Introducing Daniel Pro!

I’m going to admit that once I hid from Daniel Moreno at a convention. I saw him walking (bouncing?) down the aisle and I turned and fled.

He hadn’t done anything wrong and I certainly don’t dislike him. The problem was I was severely jetlagged and he has this huge amount of energy. Keeping up with him has been difficult for a lot of us, and true to form he pulled out ahead of a lot of us again.

He’s often joked that I am “Gemma-sempai”. Well now when he says it, it’s going to be true. I am his sempai as this week I welcomed him as another foreign professional with the Japan Professional Mahjong League. It’s a great achievement and one that he has worked long and hard for, and sacrificed a great deal by quitting his Bay Area job in the United States to cross the Pacific and pursue a dream many mahjong player has had.

It’s the dream I chased many years ago now, but the scene has changed now. When I became a professional there was no World Riichi Championship and the Japanese professionals seemed very faraway. But the reasons we were both attracted to getting qualified are eerily similar.

” Mahjong is a huge part of the happiness in my life. The global mahjong community makes a up a huge part of the people I care about. Becoming a pro was something that just fit the bill for me, being able to play stronger and stronger opponents in larger and larger scenes and my skill advances, along with promoting the game globally and fueling the motivation and dreams to grow the game throughout the world. “

Daniel first got into mahjong at university. From childhood he has had an affinity with patterns and has relished the opportunity to test his brain’s ability. While browsing for a social group in his college, he saw an advert offering mahjong teaching and cookies. The cookies were the clincher!

Although the first rules he learned were not riichi, some time on the internet fixed that and he was obsessed with the game. He found some forum posts and then followed the trail of cookie crumbs to the Osamuko IRC channel.

BEFORE PRO: anxious and stressed.

Finally, he tumbled from the virtual world into the real world by securing one of the 2014 WRC Paris spots to represent the US. Since then I think we can all agree that he has been a crucial and central pillar to our community.

Before he set off for Japan, he declared his intentions to go pro, including in a short video produced by LAPOM. Many of us have been watching to see whether he would be the fifth Westerner to add his name to the list of foreign professionals with Japan leagues (Jenn, Garthe, Gemma, Nicolas).

Daniel and his energy wasted no time in placing roots in the Japanese mahjong community, becoming a regular at the JPML dojo, and Mr. Sakurai’s Pai-no-Oto. He started researching and preparing for the professional test using his downtime while unemployed to make sure no question was beyond his formidable mind.

Lots of us know there are more leagues than the JPML (Japan Professional Mahjong League) out there so I asked what prompted him to choose my league (apart from the obvious reason that I’m in it!).

“JPML has by leaps and bounds put in the most resources and effort into fostering the global mahjong scene. People wise, the work that Gemma Sakamoto has put into not just the WRC, but handling high profile guest appearances from JPML in tournaments around the world, a foreigner aimed mahjong crash course and more. Jenn Barr and Garthe Nelson, for years putting up English content in the forms of articles, podcasts, books, and a live forum. President of the JPML Moriyama Shigekazu, one of, if not, the most powerful figures in the entire mahjong world, spending time after a tournament in New York giving a strategy lesson to the American crowd well past 12:00am at night.”

His labors paid off and he passed the JPML professional test with flying colors! Not only did he pass but he got a chance to skip over the probation period many of us had to go through before we could debut.

He attended his induction last week and just this Sunday his first league meet up. It doesn’t seem to have phased him in the slightest.

“For me, league is the same as going into a tournament in America or Europe. The most important thing for me is to have fun, and get better. In any tournament or league, luck is a factor in mahjong, but that doesn’t matter. As long as I can consistently get better, then I’ll get the results I should get. I can’t change my luck, but I can improve my mahjong skills.”

Daniel’s first league results (first column)

I think a lot of us would be impressed at his ability to stay cool under the pressure of your league debut. But he’s racked up some impressive achievements in Japan already, including an amateur seed to the Masters.

However, he was coy on his title goals for the future. Wise beyond his years perhaps? We all know that titles require a lot of luck. His mantra is far more modest: ” Every day become stronger than the me of yesterday, every game go beyond the me of the past, that’s my goal.”

With all of these people already working hard, I asked Daniel what he wanted his contribution to be.

“I hope to to be give back to this community that I fostered my love for mahjong and make the scene even more fun for new and upcoming players.”

AFTER PRO: fly and composed

Does he have any tips for anyone thinking of following in our footsteps and taking the professional test?

“The limitations of a pro are kinda strict. You need to be living in Japan on a permanent basis, have the financial stability to pay for fees and travel costs, and must have sufficient Japanese language and culture skills. For a diehard willing to throw away their entire life to maybe get something out of it, then who I’m I to dissuade. “

Oh! And his favorite tile is North…

I look forward to working with Daniel on future JPML projects. I might even learn how to bake cookies if it means I can channel some of that amazing energy of his and passion for riichi. All eyes will be on him to see if he can climb to the heady heights of A-league and beyond. You can do it, Daniel-pro!