Monday, December 31, 2012

World Mahjong Championship 2012

In October 2012, I and a few other Singaporeans participated in the World Mahjong Championship (WMC), held in Qianjiang, Chongqing, People's Republic of China.

For me, it was my second time participating in a WMC; the first was in 2010. The World Mahjong Championship is a special event for me: it represents the highest level of mahjong competitive play, and it is a gathering of the most enthusiastic and knowledgeable mahjong players from around the world. Of course, this WMC uses only one of many mahjong variants, i.e. Mahjong Competition Rules (MCR), and thus only attracts the adherents of MCR, a small fraction of all the many mahjong players in the world. MCR, however, is a variant that was specifically designed for international competitive play, and there is no other ruleset/variant that is used regularly for international competition.

Into the World of Mahjong
As it was my second WMC, I naturally hoped for better results. I attained a rank of just 133 out of 208 competitors in 2010, and my goal this time around was to better that. It was not going to be an easy task, as we were facing some of the best players China has to offer, and there are a lot of good MCR players in China! Besides players from China, WMC 2012 attracted players from many other countries: Japan, Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Russia, Spain, and Sweden.

From China itself, teams represented various provinces and regions: Beijing, Anhui, Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Inner Mongolia, Liaoning, Shaanxi (陕西), Shandong, Shanxi (山西), Sichuan, Xinjiang, and Yunnan. Some of the players came from regions that did not have full teams and thus competed in trans-regional teams (e.g. a mixed Tianjin–Beijing team) or as individuals (e.g. a competitor from Guangxi). Amongst these are some very well-known (in Chinese circles), veteran players such as Jiao Linghua (WMC 2010 champion and 5th China Majiang Open champion), Duan Tingxiu, Zhang Fengying, Zhang Bingcheng, as well as young but strong players such as Song Panjing, Zhang Zhangfeng, and Hu Zhiwei.

Because of the recent political spat over Diaoyudao/Senkaku Islands, some of the Japanese competitors faced problems in attending the WMC, and so pulled out of the competition altogether. On the European side, several top players opted to stay home, and there were fewer European competitors than originally anticipated (e.g. none from Belgium, Hungary, Switzerland, the UK; and rather few from the Metropolitan France, Italy, and the Netherlands, considering their large mahjong associations). Despite these developments, it was still a most exciting and intriguing mix of competitors. I think the Europeans and Chinese were also quite curious about us Singaporeans, since this was the first time so many took part in an MCR competition.

The World Mahjong Championship and the World Mahjong Culture Exchange Congress that preceded it were held in Qianjiang, a district in Chongqing Municipality. The Chinese organisers decided on this venue in order to help promote tourism in Qianjiang. So, on 24th October 2012, the majority of our team from Singapore flew to Chongqing Jiangbei Airport, where we met up with some of the Chinese organising team and volunteers, and some of the Chinese competitors (from Xi'an, Shaanxi), and then proceeded to take the long bus journey to Qianjiang some 400km away. Four of us had decided to attend the World Mahjong Culture Exchange Congress and the accompanying referee training; the other two members of our team would only come two days later for the actual competition. Arriving early gave us a little time to get used to the environs and the food (typical Sichuan cuisine which was fiery hot!), as well as get to know some of the other participants and to learn more about mahjong.

The World Mahjong Culture Exchange Congress turned out to be very interesting. Unfortunately, the main bulk of the congress (presentations and talks) was conducted only in Mandarin Chinese, and most of the non-Chinese participants were left scratching their heads since the Chinese-to-English translation was not really adequate. Thus, when it came to the discussion on the rules of MCR, I was roped in to help with Chinese-to-English translation. It turns out that being bilingual (as most Singaporeans are) is quite useful in such situations. My team-mates and I continued to act as impromptu translators for the European and the Chinese participants throughout the course of the WMC.

At the WMC, we met Sheila Hansen, a fellow Singaporean residing in Denmark. She had been living in Denmark for over 15 years and had married a Dane. She picked up MCR at the local mahjong club in Copenhagen, and came to represent Denmark for WMC 2012. So, we were quite surprised when the Chinese organisers checked with us about our seven competitors; we were actually only six players flying in from Singapore. Of course, I belatedly realised that Sheila was coming with the Danish contingent but the Chinese organisers had counted Sheila as Singaporean (going by her nationality as given during application for the competition)! In fact, this confusion over nationality/representation of country plagued a few other competitors: there was a German player of Russian origin, and another Danish competitor is actually Brazilian by nationality. This was eventually sorted out (all the competitors represented the countries that they were supposed to represent, nationality aside), but in the meanwhile we joked about Sheila being counted as Singaporean in order for us to win a prize in the country category. (The combined results of the top four players in each country counts toward the country score, so if Sheila placed within the top four Singaporeans, she could have helped lift our results.)

In any case, it was really great meeting Sheila. She still visits Singapore every now and then, and in order to play MCR in Singapore, she had to teach some of her friends MCR. Well, we asked Sheila to introduce her friends to our MCR club here in Singapore so that we could get more members!

The Tournament
The World Mahjong Championship this year featured a total of 188 competitors, hailing from twelve different countries. Prizes were awarded in three categories: individual, team of four players, and country (top four players). There were 45 teams (thus totalling 180 players, leaving 8 competitors not in teams), and eight countries eligible for the country prize (2 countries did not send enough competitors to qualify).

The competition itself comprised a pre-determined round-robin of eight games, and two final games using a Danish system of player-matching. In the first eight games, players were assigned to one of four sections, where players within each section would never meet, and at each table, a player would meet an opponent from each of the other sections. So, the Chinese players were placed in two sections fully (Sections 1 and 3), and the remaining were placed in the last section. The bulk of the Europeans (Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands) were placed in Section 2, while the Japanese, the rest of the Europeans (Italy, Russia, Spain, Sweden, and a misplaced German of Russian origin), us Singaporeans were placed in Section 4 with the few Chinese. This sort of table arrangement meant that a Japanese competitor always plays against two Chinese and one European opponents; a European competitor in Section 2 always plays against two Chinese opponents and another opponent (Chinese, Japanese, Singapore, European), and thus possibly against three Chinese opponents; a European competitor in Section 4 always plays against two Chinese opponents and another European opponent; while we Singaporeans always play against two Chinese and one European opponents.

In the final two games, because of the Danish system employed, players are matched according to their rankings in the competition (based on their table points, then competition points obtained during the first eight, and first nine, games). The Danish system means that competitors may meet opponents they had played before (something the Swiss system, a related tournament system, avoids). This results in some exciting matches amongst the strongest players.

The ten games for the WMC took place over three days. Three glorious days of intense and competitive mahjong. We played from 8.30 in the morning all the way to 7.30 in the evening for the first two days of competition, covering the eight games of the round-robin. The final two games took place in the morning of the third day, and we finally knew how well we performed. I did better than targetted (actually, just a modest goal of finishing within the top half of the field), with an eventual rank of 19th, but at the same time, I was disappointed I did not do well enough to place within the top 16. I was so very close, having even the chance to reach 5th! Still, for a sophomore outing at a proper MCR tournament, I was already very pleased with my improvement. My team-mates all did relatively well, considering that this was their first ever MCR tournament, but some felt they fell below their own expectations.

Then, it was time to socialise more, to get to know our opponents as friends, then to celebrate the conclusion of the tournament with a banquet and some merry-making!

After the Tournament
It was difficult to leave Qianjiang after such a wonderful experience, of mahjong playing and competing, of learning new things, of making new friends. Of course, now that we had all experienced the pleasure of competing at the highest level possible, our appetites for more competitions have been whetted. For my team-mates, this was their first competition, and WMC 2012 has stoked their desire for more competition, the same way WMC 2010 got me hooked on competitive mahjong.

So, 2012 is now coming to a close, and we are looking forward to 2013. It has been a rather good year for me and for my fellow MCR aficionados: we set up an MCR club, and we got to compete in the WMC. So, we aim to play in more MCR competitions in 2013 and beyond. There is no WMC in 2013, but there are still going to be competitions with strong players to meet.

Full results for the competition can be found here: WMC 2012 results.

Our Singapore team at WMC 2012.
(Photo credit: Lee Kau Fu.)

The opening ceremony at Zhuoshui Town within Qianjiang.
(Photo credit: Justine Tay.)

Sheila Hansen (centre), our fellow Singaporean!
(Photo credit: Sheila Hansen.)

Justine and YS in practice with some French players.

The bustling tournament hall, before the start of Game 9.

Two of Kau Fu's opponents. André Balagourou from France (left), highest-ranked European in WMC 2012, and Duan Yanbin from China (right), WMC 2012 champion.
(Photo credit: Lee Kau Fu.)

A private practice game with two of China's young experts. Li Wenlong (left) and Hu Zhiwei (right) are both members of a Beijing club, Fangzhuang Julebu 方庄俱乐部, and part of the winning team in the 5th China Majiang Open in 2011.

Myself (second from right) in action, with Danish opponent Jesper Willemoes Hansen (second from left).
(Photo credit: Sheila Hansen.)


She-Cat said...

It was a pleasure meeting my fellow Singaporeans at the WMC too! Wasn't expecting that at all, since I didn't realise that there were enough MCR players back home. When Shi Hua, one of my fellow Danish/Chinese members, told me in the bus on the way to Qianjiang that the 2 guys sitting in front of her sounded Singaporean, I was like..."Really? Are you sure???" I was sitting all the way at the back, just 2 rows away from them! It was only at the hotel when we got our programmes and booklets where I saw that there really was a Singaporean team, and funny enough, that I was actually put in together with the Singaporean cohort ;o).

Not only was I happy to see that there was a team to represent Singapore, I'm also happy that hubby and I will now also be able to play MCR with you guys when we go visit Singapore next time! It's not easy being away for 3-4 weeks without playing a proper MCR game, especially when we do it at least once a week here in Denmark ;o).

And you did Singapore proud, Edwin! By ranking at a good #19! Next time, you can aim for #1!!! Hee...hee... .

PS: Did tell my friend about your MCR club, and had shared your blog with him. Not sure if they will manage to find time to go play, but at least now they have the info :o).

She-Cat said...

Oh, and actually, one good thing about me representing Denmark is that I get to play with a couple of Singaporeans during the WMC tournament itself ;o). I don't get to do that a lot, living in Denmark and all, so it was quite cool to do so at a competitive level at WMC. Even better when Yong Sing and I took the 1st and 2nd spots at our table against the other 2, one of whom was actually a top Chinese player who ranked 15 in the end ;o). Hope to see you guys at more competitions! Maybe some in Europe...or maybe in Singapore itself ;o)... .

Skid Torty NSY said...

Where do you teach mahjong?

EP said...

Hi, Skid Torty NSY.

I teach mahjong at various levels at a few CCs, and privately as well.

If you are interested to find out more, please leave your email address so that I can contact you.

SixthAveMCRNoobs said...

Hi Edwin, just thought I'll leave a note to say hi as my friends and I have recently switched from SG rules to MCR and have found the change very refreshing. Glad to see that you represented Singapore at last year's WMC and did us proud with a #19 ranking! Also good to see that you run an MCR club in Singapore and are expanding the network of MCR players here. Does your club only play at Nee Soon CC? Also, we were wondering if you play on auto shuffling tables there? (We also recently bought an auto table and are so thoroughly spoilt by it! ;))

EP said...

Hi SixthAveMCRNoobs,

Thanks for dropping by and for leaving your nice comment! It's great to know more Singaporeans are picking up MCR!

The club (while really existing as a mobile group of MCR enthusiasts) is realistically and physically based at one place, which is Nee Soon South CC. Anyone is welcome to join us for a game (but do contact me for details on registration etc.).

This is so because it is actually difficult to find places that provide space and equipment for people, and then there is the thorny issue of who is paying for all these things. So, the official club plays at Nee Soon South CC, but the people involved in the club do go around to other places to play (well, mainly where I conduct my mahjong practice classes).

And I agree, automatic mahjong tables are really nice! But unfortunately, it is not feasible to have them at CCs generally, so we don't have them here.

Do contact me to connect if you are interested!

Anonymous said...

Hi Edwin, I went to the One PA website but couldnt find any mahjong course provided by you. I also check Nee Soon South CC website can't find too. Would like to join you guys for leisure play but not gambling money. Don't mind list your email here so others can contact you more easily instead of browsing through all websites. Just your email only not handphone number.

EP said...

Hi Anonymous,

You can leave your email address in a comment and I can contact you regarding your joining the practice classes for leisure play. (Comments are moderated, so your email address will not be made public.)

Anyway, when you go to the onePA website, use the 'search' function on the upper right corner of the page, with the keyword 'mahjong'. A list of mahjong courses (not necessarily all mine) will appear.

Depending on the timing, sometimes there are no courses/classes scheduled at any of the CCs I usually conduct classes at. For example, for the moment, I have no classes scheduled at Nee Soon South CC, not on the onePA system anyway.

EP said...


I had received your (private) comment on 12th February 2014, and I had replied you on the same day. I am not sure if you had received the reply (it might have gone into your Spam folder, for example).

Please ignore this if you had received that reply.