HONG KONG—Amid the clatter of plastic tiles and the odor of pork buns, Dick Chan Ho-ming got the word from a fellow contestant who experienced just been knocked out of the qualifiers for this weekend’s World Collection of Mahjong.
“Gai wu,” Mr. Chan mentioned in Cantonese, making the terms sound practically like a profanity.
It was “chicken hand,” a occasionally banned approach that allows a participant earn a game with a weak set of tiles, ending play and annoying rivals like Mr. Chan’s friend who are nonetheless developing much more-intricate, greater-scoring arms.
The chicken hand is permitted in the World Series, forcing contestants who really don’t generally play beneath rules that permit the hand to adapt their strategies to qualify for a single of the world’s richest mahjong championships.
Scheduled for Dec. 5 and six, the collection will get place in the big Venetian Macau on line casino. The prize funds, primarily based on entrance expenses, could be far more than $ five hundred,000.
Mahjong is China’s poker, a match of ability and possibility performed in residences, in social golf equipment, at weddings and in venues like the third-ground seafood cafe exactly where Mr. Chan competed in the qualifier. Police occasionally raid Hong Kong’s smoky mahjong parlors in look for of unlawful gambling.
The recreation can employ up to one hundred forty four thick, rectangular tiles—once created of bone and bamboo, now typically plastic—engraved with colorful symbols of birds, flowers and other characters.
The fundamentals are related to rummy. Players attempt to accumulate four sets (three of a kind or a straight of three, in the identical go well with) in addition an additional pair. The initial participant to announce a completed hand wins. The winning hand is presented points on difficulty and perceived splendor. Scores assortment from a handful of factors to several hundred.
A successful hand’s rating depends on which rules are performed, and that’s the difficulty: Mahjong is a table-recreation Tower of Babel.
There is Hong Kong Previous Design, Taiwan policies, Riichi mahjong from Japan, European classical, Canadian, Australian, British and American mahjong.
A rooster hand comprises four sets and a pair, so it is technically a winning hand. It is fairly simple to create speedily but scores couple of factors. Below some principles, it can get but scores nothing.
Players use the hand as a spoiler to block opponents’ larger-scoring combos. Some use it to advance by profitable a number of simple hands instead than developing complicated combos. In Chinese, “chicken” connotes something small and insignificant.
Below some principles, the hen hand isn’t a profitable hand and as a result simply cannot finish enjoy. But its followers praise gamers utilizing it, when permitted, for valuing limited steady gains in excess of breathtaking but unpredictable wins.
Scott Miller, who edits Mahjong News in Amarillo, Texas, compares it to a thin but unsafe dueling blade. “It is the French foil of mahjong,” he claims, “a quickly-strike weapon that tends to make a little hole, nevertheless can even now bleed your opponent to demise.”
That weapon was Mr. Chan’s undoing in the Hong Kong seafood restaurant. Sixteen tables had been crowded with each other on one aspect of the restaurant, with stacks of chairs shielding a wedding ceremony banquet on the other. The qualifier’s contestants performed rounds of 16 online games in opposition to a few other opponents.
Mr. Chan suggests he experienced a few shots at huge scores. An opponent utilized the hen hand to block the very first two when Mr. Chan was a number of tiles from completion.
Late in the round and driving in points, he required a great hand. In front of him, 1 was developing: the famous 4 Hid Triplets, a rare pattern of 4 sets of 3 equivalent tiles. All are drawn by the player, not taken from a discard pile.
If Mr. Chan could comprehensive the hand, he would rating 480 factors and eclipse the competition.
“But then this lesser player—in my estimation—needed only 80 factors to take very first place,” he suggests. “But rather, he gave up on himself and went for a hen hand really worth only 3 factors,” ending Mr. Chan’s Planet Collection chances. He claims he did not engage in any rooster palms.
Entire world Series gamers can blame Alan Kwan Shiu-ho for reintroducing the chicken hand to the tournament in 2010, the most current series. The hand had been dropped in the prior event, in 2008.
Mr. Kwan discovered mahjong as a boy from his sister, who performed Hong Kong Aged Style. Later on, he discovered these guidelines also easy. He uncovered Riichi and Chinese MCR principles, but identified people too sophisticated and didn’t like that a hand’s score usually bore tiny relation to the odds of getting it.
While managing a very small Hong Kong board-recreation shop, Mr. Kwan, who states he analyzed pc science, math and recreation principle in college, perfected a set of universal mahjong policies he had been functioning on since he was a teen that incorporated allowance for the rooster hand.
“I really do not adore the rooster hand,” suggests Mr. Kwan. “But the guidelines have usually stated you can get with 4 sets and a pair. A hen hand does that, and I don’t want to make an exception. It aids to see the sport in a true light-weight.”
His Zung Jung mahjong—meaning “the way of the middle”—was what the Entire world Series’ founders have been in search of. “They came into the store and questioned where they could discover a common set of guidelines,” says Mr. Kwan. “I instructed them, ‘I’ve presently got them.’ ”
They adopted his guidelines and employed him as a match judge. Planet Series of Mahjong co-founder Jim Mehren states he considers Mr. Kwan “a genius.”
Mr. Kwan’s principles haven’t significantly afflicted the broader mahjong entire world, states Mr. Miller. Still, “if you’re giving a half-million pounds away, individuals are heading to arrive and find out Zung Jung rules.”
The Hong Kong elimination round’s winner, Queenie Tong Kwan-male, considers the hand unworthy. “Yes, of training course they all ate the rooster hand,” she says of those she defeat, employing Cantonese slang for using the approach.
Ms. Tong, who usually performs from 7 p.m. to three a.m. with friends at home, will get up following each spherical to wash her face—“not superstition…just to keep new.”
And she does not engage in hen fingers.
—Dominique Fong contributed to this report.