M.League’s March Madness

With the first season of M.League shooting into its finale, Riichi Reporter has invited the infamous Garthe Nelson to offer his opinions on the preceding game series as well as the final matches taking place this month.

Well it’s March and that can mean only one thing, March Madness! In Japan, the school year and work year start in April so March is often a time of wrapping things up. M-League’s inaugural regular season finished in February, and now the remaining 4 teams will play each weekend this month to choose a winner. Time to fill out your M-League brackets!

It’s been an exciting first season. First place individually, Ooi Takaharu rocketed up to +400, plummeted down to -200 and then managed to rocket back up to finish at +476, well ahead of Takizawa Kazunori (affectionately known as “Takki”) and Sasaki Hisato (always referred to by his given name “Hisato”) in 2nd and 3rd who finished with 314 and 228 respectively. Incidentally, Takki drew Yakmuman twice in the season while Hisato drew a Chiho! I still have yet to even see that happen in a real game, let alone do it myself. Ooi is already predicting that his regular season record will still be unbroken ten years from now.

Individually Ooi, Takki and Hisato far and away outpaced their rivals but what I found more interesting was the team aspect of this competition. Generally, Mahjong is going to be an individual endeavor, every man for himself against also every woman for herself. M-League, however, is played in teams and in a couple places I think teams that managed to think a bit more like a team fared better than others. For example, Ooi mentioned that while his teammate, Shiratori, was at the absolute bottom of the individual standings with more than -300, he was in fact indispensable when reviewing their play. He seemed to credit his outstanding performance at least in part to the input he got from Shiratori on how he played and could play differently in some situations.

Another very interesting statistic relating to team play was the “avoiding 4th place” stat. The top 3 players there were Takki, Nikaido Aki, and Katsumata Kenji, all from Exfurin Kazan. Their lack of big minuses obviously played a big part of putting them at the top of the standings at the end of the season. They made an interesting point about it in their end of the season wrap up. Hisato is sort of famously known for being a “top/last” player, in that he’s mostly shooting for the win or going down in flames. Indeed his avoiding 4th performance put him firmly in the middle of the pack for that statistic. However, in these rules similar to those often used in parlors, first place is getting a sort of 5000 point ante from each player. That means that all else being equal, a top/last player is profiting by 20 points for each top/last pair. Hisato managed to play that style to 3rd place in the individual rankings. In fact, Sonoda Ken of the Akasaka Drivens pointed out that in fact his entire team team didn’t even crack the top 10 for avoiding 4th place ranking, and yet they squeezed into the finals by generally playing that sort of top/last mahjong.

In typical Garthe fashion, I didn’t send this out soon enough so we’re already past the first weekend! And it’s already off to an exciting start with the Drivens flipping the standings on their head right out of the gate. The teams carried over half of their regular season point totals, leaving a 108 point gap between first place Exfurin Kazan and the Drivens. But the Drivens won all their games on Saturday and avoided any 4th places on Sunday to just edge out Aki/Katsumata/Takki for first place after the first 6 games. I’ll write up a more detailed report on the first half of the final series after they finish the second weekend next week. My money’s on Exfurin Kazan as they continue to play solid and ummmm, well, you know, they’re all Renmei. Oh wait! So is Konami! Oh the conundrum!

Well, anyway, let’s hear your predictions and see you again in a week!

Garthe Nelson is part of the team at reachmahjong.com and posts on Twitter as @garthee.