The game complexity of Japanese mahjong bears an equally complex set of tactics and strategies to consider. While luck is an element of the game, strategy is required to minimize the effects of luck. Ultimately, it is up to the player to pick and choose tiles to attain the best result possible.
A number of defensive strategies can be employed to minimize point losses. If anything, many game outcomes are mostly decided by direct point losses. Therefore, players make it a point to avoid or at least minimize playing into other player's hands.
Digital vs occult
Despite the variations methods to play the game, play styles can be summed up under two general categories: digital and occult.
Often, players may find themselves utilizing riichi or abstaining from riichi. With riichi being a discretionary yaku, players must evaluate the risk-reward aspect of this play. This decision often rests on the point standings, the current hand and round, and the hand's value.
With each hand, every player is dealt with a starting hand. Looking at the tiles, it is up to each player to determine the best choice of tiles to attain tenpai quickly.
Open vs closed
A common question pertaining a hand considers opening vs keeping the hand closed. A few factors stem into this decision. Some yaku and yakuman require closed hands. The rest do not. Naturally, it is up to the player to know, which fall under these two categories. After that, the decision becomes considers necessity. Among the "open allowable" yaku, some decrease in value as an open hand. Here, the player must consider the affordability of an open hand. On top of that, the point differences may require players to utilize riichi; or else, the hand does not make up a point deficit. Finally, hand development speed is the issue. Regardless of hand value, the hand must win first in order to count at all. Sometimes, the best option here is to open the hand in order to improve attaining tenpai.
If possible, a player can take the start hand and speculate, which yaku is the best fit. However, a player may not necessarily target a yaku. At times, achieving tenpai is sufficiently enough, particularly when points are at a premium.
For each hand, a player has a limited number of turns to draw and/or claim tiles. Therefore, a player must make tile discard and retention choices, that best achieve tenpai as quickly and as efficiently as possible.
Naturally, every player must be able to recognize a hand at tenpai. Likewise, waiting tiles must also be identified in order to not miss them, whenever they are drawn or discarded. Even so, players have an array of waiting patterns to choose from in order to accomplish a winning hand. Furthermore, players may find themselves choosing one waiting pattern or another.
Atozuke is a special case of tenpai, where players are waiting on a specific tile just to satisfy the yaku requirement.
- Translated strategy material from various Japanese sources.