Basic Strategy

1. Five Core Patterns

World Series of Mahjong adopts a pattern-centered scoring system, and it doesn’t add any “basic points” for merely winning the hand. The income for a winning hand is designed to correlate with its beauty and difficulty. It is not easy to keep up with your opponents’ big scores by going for fast, easy hands all the time; one should attempt big hands when given the chance.

The five core series of “One Suit”, “All Triplets”, “Three Similar Sequences”, “Nine-Tile Straight” and “Lesser Terminals” present plenty of opportunities while yielding good scores around 40 points. Patterns scored within a hand are simply added, and these 40-point class patterns score a lot more than the 5- and 10-point patterns; this gives the game a similar feel to

Hong Kong Style, where pattern-building is centered upon individual big patterns (with the difference that we are adopting many more big patterns here). This is unlike some other styles, where the pattern-building is centered upon making combinations of many small patterns. This clear distinction of big and small hands yields a game with more exciting player interaction.
Besides these core patterns, don’t forget that there are other bigger patterns too. Opportunities for attempting those are rarer, but when you encounter one, be sure not to miss it!
 

2. Small Hands

The primary purpose of small hands is to block the opponents’ big hands. Therefore, it is not worth delaying your hand too much just to add a 5- or 10-point score. Though in practice, one can often get a 5 or 10 point hand without much loss in speed. 5 points might not be much, but 10 points is 1/4 of a core pattern, and over several hands they do add up.

The tournament format has a primary focus on “plus/minus scores”. When you are ahead with a positive score, you can try to go for quick wins to defend your winnings. But the format generally does reward a better score, too, so it depends on the situation.
 

3. Don’t Throw to Big Hands

It is crucial to watch your opponents. When you discard to a small hand, you cover for the other players only the part of the score which is over 25 points. For a 30-40 point hand, you end up paying 40-70 points; that is not too tragic. But for a 60-point hand, you are paying 130; for a 80-point “Pure One Suit” hand, you will have to pay 190. If another player discards to the win, you pay only 25; even paying 80 for a self-draw win is a lot less than the 190. One careless discard can be very costly! It can often be hard to recover from a loss of 100 or 200 points.

The payoff scheme looks at the hand value rather than the number of sets the winner has exposed (unlike Hong Kong style). Thus it is important to beware of big hands which are concealed or has only one set exposed. You can’t catch such hands from the exposed sets alone, but if you study the discards carefully, you should be able to detect them. For example, a “Lesser Terminals” hand typically starts discarding middle (456) tiles very early.
 

4. Combinations of Core Patterns

Some hands combine two core patterns to make a 80-point class hand. The main ones are “Lesser Terminals + Three Similar Sequences”, “Mixed One-Suit + Nine-Tile Straight”, and “Mixed One-Suit + All Triplets”. Discarding to a 80-point hand would cost you 190 points, which can be fatal; hence that must be avoided. On the other hand, if you can win with one of these hands, the reward is great. Novices may sometimes be too occupied with one pattern that they miss the other, so be smart!