Beginner's Lesson 22
In this lesson, we will cover the furiten rule in riichi mahjong and how it provides the foundation for basic defense.
“Furiten” is a state where you are unable to win a hand by ron. However, while in furiten, you can still win by tsumo. Your hand can be furiten due to a few different reasons.
The main one is if you previously discarded one of your winning tiles. This puts your hand in permanent furiten. It does not matter if your previously discarded winning tile would not have given your hand any yaku; as long as any of your discards would complete the shape of your winning hand, your hand is furiten.
In order to enforce this rule, your discards must be placed neatly in front of you in rows of 6. That way, everyone can check to see what tiles you have discarded and to make sure that you are not furiten if you win by ron. This is also why called tiles are turned sideways and placed in a way that indicates who discarded them. Even if your tiles are called by an opponent, they are still recognized as your discards for the purposes of furiten.
Sometimes, your hand can progress in a way that it becomes furiten accidentally. Sometimes, you have to discard a tile that would prevent your hand from qualifying for certain yaku, and that puts it in furiten. Regardless, to escape from being furiten, you only need to change the shape of your tenpai.
For example, if you are waiting on a 1-4man ryanmen for an open tanyao hand, but you previously discarded 1man because it does not allow your hand to qualify for tanyao, your hand would be furiten. However, if you draw a 2man, 3man, or 5man, you can change the shape of your tenpai. Drawing 2man or 3man would allow you to change from the 1-4man ryanmen to a shanpon, and drawing 5man would allow you to change from the 1-4man ryanmen to a kanchan that can only win on the 4man. Of course, it is entirely possible to win by tsumo on the 4man while you are waiting to change your tenpai shape.
It is also possible to be in temporary furiten. This occurs if you pass on a winning tile discarded by an opponent for whatever reason. You may not want to win points from a particular player, or the discarded tile would not fulfill a certain yaku, but whatever the reason, your hand would be temporarily furiten. Temporary furiten is dispelled once you discard a tile.
Using the same 1-4man ryanmen example, if the opponent on your right discards a 1man, you would be unable to win without your only yaku, tanyao. This would put your hand in temporary furiten. That means that even if one of the other players discards a 4man during this turn, you would be unable to declare ron. However, as soon as you get another turn and discard a tile, your hand would no longer be in temporary furiten.
The last type of furiten is permanent furiten after riichi. After you declare riichi, you usually have a choice of whether or not to win if your winning tile appears. If you choose not to win on the first winning tile that is discarded for whatever reason, then your hand is permanently furiten. All you can do at this point is hope to win by tsumo.
Here is a video explaining furiten by Light Grunty:
Atozuke and Furiten
The furiten rule can be a little tricky. It might feel bad if you are unable to win when someone else discards your winning tile while your hand is furiten. However, the furiten rule adds a great deal of depth to the game. Specifically, it allows you to defend against other players’ hands.
In riichi mahjong, if you deal an opponent’s winning tile, you have to pay the full value of their hand. To avoid this, in certain situations, you may want to defend, rather than trying to complete your own hand. Defending mainly takes advantage of the furiten rule.
Tiles in the other players’ discards are called, “genbutsu”. If you discard another player’s genbutsu, that player cannot win off of it because of the furiten rule. This is the easiest and safest way to defend against another player. However, a player’s genbutsu are only safe against that player. If you are trying to defend against multiple players, you would need something that is safe against all of them!
In the next lesson, we will cover defense in more detail.