Paying with Sticks

When WRC 2014 was announced, we made a decision to buck the tradition of score sheets and use sticks for keeping score instead of score sheets when playing. Some welcomed the change, for others it was a controversial move. Fortunately, we’ve proven ourselves to be on the correct side of mahjong history, and now most tournaments are played using sticks (or tembo) to keep points.

I don’t feel I need to wax lyrical over the pros of paying with sticks anymore. Most players have quickly embraced them. However, the one thing some are lacking is the confidence in the etiquette of paying for that yakuman…

It’s not down to a lack of manners from our fellow players – just lack of established conventions. Luckily, the Japanese are well ahead of us and we can use their established code as a model.

Sometime in 2014, I wrote a very similar article on the etiquette and with WRC 2017 fast upon us, the time seemed right to pull it out, dust it up, and rerun it.

All of the conventions are basically to make payments quick, accurate, and avoid accusations of cheating.

So…what tricks are there to make the game and the payment run smoother?

  1. The score should be called out clearly (and not mumbled like what I do). If you have continuations on the board, call out the base score and then the score with continuations added on.
  2. After the score has been called out, the payment is made. Throwing sticks at players before they’ve called out their score (however tempting because it’s only 1han 30fu – bloody hell why is everyone so slow etc.) should be avoided at all costs. This aggressive behaviour can be intimidating to newer players or online players who are transitioning. Give them a few seconds breathing space. If they are struggling, by all means give them some gentle help (even if through gritted teeth because who the hell riichis on that type of wait?!).
  3. Payment is made by placing the sticks on the table in front of the player to be paid.
    • Don’t place them in front of you or in the middle of the table. They should be close to the receiver and they shouldn’t have to reach for them. This is polite and it makes it obvious who the sticks are going to.
    • Don’t hand the sticks to the hand of the payer being paid. The reason for this is to avoid sleight of hand, and so that all other players can visually confirm that the correct payment is being made.
  4. Profit! (If you’re the one being paid)

A few other tips:

  • Continuation stick markers or riichi sticks being carried over should be placed on your right and be in full view of all players.
  • When a 100 stick or sticks are out to indicate a continuation and there is a draw but the dealer is not the winner, the sticks should be left out until the new dealer has taken out that number of sticks plus one and placed them on his/her right. That way things don’t get forgotten.
  • Related to that, if there are continuation stick markers out, they shouldn’t be withdrawn until payment is complete. That way if there is a question, it can be resolved quicker and without doubt.
  • Try to make the quickest and easiest solution. So if you need to pay 1300, hand over one 1000 and three 100s. Not two 1000s where possible.
  • If possible, try to ensure you always have a 1000 stick in your collection to riichi with. For example, by paying with a 5000 stick to another player who is in a situation to break it when this is appropriate.
  • If you run out of 1000s and you need to riichi, ask another player to break a greater value stick for you. Don’t use a stick of any other value for the riichi. Don’t EVER borrow another player’s 1000 stick to make your riichi.
  • Don’t play with your sticks. This is good life advice in all situations.
  • Finally, please, for the love of all that is good in this world…DO NOT THROW THE STICKS. I don’t care what the anime or manga did, don’t throw or toss the riichi to have it carelessly bounce across the table. Place it down like it’s your own child. Certainly do not throw the sticks for payment at the other player. It’s so unbelievably rude that I find it incredible I still have to pick people up on this. You don’t throw your coins at the checkout person, we don’t throw things at the mahjong table either. Otherwise, I need to have strong words with your mums…

If you want more details on the World Riichi Championship:

I also exist on Discord (sometimes)

Happy playing!

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