When I was first invited to participate in the 2010 EC Riichi Tournament, I felt a mixture of honor and trepidation. Obviously I was delighted to participate, but I had no idea what to expect! This trip was a lot of firsts for me - my first time visiting Europe, my first serious tournament, and my first time meeting most of the EMA players and others I'd be encountering. Needless to say, I was pretty nervous about traveling to an unfamiliar country and introducing myself! Fortunately it turned out to be a great time.
Thomas Riedel and I arrived in Hanover on Thursday afternoon, and proceeded to immediately succumb to the ravages of jetlag. Happily, we were awake and ambulatory by Friday afternoon, which was when the lecture by Benjamin Boas and Takunori Kajimoto was scheduled. This seminar was our first event of the tournament and, in retrospect, we were very lucky to have attended. Being able to go over play concepts and introduce ourselves to the other players made for a much more comfortable experience and let us get a handle on what we'd be doing for the rest of the weekend.
So, first the facts: The 2010 EC Riichi brought 80 players from all over the world to Hanover, Germany. Each player participated in eight games and their total score determined their ranking; there was no elimination or bracketing. Games consisted of either a full hanchan (East-South) game or 90 minutes of play, whichever came first - at 15 minutes remaining a gong was sounded, indicating that all players should finish their current hand and then play one more hand before finishing the game.
Now the details of how my games went!
Game 1 - I started the tourney nervous, but calmed down a bit when it seemed everyone else was just getting settled in as well. I remember this as being a solid game with good defense by all players. During the East Round I actually ended up in tenpai on Greater/Lesser Four Winds, which did a lot to soothe my nerves - even though I didn't win the hand, hitting such a high-tension feeling so early in the event meant that I could take a deep breath and be a bit more relaxed from then on.
Game 2 - This was another game full of good defensive players. Points were hard-earned but I was fortunate and managed to wind up ahead. I had to take a lot of care to avoid dealing in to the others, and this game heightened my defensive senses to their full capacity.
Game 3 - This game saw my first deal-in, for a substantial 12,000 points. Luckily, I managed to win 12,000 points off that same player immediately afterwards, so I was back on neutral footing. After that I played things a bit more sedately and finished in second place.
Game 4 - Everyone at this table was very aggressive, calling and pushing hard for their hands. It shut down my game a bit, since it made it a lot more difficult to play defense, but I held back from shifting to a more aggressive stance and ended up in second place again.
Game 5 - This game was my second deal-in of the tourney, to another 12,000 point hand. A bit of a poor start, but once again careful play made up the numbers. A lucky tsumo or two got me out of the negatives and I found myself once again in second place.
Game 6 - The first game of Day 2 saw Thomas Riedel and I playing at the same table! Unfortunately for me, he was fresh off a good night's sleep and in top form, and he dominated the game. I was able to stay out of his way and grab a few points of my own, so I continued my trend of coming in second.
Game 7 - This game was my first net loss. Caught between two very aggressive players and a fairly skilled defender, I dealt in to a Chanta hand (Outside Hand) early, for 2000 points, and just wasn't able to make any headway for the rest of the game, losing a bit more from noten payments and other players' tsumo. A little disappointing, but this late in the tournament at least I had good results to look back on to keep my confidence up. After the scores were posted it was clear that it was still anyone's game heading into the last match!
Game 8 - I knew that my final game would be important, but I didn't know it would be my most exciting game of the whole event! The East Round went by quickly, I'd managed to win a few solid hands so I was feeling pretty positive. South Round put me more on the back foot, the other players wanted their share of the points so I had to let several hands pass by in order to be sure of holding on to my score. Finally, we hit South Fourth, well ahead of the time limit. Wanting to end the game quickly, I took advantage of the two Chun I'd been dealt and worked my way towards a called Fanpai (Dragon Pung) hand. Drawing a red 5 sou was good luck. Then, the player to my right dealt the red 5 pin, which I was able to pon. My discard after that call left me ready on a 2 or 5 man, and immediately the player to my right drew and discarded the red 5 man, letting me ron a 4-han hand to end the game. "Why was he casually dealing such dangerous tiles?" I thought… until he revealed his hand: tenpai, Kokushi Musou (Thirteen Orphans). A tense game to the very end!
Through these eight games I'd focused a lot on defense - my strategy was "don't lose". My thinking was that since I wasn't experienced in how the tournament was paced, I should just focus on not moving backwards and always gaining points, even if those gains were modest. In the end, this strategy turned out to pay off quite well, and I ended the tournament in third place! Overall I feel like this experience helped me to grow a lot as a player. I faced many strong opponents and was constantly pushed to play at 100%. Coming back I can't wait to bring the lessons I learned back to the rest of the USPML players.
Once again I'd like to extend a big "thank you" to the organizers of the 2010 EC Riichi - it was a huge event and their hard work ensured that it was also a huge success! I'd also like to thank the referees and my fellow players for creating a friendly and welcoming environment, not to mention being excellent competition.