In spite of the fact there are many views regarding how to behave during play, these views are usually vocalized behind closed doors. Addressing the issue of displaying good table manners has been known to be an extremely delicate subject in the riichi community. Even though etiquette can be used as a perfect tool to ensure play runs smoothly, the thought of a potential dispute with fellow players and its consequences for future encounters has discouraged many riichi lovers to bring the matter up. But those days are gone forever!

Opponents lacking good table manners has been a pet peeve of many players, but with the upcoming World Riichi Championships (WRC) in October, this subject has never been more current. Lacking etiquette is not just plain rude or disrespectful to opponents. It's a huge disturbance during play, it can be used as a psychological weapon, but most important: it creates an opportunity to cheat.

Written and unwritten rules

Even though the 2016 European Mahjong Association (EMA) rulebook "Riichi - Rules for Japanese Mahjong" incorporates a section solely dedicated to etiquette and tournament rules (Chapter 5), it would be naive to expect every single situation is documented. To provide guidance on how to act during those non-documented events players must turn to the unwritten mahjong manners, which are equally as important. At the core of all this is the notion that actions should be taken in the spirit of fair play and that the flow of the game should not be disrupted.

It comes as no surprise not every player abides by these rules. Reasons for this vary from sheer ignorance to utter rebelliousness. While ignorance is something one can understand to a certain extent, the other end of the spectrum is the abuse of etiquette. I've seen players using the EMA etiquette to their advantage, emphasising specific phrases to suit the situation at hand. Other (or sometimes the same) players are known to exploit the fact that a particular situation is undocumented in the official rules, claiming if it isn't in the rules it's immaterial, so they can do as they please. Needless to say this behavior is very disruptive and undermines the foundation of mahjong: fair play.

Marseille, France

In an effort to put a put an end to this disturbing way of play, Marseille based riichi mahjong club 'Chuuren Potos' made headlines during the run up to the French Open (RERS2) on 17/18th of June. As the hosting club, they appealed via email to all players to make use of fair-play, by behaving according to mahjong traditional manners, both written and unwritten. They also provided players in a non-condescending manner information on how to act, by pointing out links to several etiquette lists online (check them out: here, here and here). Club president Simon Picard received positive feedback from several participants, although some of the players who would have benefited the most from the information provided, didn't make an effort to read it. As for the future: 'Chuuren Potos' will keep providing tournament participants with information on etiquette (until it's no longer needed) and the crew is debating on how to bring the matter to other French clubs and putting out the message in general.

The Furiten Tournament at Bussum; background referee Nicole Haasbroek.

Bussum, the Netherlands

Inspired by the endeavor of the club in the South of France, 'Furiten'-club president Martin Rep (founder of Mahjong News and framer of the WRC) and I decided to introduce a similar concept in the Netherlands by sending out an etiquette list to the participants of the then upcoming 'Furiten Tournament' (RERS1), which took place last Saturday in the small town of Bussum in the Netherlands. Deliberately kept short, and written with the most common issues occurring specifically at Dutch tournaments in mind, the list contains seventeen items. Interested readers can view the list here (or in Dutch here). Like the crew from Marseille, we wanted to gently persuade our players to brush up on their manners and create a positive and safe environment for them, without any bickering at that table, so that they could perform at their maximum. Within a few hours after publishing the additional information, participants reacted: "Finally!" and "I was hoping for this, thanks for making it happen!".

Last Saturday was D-Day and as a non-playing referee (the concept of a non-playing referee is not appreciated in the Netherlands, so this was a very unusual situation!) I was fortunate to witness first hand if our players behaved differently than during other tournaments. I'm happy to report I saw indeed certain changes in a number of players, for instance: winning discards were left in their place, dora/uradora indicators were taken by the winners, dice were rolled after the walls were built. All of these situations were the cause of bickering at the table in the past. Not every instruction on our list was followed to the letter, but that would have been unrealistic to expect. Even with the best of intentions, people are creatures of habit and adapting to a new environment where displaying good table manners is common will take some time. And even though I could have, as a referee, stepped in, asking players to act correctly, I thought it would ruin the positive environment that was created and taint the small victories we did make during this event. Punishment is always the last resort, providing information and guidance is a far more constructive way to change the mindset of players, and, as a result, their actions.

While I have no doubt a few players might have been a bit apprehensive, no complaints were conveyed to Martin nor myself, indicating players agreed with our effort of creating a positive environment by sending out a list of good manners prior to the tournament. If it's up to Martin and I this document will become an addendum to the EMA rules at Dutch tournaments. We are even discussing if this or a similar list should be incorporated into the EMA rules.

International support

Various high profile individuals have been showing their support, demonstrating the international mahjong scene is taking a stand against displaying bad table manners. Among them the organizers of the WRC2017: JPML member and EMA Presidium member Gemma Sakamoto, and USPML president David Bresnick.

After two successful trials, the cat's out of the bag: it's time for organizers of future (European) tournaments to show their true colors and take sides. Are we allowing bad manners to ruin our tournaments or will we educate and guide our participants, taking our riichi community to the next level? The first step on this journey is easy to take: hand out an etiquette list (feel free to use ours!)!

Nicole Haasbroek of the Netherlands is a contributor to Mahjong News and an EMA riichi and MCR referee.

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