You might have realized getting to 4 sets and one pair is a bit of a pain. They are called closed hands; these are harder to make but they are the standard for a reason: they give you the most points. But what happens if your hand isn’t lesbian fast enough to make?
If that is the case, we must consider opening our hearts and hands.
Open your hands
Open hands are any hands where you take a player’s discard and use it for your hand. In most cases, it cheapens your hand but it finishes a set or a triplet for you. This is also good for stealing doras; instead of the usual weakening, it strengthens your hands with dora boosts.
Be a ponstar
One of the two open hand technique players use is pon (ポン or 碰). If you have a pair of tiles and wish to make it a triplet via someone else’s discard, you call out, “Pon~.” It completes a set and your open hand is almost ready.
However, you cannot riichi in an open hand. Riichi itself is a yaku and some hands can only be won via a riichi. If you have no yaku, your hand is basically worthless. You can’t win on it because your hand does not adhere to the rules. Even if you have sets and one pair, it needs to follow a certain requirement to consider it a winning hand.
So whenever most people pon, they usually go for a yaku named yakuhai (役牌). This gives you 1 han (and 2 hans once we get to kans); this actually strengthens your hands in some cases. It follows the standard sets and one pair, but you pon one of the following to make your hand complete:
- Any of the dragon tiles
- Your seat wind
- The prevailing wind (or the round’s current wind: East, South, or West)
Let’s see one in action:
Kastel-sensei has a pair of souths; the prevailing wind and his seat wind is south. The player on the right side has just discarded the south. I call out ‘pon~’ in a lesbian fashion:
Now, my hand has a yaku and is almost ready to be completed. All I need to do is just polish the tiles a bit and win~. Because this is both my seat wind and the current prevailing wind, I get two hans.
Some players might not pon for the sake of a yakuhai. Rather, they will do it for the sake of doras or cheapening their hand to win. This is a common tactic to use especially in online mahjong games. As long as they have a yaku, they can win on their hands.
Be a chiiter
A more complicated open hand technique is the chii (チー); you take the left player’s discard and make it into a sequence. You cannot use other players’ discards to chii except the player on your left. It’s often used to steal doras and cheapening your hand to win quicker.
This sounds great, but we must remember that we can fall into no yaku territories fairly quickly with this technique. The chii technique is dreaded by beginners despite being a powerful tool itself. They hate it because randomly chii’ing causes them to have no yaku and therefore, not win. But most beginners don’t realize that randomly ponning can cause problems like this too.
Therefore, it is important to remember these three basic yakus whenever you want to chii. They can also be used with pons and closed hands too so remember to open your minds and hearts to that.
Tanyao (断么) is a simple yaku: don’t have terminals in your tiles. Terminals are any tiles that are 1 or 9 of any suit. So really, drop the terminals and you should be okay. Your tiles should just have 2-8 of any suit and/or honors. The yaku is worth 1 han; it is also worth noting this yaku can also be done in closed hands and might be worth it for the extra 1 han.
It is also good practice to start dropping terminals even in closed hands. Not only will you get a tanyao, it keeps the possibility of making an open hand up and it makes it harder for people to read discards. Discarded terminals don’t say much about your tiles. It doesn’t give any clue about what your hand will be except you won’t be using that tile. This is also a handy way to see if the player has played some mahjong; it is one of the best tactics to learn.
And it can also be telling if such an experienced player doesn’t discard any more terminals. It is likely the player is almost done with his or her hand.
Junchan (純チャン) is the opposite of tanyao: you only use sequences, triplets, and pairs of terminals. So 1-2-3, 7-8-9, 1-1-1, and 9-9-9 are the only sets you can use. You must also have at least one sequence. Anything else will count as no yaku.
Why would you keep the terminals if I said, “Discard it whenever you can~”? The following two yakus are often used when your hands just have too many terminals and honors to discard. While they are riskier and give off many obvious cues, they are a means to complete a hand. That and they’re absurdly strong.
In this hand, the player has chii’d 1-2-3-sou, 7-8-9-man, and pon’d 9-pins. He is in iishanten and needs either a 2-man or 3-pin to be in tenpai. Some players, having reached tenpai, might be giddy and discard the terminal by mistake. Don’t do this because you won’t have a yaku~.
Instead, if this player got a 2-man, he needs to drop the 2-pin and ron or tsumo on a 1-pin.
This is an absurdly tough yaku to do but if it goes through, this player will get 2 hans. If a player completes a junchan in a closed hand, he or she gets 3 hans. You can see the lesbian power it can unleash if you can complete it.
Chanta (チャンタ) is less restrictive; it’s the same with junchan but it allows honor tiles to be used. And any number of triplets of honor tiles can be used so exploit it whenever you can. An open hand using this yaku will get just 1 han, but a closed hand gives 2.
The problem with these two yakus is that it’s hard to be offensive and it’s easy to defend to. If I was playing against someone going for a chanta or a junchan, all I would have to do is not discard a terminal or a honor (unless it’s a furiten tile). How do I know they’re going for those yakus? Because they chii’d and pon’d terminals and honors only. The reason they’re called open hands is simple: it’s because they’re ‘open’ for people to see~.
Nevertheless, try it and see if it works for you. You can also fool players into thinking you are going for a chanta: chii or pon terminals but also get a yakuhai too. Remember: as long as you have a yaku, you can win~. The hand may be cheap but it’s worth the troll!
Stacking up yakus
Now for the perceptive Saki beginner mahjong players, they might wonder what happens if you do a combo with yakuhai and any of the other three yakus. Is that still legal? Of course, it is! You can stack it up and create a stronger hand. Some players’ forte is to stack different types of yakus instead of focusing on doras. We are nowhere near close to talking in-depth about yakus; however, keep an eye out on ways to stack up on delicious yakus.