M.League: Is It Already Over?

Drivens Dominate, Abemas Rally (a bit), Renmei Stumbles

As the last rounds of the M.League finals approaches, Garthe Nelson recaps last weekend’s battle to halt the Drivens’ runaway lead.

With the Drivens extending their lead in week 2 it was up to the other teams to come out this weekend and claw back some points to ensure they would have at least a shot at overtaking them in the final weekend. The Drivens did not accommodate. In fact it seemed like they were just trying to end it all a week early.

It started off with Murakami representing for the front runners, and man did he put on a show! Finishing the game just shy of 100 points, it seemed at times that he might just win hands forever. There were two key hands I think, that demonstrated how unstoppable the Drivens have been, and one of them was during Murakmi’s first turn as dealer in this game. He had just drawn a Haneman to become dealer, and then drawn another Mangan as dealer. Continuing, he first got to tempai with a 7 bamboos gut shot and no yaku. That would be an uncharacteristically loose reach for Murakami, even coming off the strength of the previous two monsters. So he dropped the 8 and hoped for something to line up with the 2234 shape he had in dots. His next draw however, was the 7 bamboos which would have given him an ippatsu winner and another Mangan. Never fear! Now he DID have a yaku, Pinfu, and a better wait. The furiten reach is a risky move but as Uchikawa noted in his commentary, the other players can’t see that he’s missed his win, and it’s likely to get them to fold as it looks like he’s woken up with another monster again. Indeed, Hisato immediately began folding on his next draw, but it didn’t really matter because Murakami simply drew a 5 bamboo ippatsu for another 4200 points from each player. The other players just looked totally demoralized.

The next act of demoralization came on the first hand of the 2nd game of the day. Sonoda of the Drivens started as dealer. Matsumoto reached on the 7th draw with a monster, Pinfu, Tanyao, and 3 dora! It seemed perhaps someone else was finally going to get chance! Sonoda was undeterred and in anticipation of trying to draw out the 3 of bamboos if he reached later, he threw a rather dangerous 6 from a 642 formation in the bamboos. Sure enough, he got to tempai the next draw, reached and of course drew his 3 bamboos ippatsu for 4000 from each player to start the game. Coming off Murakami’s monstrous win, it must have seemed to the other players that all their efforts were simply pointless.

Katsumata managed to win the 3rd game of the day to give Exfurin Kazan a respectable +60 for the day, but it still left them lagging far behind the Drivens who added 150 that day.

Sunday was now a day of reckoning for the trailing teams. It was time to put up or give up. Ooi vowed that the Abemas would win the final 9 games of the series to score an upset for their manager’s birthday. I suspect he may have vowed it even if there hadn’t been a birthday. And for a moment, it looked like they might pull off the first third of that feat. Shiratori put together a nice win to start them off, and Ooi continued with another win in the second game of the day. In one of those “Mahjong Provides Life Lessons” moments, the commentators were mentioning that some players might be strategizing that they should avoid throwing any points to the Drivens to try to push them minus a little. Setokuma mused that in fact that strategy often backfires. You spend all your time focusing on what you don’t want to do, and suddenly that ends up being exactly what you do. Better to aim for what you DO want to do, i.e., just play to win!

The final game of the day featured Taro of the Drivens, Hisato from Fight Club, Ooi again for the Abemas, and Aki from Exfurin Kazan. At least the first 3 I would consider the sluggers from their respective teams. I expected fireworks. And it was interesting to see Aki again adapt to the situation and come out swinging for the fences herself. After a lot of back and forth Ooi had managed to get a nice lead going into the South 3 hand, Hisato’s dealer, and Ooi would be the final dealer. Hisato ponned South early and eventually put together a Toitoi (All triples) hand. He also kanned his south and whoops! The new dora was 1 of cracks which he had already had 2 of and drew another to make tempai! He had a 3344455 shape in the bamboos and Ooi had gotten to ready with 35 of bamboos, waiting for the 4. When he drew the last 3, he might have thought that perhaps Hisato was just pushing with a cheapie to protect his turn as dealer so he went for it, but that was the end of Abemas run. He lost 18,000 points there, and another 8000 on the next hand to Taro. Hisato won the final hand to end the 9 straight wins dream, and actually give Fight Club their first win of the Final Series.

So, as it stands the Drivens have sort of run away with it more than 250 points ahead of second place Exfurin Kazan. With Fight Club another 370 points behind them and Abemas 50 points lower still, it seems like there are only 2 real contenders left. And even so, Exfurin Kazan has a lot of ground to make up. But if there is a solid team of 3 that could score that turn around, it’s Aki/Katsumata/Takki! Go Renmei!!!