Analyst Vitaly Novikov from Moscow is contemplating about the riichi development in Russia and Europe. This article is not an ordinary report on something which took place. It is an attempt though to look beyond boundaries, imaginary or real ones.
How many tournament riichi players are there in Europe?
To answer the question let's take a look at EMA's RCR ranking ist. We may find 420 players from 18 countries who played no less than two tournaments within last three years to be shown in the list. 110 players are from Russia, which is roughly a quarter. France and Nederlands have over 50 players, Poland and Germany have between 30 and 40 players, Great Britain, Austria and Ukraine have between 20 and 30 players. So what?
Well - you should know that the internal Russian ‘Extended’ riichi ranking (RERR) list has... 401 players, who played in at least one tournament of 12+ players within the last three years! With the conditions of having two tournaments we still can find 244 players, which is 134 players more than in the EMA Riichi ranking list. (Here is am example of RERR: http://www.mahjong.ru/files/RRR_20160912.pdf).
Riichi development in Russia
The first riichi tournament in Russia took place in December 2010 and collected 24 players. It was organized by Mark Chizhenok, the first Russian Mahjong Federation president. The first years after that, only a few EMA-rules riichi tournament have been played. During later years riichi clubs started to open in other cities than Moscow or Saint-Petersburg. Currently, we have 20+ clubs all over the Russia, not counting local riichi groups.
Both the number of tournaments and their number of participants have started to grow. Russia constantly is breaking records in the number of participants for riichi tournaments in Europe. 64, 72, 88 players for a MERS 2 tournament, 76 players for a MERS 1 tournament, even 100 (!) participants for the non-MERS and non-EMA-rules Japan House Cup 2016, with the participation of the reigning world riichi champion Hiroshi Yamai. The Japan House Cup - this year the fourth edition took place - is organized by another Russian organization, the Russian Riichi League (http://riichi-mahjong.ru/).
For such huge events even two-days playing schedules may be not fair enough to find the best. In Russia we use a Single-Meeting Seating Scheme (better to be called the ‘Moscow Seating scheme’) allowing to meet in each session players having similar performance provided non-meeting-twice condition. For the latest Russian Riichi Open, the software has been modified to score both individuals and teams performance (see http://mahjongsoft.com/tournament.shtml, software developer is Alexander Egorov).
Russia is a huge country. The distances between cities are almost incomparable to the typical European distances (see map below, only part of Russia is shown).
For instance, the distance from Moscow to Yekaterinburg or Chelyabinsk is 1700-1800 km. From Paris to Madrid is 1300 km, from Paris to Rome is 1500 km etc. The city of Novosibisk (see map above in the lower center) is situated by 3300 km from Moscow, and to get to any non-Russian European city from one needs to add another 1000+ km. Which means it is almost impossible to travel between the non-Russian part of Europe and Novosibirsk.
What is so peculiar about Noviosibirsk? This city with 1.5 million people population already for the 8th time hosted traditional New Year Riichi tournament, the latest one had 44 (!) players. This number is not comparable even with the total riichi population of many European countries. Almost all local players except one or two persons never participated in any MERS-tournament, due to the distance and economic reasons.
Another wonderful example is the so-called ‘Urals triangle’, the cities Yekaterinburg, Chelyabinsk, Tyumen. Having cross-distances equal to 180, 220 and 290 km these cities on a regular basis hold tournaments of 20-24-28 players with ‘share of neighbours’ equal to one third, meaning that 7 to 10 players came to play from other cities. I asked players how do they commute? The answers was astounding: ‘We travel by hitch-hiking on long-distance trucks.’
Ranking system: how to embrace the unembraceable?
In order to reach all riichi players in Russia and to have the opportunity to rank their performance, the Russian Mahjong Federation had to do something entirely different. After one month of discussions and tests it was decided to go with an EMA-like system with certain modifications:
- any version of the riichi rules is allowed;
- any tournament having 12+ players is allowed to be scored, from local to WRC;
- data for three years span with lowering weights by 5 percent for each quarter;
- the ranking is based on the sum of top-N (N=4, since 01.01.2017 N=5) for the metrics Base_Rank*T_Coef*Weight.
Taking Top-N resolves two extreme cases. Firstly, a high-ranking player can participate in a ‘lower rank’ tournament with no risk to harm player's ranking since low score will not affect player's rank. Secondly, even a relatively low place at a ‘high rank’ tournament may bring points due to the high tournament coefficient making incentive to participate in tournaments.
Russia in the ERMC2016
The ERMC2016 for the Russian team started long before October 2016, since not only Great Britain but also Russia participated in the votes for helding this event. Nine votes against two, Farnham of Great-Britain has won with one abstain vote. Having initial quota for Russia equal to 20-21 players only 12 (?!) could really make it. The reasons were: economic (mainly), personal, business trip, visa refusal etc. An extreme case is visa refusal for... misspelling of place to stay, instead of ‘Farnham’, there was something close in visa application documents. No-one of the four Russian riichi champions of five championships (Vladimir Bogdanov won the Russian Riichi Open twice) could go. Nevertheless, the Russian team tried to show its best. Two players are in top-16 list and the new ERMC champion is a Russian player: Mikhail Lugovkin. Mikhail has shown a fantastic performance, winning 9 of 12 hanchans (2 of 2 within top-16 players).
The real question for the riichi development, not only in Russia but also in Europe is how to offer to those ‘abandoned’ 50-100 players an opportunity to get into the EMA riichi ranking list? The situation looks rather strange: there are 16-players tournaments in European countries with a MERS 1, even MERS 2 (Poland, Sweden) ratification, while tournaments in Russia on a regular basis having 20+ players never had a chance to be accounted. Currently, Russian quota for EMA-tournaments looks like: Russian Open (80+ players), Moscow Open (70+), Saint-Petersburg Open (currently, 65 players already have registered for the tournament in December 2016, http://www.mahjong.ru/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=351). Not giving a MERS coefficient to 60+ players tournament sounds unfair.
The situation looks pretty much similar to the French Reunion case. (France has an extra MCR MERS 2 tournament because of the long distance from France to Reunion island, east of Madagascar.) Though, it is not 9000 km distance but ideologically meaning the same: there is no reasonable chance for the players ‘beyond Urals’ to get involved into EMA-umbrella riichi tournaments. To separate ‘beyond Urals’ as "Russia 2" and to give regular country annual quota of three tournaments would be a decent solution of the issue.
P.S. By the way, the winner of 100-players tournament in March 2016 lives in ‘beyond Urals’ zone. He did not have the opportunity to play in the ERMC2016 because of... place misspelling in visa application documents (deep sigh).