With my MCR (Mahjong Competition Rules) group failing miserably to play regularly (or rather, it is really half-dead), my thoughts turn to whether online play would be a more sustainable way of playing MCR mahjong in a place like Singapore where it is really difficult to find interested players (whether for casual fun or for competition).
There are several online mahjong servers, but few offer MCR, most notably Mahjong Time. Mahjong Time has teamed up with the European Mahjong Association (EMA) to offer online tournaments, such as the Open European Mahjong Championship–Online (OEMC-Online) and several national online championships such as the recent Online Hungarian Mahjong Championship (OHMC). Incidentally, Mahjong Time is also teaming up with World Mahjong Limited to bring the US$1,000,000 World Series of Mahjong (WSoM) online, offering the Zung Jung ruleset to online players and organising some online qualifying events for the finals in Macau in September this year.
Online mahjong may not have the atmosphere and authentic feel that some mahjong players like, but it does offer the convenience of playing whenever one feels like playing, without having to find three other players for a game. Moreover, it offers the intrepid mahjong player a chance to play variants not usually played with friends. It is thus the case with MCR mahjong. In Singapore, it is not a common variant, with most Singaporeans playing Singapore Style, or less commonly, Hong Kong Old Style, Taiwanese mahjong, or Malaysian mahjong. Since MCR mahjong has so many patterns to learn, it is also daunting for beginners. It would come as no surprise that the take-up rate is probably quite low. Online mahjong may perhaps then offer interested players a chance to learn, play, and advance in skill, variants not common in their home regions.
As I looked at the recent reports on OHMC , I was surprised to find ranked third in the tournament, a Singaporean player! No doubt, there are Singaporean players interested in playing MCR mahjong. However, since it would be difficult to find like-minded players to play face-to-face/offline games, online mahjong is a solution. This is probably the same for fans of other mahjong variants, most notably riichi maajan. There are at least two well-known Japanese servers providing quality online riichi maajan: Ron2 and Tenhou.
Singaporeans are not the only ones not able to find opponents and friends to play in face-to-face environments. The winner of OHMC, JulJul (her online moniker), also could not find friends to play 'real' games with her, and she had to turn to the Internet, since MCR mahjong is not commonly played in the United States. One participant of OHMC is from India, a country where mahjong is probably not very common either, much less the MCR variant!
Considering this, I am most tempted to give Mahjong Time a try, especially with regard to the online tournaments! If I am not able to compete in real offline tournaments, at least I could try competing in online ones. The pioneering success of my Singaporean compatriot is certainly inspiring!
1. Mahjong News had a brief report on the results of the online tournament, as well as an interview with the OHMC champion. The Online Ranking System (MORSE) on the same website revealed the nationalities of the participants of the online tournaments organised so far.