Rosti’s Riichi Lexicon (Part 1)

Guest contributor Rosti of The Mahjong Guide offers up this guide to riichi vocabulary that states what we’re all thinking! Visit The Mahjong Guide for strategy and replays, or follow Rosti on Twitch and watch him stream games from the Tokujou room on Tenhou.

A common complaint often seen from new and aspiring players in mahjong is the terminology. “It’s like I have to learn a whole new language just to play this sodding game!” they cry, “Why can’t you guys just use English?!”

Little do they realize how important the terminology is to the game, and to the sense of accomplishment and elitism that you can get from knowing the secret language of mahjong. After all, if players can’t be bothered to understand things like “You should have declared oya riichi on the shanpon and hoped to ron your shimocha for gyakuten in oorasu,” they’re clearly not invested enough in the game to deserve help with things like strategy or how to actually play.

So in order to help clear up some confusion, we’ve created a list to explain some of the common terminology that you might come across in mahjong, and a translation into simple English. Now you too can amaze your friends with fancy sounding words and seem smart by using complicated terms most people don’t understand!

  • sashikomi – A situation where you make a mistake but you want to save face and pretend you actually know what you’re doing.
  • ryankan – A three-tile shape (e.g. 246s) that guarantees you’ll end up in furiten tempai later.
  • dora – The tile you draw immediately after an opponent declares riichi.
  • ura-dora – Bonus dora that your opponents can use to get a mangan from a hand that was otherwise just riichi.
  • tsumo – A win call that is typically performed by your opponents upon your dealer turn.
  • ippatsu – A common yaku for your opponents when they riichi, but not for you.
  • chinitsu – A hand where it is difficult to figure out what tiles you need to win.
  • chanta – The yaku you go for when your hand was terrible and you had no other choice.
  • chiitoi – The other yaku you go for when your hand was terrible and you had no other choice (but this time you’ll have five pairs in your discards because you chose to keep the wrong tiles every time.)
  • betaori – The strategy you use when you have a useless hand that you didn’t want to win anyway.
  • hadaka tanki – A situation where you’ve made some dubious choices but hey at least you’re tempai.
  • zentsuppa – The strategy you choose when defending feels like too much effort right now.
  • mawashi – An alternative term used for ‘zentsuppa’ by players who don’t want to fold when they should, but would like to retain a facade of having skill at the game.
  • suji – A defensive strategy that implies tiles are safer to discard except for all those times when it turns out they’re not.
  • genbutsu – The tile that would most disrupt your hand shape if you discarded it.
  • double ron – A situation where you made a bad mistake.
  • triple ron – A situation where you made a really bad mistake but Tenhou decides to let you off.
  • chii – A call you wish you could make for tiles discarded by players other than your left player. (see also: kamicha)
  • furiten – The hand you get when you made a small mistake early on and the mahjong gods decided to punish you for it.
  • sanmenchan – A strong five-tile shape (e.g. 34567m) that demonstrates how it doesn’t matter how many tiles you’re waiting on—they still won’t come out.
  • one-chance – A defensive strategy that ignores the 100% probability that your opponent will have the last copy of a tile in their hand, even though they statistically shouldn’t.
  • shimocha – The opponent who repeatedly causes your turn to get skipped.
  • kamicha – The opponent who never discards the tiles you need.

P.S.: Part 2 of this vocabulary will be coming next week, so check back!

P.P.S.: If you’ve stumbled across this looking for genuine help on what some of these terms mean, try this slightly more accurate and helpful glossary!