Grant Grumbles: Clarity With Points and Calling (Pt 2)

This is Part 2 in the ongoing series of grumbles, rants, and observations on topics evolving players should be aware of by now. There’s more coming, but for today, we have points and calls on the menu. The high-level topic is clarity.

Learning and understanding the points table is a skill that should be developed sooner rather than later. There is an unwritten truth not of riichi mahjong, but of games in general: if you do not know every detail in scoring, you will win less than your maximum potential. On the journey to that point, there are things you can do to help yourself right now.

When communicating points to people, winning off your self-pick often has a dealer value and a non-dealer value. I write it in that order to have the reader (you!) think if that is the correct order. Which one to say first, and why?

Because of how we hear and perceive numbers, it is necessary that numbers are announced in a SMALL, BIG order. Numbers are generally spoken from large to small individually. A self-draw for 2000 could be communicated as “1000, 500” or as “500, 1000”. The former can easily be confused with “1500” which is an amount that can be confused with other payments (although some can’t exist on their own without the right amount of bonus homba counters). Someone is bound to respond with a follow-up question when hearing the former example. The latter can (depending on language) be confused with “500,000”, but the beauty of that potential source of confusion is that everyone knows that half a million is an impossible score, proceeding to understand it as “500, 1000”.

Try it in your language:

  • ([en] a thousand… five hundred
  • [fr] mille… cinq cents
  • [ja] 千…五百 (sen… gohyaku

Now try it this way:

  • [en] five hundred… one thousand
  • [fr] cinq cents… mille
  • [ja] 五百…千 (gohyaku… sen))

The order matters because there is an imprint from language that lets us separate two similar concepts as long as a specific order is followed. This order is naturally understood: it’s just a question of putting it into practice.

Your language might share these characteristics at this point or at others. Because of the above, the placement bonus ([ja] jun’iten / uma) is often presented in its shortest form as SMALL-BIG, even if when expanded would be in the form of [big, small, -small, -big]. This is done for the same reason, but the cases where the distinction is relevant are much smaller. In fact, some languages would confuse a placement bonus of 5-10, because it will confuse people with 50 for many Asian languages, and 15 for many European languages. But most places have larger bonuses, like 5-15 (WRC rules) or greater (10-30 in M-League, plus the 20 ante (4 times 5) for winning).


Since the topic of this post is clarity, I want to bring calling discards into this post. Something that I have observed across the world is a significant portion of players not voicing out calls. Among those that do, there are three volume levels that occur often: so quiet only the speaker can hear, loud enough so the table understands, and so loud the whole venue can hear (maybe necessary in a jansô, but not desirable in a tournament setting).

People have graciously taken their time to play with you and many appreciate players who respect their opponents.

When calling “chii”, the first step is to announce the call. Many people act like it is optional because you would otherwise draw anyways. If your aim is to compete with the pros, you must understand that these calls are not optional for them, as table discipline is much more heavily enforced within their organizations. But most of us are amateurs, right? That’s not an excuse to neglect table manners. People have graciously taken their time to play with you and many appreciate players who respect their opponents. Calling “chii” is also not a banal act as any call changes the draw order (except closed kan, which trims off a tile from the back), so it is appreciated that you tell them that the turn order has changed. No need for a speech—saying “chii” encompasses all the above.

For the other calls (“pon” for a set, “kan” for a quad, “ron” for a discarded win) it is really important to accurately make the call. “Kan” is not “kon”.

On top of that, here is the grumble of the day: these calls all start with consonants! Japanese has one nasal consonant, Mandarin has three, but they are all at the end of the syllable, not at the beginning. There is no such thing as a nasal p, a nasal k, or a nasal r in the initial part of a syllable. The consonant p is an explosive sound, and should be pronounced with a shock wave. The consonant k (often called a velar) has an expansive sound. It’s a bit difficult to explain the ideal sound for the r in “ron” as there is a lot of natural variance there.

Add the fact that failing to announce riichi can actually make your hand dead (in EMA rules), and forgetting to say ron or tsumo when winning can invalidate your win as well. A jansô may only warn people a limited amount of times on this subject as well. All calls matter!


My homework to you: find a mirror, and say “pon, kan, ron” to yourself 10 times. Then mix the order up for about as long. The goal is to pronounce the calls in the way you expect others to say it to you. Do it for half as long the morning before a tournament or even before a club meet. If you can’t do it in front of a mirror (hotel room with others), then do it in a park outside or in a stairwell. Get a set of earbuds, just do it, and you won’t look crazy.

There are still too many players that either lack volume control or consonant use (“on”, “ung”, or using “ron”/”lon” for pon calls). The goal is not to nag your opponents into submission, but to help them improve their interpersonal and linguistic skills that should ideally already be possessed at the tournament level. Be firm, be lenient with others, but harsh with yourself.

NOTE: Do take note that Eastern Europeans (Ukraine, Belarus) and Russians may have an actual problem between p and r. The reason is that the Cyrillic r is written “Р р” and ron is written “рон”. Be extra kind and forgiving for them.