PUTEAUX – Like a sleepwalker, he staggered out of the boxing ring, which the camera people had created around the automatic mahjong table. In one hand, Hiroshi Yamai had his water bottle; in the other, a can with a soft drink. People laughed and applauded for him. The first World Riichi Championship had come to an end.
To me, Hiroshi seemed completely worn out. Sometimes, between games, when the four finalists were granted a little break, he let his head sink very low. He was motionless, as if he’d fallen asleep. Only him seeing making notes on a piece of paper proved he was still alive.
The other three players waited patiently. They also made notes.
Behind one side of the table, head referee Sylvain Malbec. Behind the other side, referee Yukio Koriyama. Around the table, a few cameramen and an occasional photographer were creeping. In the room, behind the fence, some dozens spectators. In the adjacent room, more spectators. On a TV screen, they watched the fight which was taking place twenty meters away.
I tried to follow the game, but it was like watching a TV show in a foreign language without a voiceover or subtitles: you have some idea about what’s going on, but you are missing almost all the details. I decide to grab a beer outside.
On my way to the exit of the Puteaux City Hall, I ran unto John Duckworth. He was quite happy, although he had not succeeded in reaching a position at the final table. “I got in third in the first hanchan, and second in the next”, he said. “Just some points short.” He beamed as everyone congratulated him with reaching the semi-finals – together with seven Japanese professional players.
Outside, people were waiting. This final would last for more than two hours. “Too bad there is nothing to do for the other players”, some complained. “It would have been better if there would have been finals for everyone, no matter how low in the competition you are.” Maybe in the next championship, I agreed.
I took my beer and watched over the Rue de la République. Mothers and toddlers were playing around, and in, the pond with the fountains before the city hall. I tried to recalculate my own scores. Humble, very humble figures. Not until this last morning, I won my first hanchan. And when this finally happened, I was penalized in the next. Three times in a row, I had not one safe tile to discard after an opponent declared riichi. So, three times in a row, I gave away ippatsu.
A real great event, this World Riichi Championship, and I am very happy and thankful that I could participate. But no further illusions.
I paid for my drink and walked back. The first World Riichi Championship had almost finished.