Thursday 22nd November: The Sound of Clapping One Hand

Tonight was the evening before the Japanese Labour Day holiday and since nobody was working the next day we played mahjong from 7pm until almost 2am, the longest session ever at that venue.

The first game started off with some lively variety. The junior Doc threatened to produce an expensive hand when he declared a hidden Kan on the North tile, which was the Dora. So keen was he to declare his Kan that he rammed the tiles into the edge of the table with sufficient zest to send one of them flying and he promptly had to grovel on the floor and search around for it.

However, once order had been restored, it was Mrs M who completed first to deny the Doc with a rather more modest hand.

In the second hand the Senior Doc declared Riichi. David felt that the 2-Coins, which was also the Dora would probably go past and enable him to get to Tempai on a one tile Iipeiko wait – the 2-Characters. Mrs M claimed the 2-Coins, and threw – the 2 Characters!

In the third hand the junior Doc made another Kan declaration, but when he took the tile from the back of the wall it became apparent that six tiles which had been separated from the wall had not been picked up. The first player had taken the tiles from the end of the next wall and nobody had noticed! David simply moved round to the other side of the back of the wall and the game continued. Once again the junior Doc was denied a big hand when we exhausted the tiles with no result.

In the fourth hand the Senior Doc’s big win at the expense of Mrs M set him up for a series of completions that secured him victory in the game and left Mrs M with an empty tray. The junior Doc came in second and in the black and David was third on -1.

The contents of the Doctors’ courtesy beer fridge had been moving rather slowly in the first game, but gradually David’s swilling gained momentum as his game turned uneventful, full of situations evocative of the phrase “close, but no cigar”.

The usual lashings of sandwiches, cheese and buscuits peanuts had been laid on. However, towards the end of the second game Mrs M wondered whether David was able to indulge his appetite on Japanese rice balls. Well, said David, he didn’t mind if he did if the menu included salmon or tuna or fish roe. Mrs M promptly produced a rather tasty “shake musubi for him to gorge upon along with the observation that rice balls are easier to eat at the table than sandwiches, which is really quite a shocking observation to make to an Englishman brought up on the story of our noble Lord, the Earl of Sandwich, who invented the eponymous refreshment for the express cause of facilitating an easier consumption of vittals at the gaming table.

At the end of the second game it fell to David, who drew the East tile, to select a seat first and he chose to occupy the seat opposite, that is, the seat that had been the junior Doc’s. It proved to be an inspired decision because towards the end of the third game it yielded him the best hand he has ever had. David was Oya and as the wall was beginning to run down he declared Riichi and then went out on the next tile (Hatsu to score:

Riichi, Ippatsu, Tsumo, Haku, Hatsu, Honitsu, Sananko, Dora x 4

That brought in a haul of 16,000 points from each of the other players and singlehandedly turned the game around. The other players cheerfully payed up and applauded the hand, pleased, it seems, that the game had produced something so remarkable.

The third game finished just before one o’clock and all players voted to continue playing so as to get through four games in a rather leisurely paced and very enjoyable evening.

I don’t remember much about the last game as I was fairly addled, but not so addled as to bring disaster. The flow of mahjong is such that even an addled player can go with it intelligently enough and (if not distracted) avoid serious mishap – and then immediately forget what took place.

I seem to remember that at one stage in evening David swept the Wind marker into the guts of the table along with the tiles, but that hardly rates as a serious mishap, just par for the course of an evening’s mahjong around a mechanical table.

When the results were added up it turned out that David, solely on the strength of that one mega-hand, was the only player to have come in over the bar.