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MCR Strategy

Mahjong Competition Rules are the official chinese tournament rules for mahjong. Here are some notes regarding MCR strategy.

You always pay

In competetive mahjong your actual score is not so important; what matters the most is your relative position at the table. Many tournaments award table points based on your position at the end of the game (riichi is similar with its uma).

The basis for MCR scoring is that players pay at least 8 points for hands they don't win (excluding draws, of course). This is to keep tournaments exciting by discouraging overly defensive play; you actively need to go for winning hands, not just play it safe. Winning a cheap hand is better than paying every round.

Self-drawn mahjongs are the absolutely best. The other players each pay the hand value + 8 points. Self-drawing a big hand can put you well ahead of the others for the rest of the game.

Winning on a discard is next best. The discarder pays the value + 8 points, the others pay 8 each. If you are in a tight spot you might want to consider which opponent to claim the tile from; see sniping players below.

Paying for a discard is the worst. Someone else gets the points and you pay the brunt of it.

Paying for a self-drawn hand is a mixed blessing. One of the opponents gets a boost, but your relative position to the others stays the same! Defending against a self-drawn hand is of course very difficult, so at least it gives you the satisfaction that this was not your personal mistake.

Sniping players

When winning off a discard, you usually want to take it from the player with the score closest to your own. Consider this example:

Gandalf the White+200
Grishnakh the Uruk-Hai-300

Let's assume we are waiting for the smallest possible hand of 8 points; added with the mandatory 8 points from each player this will give 32 points and land us at +60. It would be best to claim this from Bilbo; by paying 16 he will end up att 56, putting us ahead of him! If he only pays 8 this will not affect the ranking. There's little point winning off Grishnakh since he is too far behind to be a threat; likewise, given time we may overtake Gandalf, but chances are slim.

Having a little patience and letting a winning tile slip past the first time might pay off; the other players will often think it is safe and discard their own soon thereafter. This is called sniping a player. Sometimes you even need to discard the winning tile yourself just to claim it from someone else! It's a slightly dirty tactic, but you might need that Last Tile or Melded Hand to go out.

Note: Riichi has rules to prevent some of these situations (temporary furiten, etc), but they're entirely legal in MCR.

Most of the time you want to focus on your actual play rather than the scoring meta-game, but it's important to understand how it works since you also should consider it for your defense. High-level players will sometimes target you in this way, so be extra careful with those that have the most to gain from you losing.

On some rare occurences one player might even benefit from helping another player win, if this affects the final tournament score.

Safe discards

Honor tiles: The only ways to win off a single honor tile are Thirteen Orphans or Greater/Lesser Honors and Knitted Tiles. Since these require the hand to be concealed you can assume no other player is waiting for them if they have at least one melded set each. Thirteen Orphans is also impossible if all four of any of the required tiles are already out. However, you do not need to worry too much about this hand; it is extremely uncommon.

Under these conditions it is safe to discard single honor tiles, if you know the location of the other three:

If one or more tile is unaccounted for it might well be in another players hand as a Single Wait.

If you already have the other three honors as a melded Pung of your own, you can safely promote this to a Kong (without risk of anyone Robbing the Kong) and hope for Out on Replacement Tile, or you can use it as a safe discard if you have no prospect of winning.

Flower tiles: You don't have to exchange flower tiles; you can also discard them! This is a completely safe discard since no one may claim a flower.

There is little point in saving flowers from the early game, but if you draw one in the late game you can discard it to buy yourself some time, especially if other players have obvious and dangerous waits. If you have a good wait of your own you should of course exchange the flower and hope for a self-draw (note that replacing a flower does not yield Out on Replacement Tile). If you have other safe discards you can also expend these first.

The disadvantage of discarding a flower is of course that you miss out on drawing a normal tile, but if you're nowhere near winning this might not concern you. It also signals to the other players that you are under pressure and not going for a win, which might encourage them to play more offensively themselves.

Making Kongs

Making a Concealed Kong has no immediate risk (it cannot be robbed), but you might prefer to keep the tiles separate for some other purpose:

Making a Concealed Kong of honor tiles often makes sense, if you already know you want the Pung for your final hand; e.g. a Concealed Kong of Seat + Prevalent Wind is 6 points by itself!

If your hand is 1 away and you can time your Kong declaration for this, you have a one-shot chance of going Out on Replacement Tile. However, this is not so much a strategy as it is a last-ditch gamble; if you have a poor or even impossible wait it is safer to discard the four tiles.

Don't make a Melded Kong unless you specifically need one extra point. It's not worth breaking Concealed status (2 or 4 points) over, and Tile Hog is also worth more (2 points) than Melded Kong! Even if you're going for All Pungs it is often better not to lock the tiles into a meld. You can potentially use them as safe discards later; getting Three Concealed Pungs is also much more likely than ever reaching Three Kongs.

Be careful when promoting a melded Pung to a Kong, as someone might rob it. Discarding the fourth tile is still dangerous since it is Last Tile, but slightly safer since no one can go out on this alone (4 points vs. 8 for Robbing the Kong).

With Kongs there is also always the risk of missing to draw a replacement tile and getting a dead hand. Silly mistakes happen all the time in the excitement of competitive play.

Dead hands

You're not obliged to announce to the table that you have a dead hand (you might not even have noticed it yourself). Most players are too busy with their own hands to count your tiles. Don't give them any advantage by letting them know you're out of the game!

Specific Fan

Here are some thoughts on how to deal with specific combinations.

MCR play is very focused on combining tiny points to meet the 8 point minimum. (you should of course always go for the highest scoring combinations you can, but often this is not possible). Eight points or more? provides some useful practice.

Mixed Shifted Chows

6 points. This is probably the most flexible and common hand in MCR. I personally don't like it since I think it's messy and a bit cheap, but it's definitely one that skilled players often go for. It combines nicely with All Chows, All Simples or Concealed Hand for 8 points. You can also build a Double Chow, Short Straight or Two Terminal Chows around it. It transforms quite easily into Mixed Triple Chows and sometimes Mixed Straight.

All Types

6 points. This is a good hand if you start out with a mix of tiles. Most importantly you want to secure both a dragon and a wind early on, since these tend to be discarded in the first couple of go-arounds. Once you have at least one pair and one Pung of honors, the suit tiles are relatively easy to collect.

All Types combines nicely with Dragon Pung or Pung of Seat/Prevalent Wind for 8 points; since you need to form at least one Pung for the honors this is what you end up with by default (you can also go for All Types in combination with Seven Pairs, but then you don't need to worry about 8 points anyway).

If you only have a pair of dragons and a Pung of Other Wind (1 point) there are still plenty of options: you can combine this with Mixed Double Chow, Pung of Terminals, Double Pung, Melded Kong, Last Tile, Edge/Closed/Single Wait, Self-Drawn, Outside Hand or Concealed Hand.

All Types is flexible since it simultaneously allows you to work out some combination of mixed Chows as a backup. As a last resort it can also be changed into a Chicken Hand by keeping only a pair of honors.

Tile Hog

2 points. You can theoretically score three Tile Hogs as part of a Seven Pairs hand, though in this situation it is probably better to go for Three Kongs.

Seven Pairs

24 points. Go for it if you have at least 5 pairs; converting these to Pungs is more work than just completing the other pairs.

Outside Hand

4 points. I find this somewhat hard to make good use of. It requires a lot of thought to complete; the tiny points that usually go with it (Terminal Chows, Dragon Pung, Pung of Wind, various Kong) do not add up quick enough, and if you combine it with any of the compatible bigger fan (All Types, Mixed Triple Pung/Chows, etc) you might as well go for this as your main hand. Last Tile is one of the few options.

Melded Hand

6 points. Melded Hand requires all sets to be claimed from other players, including the pair! For this reason it is impossible to self-draw. If you draw the pair yourself, you must discard one tile and wait for another player to discard it.

This is a fun hand to play just to see how the other players react. Some will be very intimidated by the Single Wait, while more seasoned players know it is not that dangerous. You will put yourself at the greatest disadvantage since you have very few options what to discard (and if you draw a pair you cannot win on, no choice at all!).

Remember that swap-calling is allowed in MCR. If you have a concealed Chow 345, and the player to your left discards a 3, you can claim this just to make it a melded Chow, then discard the 3 you already had. Using this tactic will give you some weird looks. It also gives you a tiny security; if someone wanted to win off that 3 they probably would have, so discarding another is reasonably safe. Just watch out for Last Tile!