Jenn Barr's Guide to the Wonderful World of Riichi Mahjong
- Published on Sunday, 07 February 2010 15:10
- Written by Martin Rep
This is a book for beginners in the game of ‘reach mahjong’ - which is, according to the subtitle of her book, and also of her web site, ‘the only way to play’. So Jenn Barr, an American in Tokyo, takes you by the hand and leads you into the wonderful world of riichi mahjong.
That is just great. But, then again, I wonder: why do mahjong instruction books always have to spend so many pages on the dull and un-entertaining explanation how the wall is built? And that you can chow only from the player who is seated on your left site? That there is no such thing as a chow of green dragon-red dragon-white dragon? This all means that it is not until page 41 before Jenn starts telling about the only way she plays. That’s riichi mahjong. (Unfortunately, not the only way to play…)
Then there is something else. Do you know what bump is? A run? A quad? What eating is? Eating is about the same as stealing: claiming a discarded tile. What a Hand Point is? That’s what is generally called a ‘double’ or fan; more specific, a ‘yaku’ in riichi mahjong. And a 'River Win' is winning with a discarded tile. In riichi mahjong, players call that 'ron', but Jenn hardly ever uses that word.
You get the picture: Jenn is an all-American girl, and she uses American terminology when describing the game. Well, it’s not a big thing, you just have to get used to it.
Tips and tricks
So, now the great part. Let’s make it quite clear: Jenn’s book is fun to read. And she knows a lot about mahjong; she is the only American girl who plays as a pro in the Japanese Professional Mahjong League, ‘the biggest and most successful professional mahjong league in the world’. So she knows lots of tips and tricks and she wants to share them with you, the reader.
She pays much attention to the hard job of calculating the value of your winning hand, and she gives some exercises to help you in mastering this part. She has made little quizzes to excercize this. Same goes for another important part of the game, determining how many tiles you are away from being ready. 'You want to make sure that every discard you make has a reason,' Jenn says. That is why she stresses that it is important to know, from the start, how many tiles from 'riichi' or 'reach' or 'ready' you are. Perhaps you did not know this: 'The furthest your hand will ever be away from ready, is 6 away.'
Also here, nice little (and not too easy!) quizzes.
Here are some examples.How many tiles away from Ready?
The strategy part is great, and we would love to read more about that in a next book. But also, some of the more basic lessons are great. E.g., when you have declared ready, you sometimes can and sometimes cannot declare a concealed kong.
Which kongs are legal in the next two cases after riiching?
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The book covers also the various yaku in riichi, but also less common ones (used in 'house rules'), rules for two- or three player mahjong, multiple winners, fouls, how to read your opponent's tiles. etc.
Concluding: finally, here's a great riichi book for an English audience. Even though I think that sometimes it is a little too basic, it is very useful. Wish I had written it myself, but: no time, feeling to unsure, being too lazy… And I am looking forward to the next book, which hopefully will lead us further in the wonderful world of riichi.
Jenn Barr: Reach Mahjong / The Only Way To Play. 212 pages, full color. HuntingtonPress.com, Las Vegas, Nevada. $14.95