I Tried MCR and I Liked It

Donnie gallantly tackled American Mah-jongg as a topic this week despite not having tried the rule set. Today, I tackle a rule set I have tried—Mahjong Competition Rules.

Stay with me riichi players! I know that the relationships between the riichi and MCR communities can sometimes be fraught. But let’s be honest with ourselves…we’re the aggressors in all of this. We are snobbish and we look down on a rule set; most of us have taken one look at the points sheet and said “Yuck!”

I’m here to tell you of my experiences at MCR events.

“It felt so wrong. It felt so right.”

(I promise – no more Katy Perry references now.)

My very first MCR game was at a Danish event. Through no fault of their own a player had been unable to turn up. I was there to attend an EMA meeting and I was asked to sub for just one round because all of their subs had already been absorbed by a combination of other factors. It was terrifying!

I felt quite keenly many of the criticisms often leveled at the game. I was sat there with a points sheet on my lap and with all my usual tools (pinfu, riichi) take away from me. The few hands I did win were woefully underscored because I couldn’t check the sheet fast enough to not disrupt the other players on the table. Fortunately I was quickly absolved of my duties before the next game by the appearance of another player.

My second experience was a more complete one when I played the first MCR MERS event in the UK. This was hosted by the UK Mahjong Association and was John Duckworth’s pet project.

John kindly gave me a crash course in the basics: rules, strategies, and all of the things that trip up a new player. It’s amazing that with just a helping hand, things become immediately clearer and I could start building my own understanding of the game. (For example, knitted straight. Just think sanshoku suji!)

I started to relax and I could enjoy myself during this event. I built my hands from some of the more “complex” scoring opportunities and I like to flatter myself that I did not shame the UK (at least this time!) I still underscored some hands, but players were patient while I did a double-check and I appreciated those who pointed out after the score was written down where I had missed a few points so I didn’t make the same error again. 

Despite what you’ve head, fellow riichi compatriots, it was a nice environment!

The criticisms I have oft heard repeated are probably three-fold: “very aggressive,” “no help from other players,” and “too many scoring patterns.”

But let’s take a step back and consider these out of the order I just established. Starting from “no help from other players”…I myself have often wanted to scream at a player that they need to learn the rules. Isn’t the “no help” rule in MCR just an extension of that? To play in a tournament a certain level of familiarity with the rules is expected so you’re not being handheld. The flip-side of that is new players are intimidated, but you can expect to not have to be teaching your fellow competitors.

The accusations of being aggressive, this one I will relent to. It is an aggressive style but is that entirely bad? I did quickly drop all notion of defense and, unless very obvious, considering what other players might be doing. I opened my hand and worked out how to optimize it for the highest scoring opportunity. Riichi which can be a more static process wherein if you haven’t gotten close to tempai eight draws in, you may consider folding and no longer pushing. In MCR you just reconsider your current position and keep pushing. It was almost liberating; I felt engaged and an active participant in each hand.

This segues into the final criticism—too many scoring elements. It’s true, there are a lot. But as the large population of MCR players can attest to, it is hardly beyond the capacity of the regular human mind. It is also partly why the game is so aggressive. Even the most awful initial draw in riichi could be massaged into something amazing in MCR. Basically with this rule set, you’re not going to be groaning at any of your luck, instead you’re going to be crying “Let’s go!”

I don’t think I could personally invest as much time as I have in riichi. But now that I have some MCR knowledge under my belt, I won’t recoil in horror when someone suggests a game. I daresay I will even be attending the next UK MCR event.

I also call all of my riichi players to put aside your prejudices and give it a real chance. Plenty of MCR players have stepped up and tried our preferred rule set—we should extend the same courtesy. (Hate playing just to complain does not count!)

You can always stick with riichi in the end, it don’t mean you’re in love tonight! (sorry!!!)