Yes, We Can Kan

I’ve gone off-piste again, guys. I was supposed to do a play-by-play of an IORMC game, but I got stuck on the subject of kans. Like, do people kan because they can? (sorry…) Or do they kan because some cute anime girl does it? (Yep, that’s a desperate connection to this month’s RR feature theme.)

A kan in hand seems to find the gambler in all of us and bring out the innate greed of our human souls. There may actually be a part of Chinese hell filled with dora-hungry ghosts – tortured souls who, no matter how much they kan and riichi, they never seem to hit that dora or uradora. “Where’s my undeserved sanbaiman?” they scream in horror for eternity as they claim just 2,600 with tears in their eyes.

Anyways, I’ve seen a lot of crazy kan behavior recently that has repeatedly made me ask what were they thinking and were they thinking at all?

As I was lurking around the IORMC replays, I spotted a hand by one of my favorite players who will remain nameless because they didn’t agree to our light shining on their play-style, which made me think even more on the subject.

I don’t claim to be some kan expert. In fact, quite the opposite. I do know that I am more conservative with my kans than most others.

I want to take a look at the hand with you guys, discuss, and see if we can come to some kind of treaty on this escalating dora warfare.

Here we start with the typical deal of not great, not bad, just mediocre.

So far so boring.

Here we’re getting interesting! Our bold player does not kan! Would you kan? This is why I would not kan…

  1. It’s so early. I could draw a (2) or a (3) and this could potentially be the start of a (1)(1)(1) and a (1)(2)(3) shape. Two blocks down. A nice shape in the bamboos plus a dragon pair.
  2. Showing that concealed dora kan is going to change how the other players behave. I don’t think I want to put on that level of pressure at this stage. Leave them in blissful ignorance a little longer so they’ll throw a chun I can call and then drive the knife deep with a concealed dora kan.
  3. Too far from tempai. Someone could riichi and give themselves another chance at the uradora. Don’t want that.

Bold Player apparently agrees with me but for different reasons.

Here it is! The goodies are coming my way!

Huh. Now this I wasn’t expecting…

Perhaps Bold Player and I aren’t in as agreement as I thought! Am I being too conservative? The situation has changed a little, but you’re unlikely to make tempai with those shapes on your kan draw. Those shapes are just not nice enough. You’ve warned everyone at the table that you are super dangerous so perhaps they won’t throw that chun for you.

Anyway, Bold Player is not here to defend themselves from my commentary. I’ll ask Donnie to allow commenting so you can all tell me why I’m actually wrong.

Mmmm, it’s a nice draw but now hard choices have to be made. You have gotten yourself a nice waiting shape there, but now it’s just luck of the draw or nagare that you make the right choice in your next discard. (As long as you don’t throw the dragon pair. That would be very wrong!)

To make things sad, you didn’t hit on that kan dora. Gotta aim for riichi and hope for two uradora hits.

Anyway, it keeps going. Bold Player has decided to discard from the slightly more outside shape and also retain a safe tile. Smart.

Long fast forward… (summary: Bold Player did good and called a chun but the discards punished them pretty heavily for discarding the dots shape.) And then…

Happy happy joy joy! All the dora!

I literally just typed and deleted “I would kan” and “I would not kan” several times over. Honestly, I’m not sure!

The danger is that someone will riichi and then get to claim all the uradora. That’s potentially a big risk. You are at least tempai with a yaku but those uradora are no longer for you with that call so you can’t even enjoy the full benefits. On the other hand (and what actually happened), you hit a kan dora and give yourself EIGHT dora in your hand. That is overkill. 

One thing I do know, and I want to mention this because I’ve seen some of you play, is that 6 bamboo is a good discard. Keeping it and throwing a character might net you a better wait, takes you out of tempai and it’s getting kind of late. You don’t need to overwork your hands so much sometimes, especially when there is no point situation that is forcing your hand.

Your dora have all been nerfed by a tsumo pinfu and you’re another poor player doomed to be a dora-hungry ghost.

Sorry I didn’t pick a flashy hand with a flashy end.

This player I perhaps unfairly picked on is objectively one of the best players in the Western mahjong community currently. I wanted to show you all this hand because it made me think a lot about my own kan habits. I’m more reluctant to kan, very conscious that I could be giving an opponent a huge advantage. There are three of them after all. But perhaps I need to trust in my luck more and enjoy the extra draw…

Anyway, comments *should* be on. (Yes, they are on. -Admin) Discuss below if you have other feelings or the same feelings!

The Hungry Ghost of Sanbaiman

1 Response

  1. Bold Player says:

    As the Bold player in this replay I thought it might be interesting to give some comments from my perspective:

    It is important to consider the tournament format and timing for when we should take risks (which is a big part of mahjong in general). A few reasons why we might be willing to try a higher variance play in this spot:
    – We are playing a tournament of 4 hanchan length only in which net points determines qualification. Depending on the uma/oka rules you might not only need to prioritise placement but also maximise your point gain.
    – We are currently playing the 1st hand of this tournament as dealer. In earlier stages of a tournament I’m willing to gamble a little (and especially as dealer)

    I would say the first Kan is a bit more debatable because I can’t accept 2p anymore but there are some upsides to the Kan:
    – I get an extra draw which is really important for a hand like mine which has really bad shapes and desperately needs to improve (even if I don’t get a tile for tenpai I’m also looking for tiles like 37m6p6s to improve my shapes because declaring riichi with 46m waiting for 5m would be pretty sad)
    – While people will potentially have more dora in their hand now they will see that the dealer has 4 dora and as such they will play a bit safer around your hand (slowing down our opponents might allow us to draw into a riichi dora 4 hand, we aren’t relying on the chun but that is one of our outs)

    The 2nd kan should be a pretty obvious one to make because at this point we are 1-shanten with guaranteed yaku and oya mangan so we should be pushing full steam ahead and the kan gives us an extra draw

    Would we do the same play if 1p was not dora? A lot less likely because even though we get more fu with the kan (still an important consideration!) with 0 dora and bad shapes the trade offs are probably more significant.

    Keep in mind this whole I wasn’t hoping to get kan dora (it would be nice!) but I was trying to work out how to best win this hand given I could win oya mangan+