Taro Crushes It: Abemas Take It on the Chin

Garthe Nelson brings us a mid-finale recap following last weekend’s M.League playoff.

Holy b’goley has the final series begun with a bang. On the strength of Suzuki Taro’s total domination, the Drivens have managed to come from last place in the regular season standings (for the final 4) to establish a strong lead over still second place Ex Furin Kazan, who continue to play consistently solid mahjong. On the other hand, the Abemas have not only squandered a good shot at first, they’ve stunk it up all the way down to -190 to take a commanding hold of 4th place. They’ve had a rough start to the final to be sure.

Take for example the first game of the second day in week 1 (March 3). The opponents were Nikaido Aki, Matsumoto Yoshihiro, Maehara Yudai, and Murakami Jun. It was a study in how “nagare” can kill, if you’re in to that kind of thing. In the first hand of the game Aki, dealer, got to ready on a gut shot waiting for Dora 7m. She reached immediately and was soon followed by Matsumoto who was waiting for 8m, also a gut shot. He soon threw her winner and she hit two ura dora, and that 12,000 points instantly set the tone for the rest of the game. Pretty much every hand after that featured at least Aki winning the hand or Matsumoto losing it, sometimes both. The outcome of that game was decided in that very first hand. Of course, I am not into that kind of thing, and never one to leave a discussion of nagare without trying to stick it in its eye, Matsumoto never stopped attacking through to the last hand and was finally able to win 12,000 from Murakami. He still remained in last place but I’m sure it felt good to recoup some of his losses and also make nagare ask itself, “where did that come from?”

Uotani Yumi’s commentary for the game was also interesting. For example in the lead up to Aki’s reach, she predicted that if Aki’s wait was the dora gutshot she might not reach, whereas if it were the better wait she probably would reach, citing her conservative style. Aki proved her wrong but she made a nice commentating save pointing out that this game was a differences from the M-League Final and normal league play, and also how Aki’s turn as dealer may have changed the way she played.

Actually, I’ve found the commentating so far to be absolutely fantastic. It reminded me of how great it was to hear Gabe Kaplan letting us into the minds of the players on High Stakes Poker. Even when a hand seems relatively meaningless as a draw or the smallest 1000 point win, we get insight on how it affects the play. Tsuchida Kosho was commentating on Taro’s win in the final game on Saturday. Takamiya started off as dealer with two potentially big hands, and yet faced with what seemed like big danger, Taro pushed back hard while not throwing a win to her. The commentators mused that he might have been frustrated coming off a disappointing second place finish to Taki earlier in the day and that his discards indicated a nonstop assault on the other players. His attack paid off a couple hands later when it was his turn as dealer. He reached chasing a reach from Ooi, and then drew his own winner ippatsu, the more expensive 9m to give him Sanshoku, and 6000 points from each player.

Taro has played half of the 12 games in the final series so far, winning 4 and taking second in the other two. He is absolutely crushing the field. His Drivens teammates Murakami and Sonoda have also turned in solid performances with only one 4th place finish between them. I’m still sticking with my Ex Furin Kazan pick for the winner of the whole thing though. Their performance overall has just been so solid throughout the competition I think they’re going to pull it out in the end. However, if there is anyone who can overcome the 480 point difference between the Drivens and Abemas, it’s regular season point leader Ooi. And Hisato always has a Yakuman up his sleeve just for this sort of occasion. With two more weeks to go, it could still go in a lot of directions. Can’t wait for the weekend!