitchell, Jared, Lawrence and Raphael!

Speaking of the aforementioned Sakura-con our steering committee is working hard to build a structure by which we can not only serve the attendees better next year, but make the job easier for those who volunteer. Our mahjong room is one of the biggest draws at the convention and we would like to continue growing and spreading the game to the masses!

As for our July mahjong tournament, the last one which will give out automatic qualifiers for the World Riichi Champsionships later this year, we are up to 28 registered participants hailing from California (Pacific Mahjong League, LA Pride of Mahjong) and now New York (RIT Nine Gates Mahjong). Planning going well, and we should have a great event for everyone to round out North America’s road to the WRC!