Most players have now received their National Mah Jongg League 2021 card but if you haven’t picked one up click the image below to order yours.

2021 Mahjong Card

The new mahjong card is definitely an interesting and fun card, but there are a few gotchas to watch out for. So, here are some observations and tips to help you get up-to-speed with the new card, optimize your mahjong hand selections and avoid mistakes.

Card Clarifications

At I Love Mahj HQ, we can often be found fielding questions from players who are confused about the card. Here’s a selection of the most commonly asked clarifications:

  • 2021 / Line 3: yes, you do need five 2s of the same suit (more on that later)
  • 2468 / Line 8: the last 2 pungs can be any even numbers (i.e. 2 pungs of 2s or 4s or 6s or 8s), not just 2s
  • Singles &  Pairs / Line 4: Same as above, but in pairs, not pungs
  • Consecutive Run / Line 5: Even though the note does not explicitly state it, you can use any consecutive numbers, not just 1, 2, 3 (there just wasn’t enough room to write it).
  • Winds-Dragons / Line 2: There are two options here, the first one requires even numbers, the second one odd numbers (the lack of space made the abbreviated phrasing confusing). By the way, here's a mnemonic to remember what goes with what:
    • NORTH goes with Odds and Red dragons
    • EAST goes with Evens and GrEEn dragons

Common Shapes

The National Mah Jongg League changes the shapes of the hands (the way the patterns are arranged) each year. It's a good idea to familiarize yourself with those shapes, as this will reduce your need to consult the mahjong card.

Pung-kong pung-kong is a prominent pattern this year (last year it was pung-pung kong-kong). For example, Consecutive run, line 2 follows this pattern, and is probably one of the easiest hands on the card, since you can build your runs on either side and can use jokers in all groupings.

The pyramid, aka bell curve pattern (pair, pung, kong, pung, pair), is also popular. Consecutive run, line 1 is a good example. Note that sometimes flowers are the top of the pyramid (eg: 2468, line 1).

All wind hands follow a predictable pattern: 

  • Same number of Norths and Souths (N=S)
  • Same number of Easts and Wests (E=W)
  • Always more Norths/Souths than Easts/Wests (NS>EW)

Interestingly, the only hand with NEWS is found in the Any-Like-Numbers section, which is unusual.

Tips and Tricks

Six hands are carried over from the 2020 mahjong card. Watch out for hands that are similar to 2020, but contain subtle differences. For example:

  • 369 / Line 2: Different number of dragons and different pung/kong combinations
  • Consecutive Run / Line 7: The 2 kongs are like numbers, last year they were consecutive
  • 2021/ Line 4: The pairs are East/West, last year they were North/South
  • 2468 / Line 3: This year it’s all one suit, last year was 3 suits

Watch out for 2021 / Line 3. This hand is tricky since it requires 5 twos in the same suit. It has similarities to a quint, but it’s actually a kong and a single. So, be very careful: if you expose the kong of 2s for this hand, be sure to use at least one joker and hold back a 2 (as you’ll need it for the 21 part of the hand).

Look for "supersize" opportunities. These are hands that are a bigger version of another hand. Consider switching to/from them depending on how your hand develops during the mahjong game. For example: 

  • Quints / Line 3: A supersize of consecutive run, line 5 
  • Quints / Line 4: A supersize of consecutive run, line 6

When selecting the hand to play (and back-up hands), be on the lookout for mahjong hands you can switch between. This will help you pivot, if necessary, and increase your chances of winning. For example:

  • You can go between consecutive run, lines 4 and 5a, depending on how many flowers (or jokers) you get
  • Switch between 2021, line 4 if you have the 2021, or winds-dragons, line 3 if you have flowers instead

How to Practice and Learn the Card Faster

If you have a physical mahjong tile set, "Charleston modeling" is a good way to learn the new hands. 

  • Lay out all your mahjong tiles face up on the table
  • For each hand on the card, place tiles on your rack to make that hand
  • Take several tiles away from the hand and replace them with random tiles from the table. See if you can still recognize the hand

Practicing mahjong online is a great way to learn the card faster. I Love Mahj, an online mahjong platform, gives you all you need to practice mahjong online and prepare you for your in-person mahjong games:

  • Play with computer bots: You can get a lot of practice games in quickly with bots and they don't mind if you're taking longer to think. The more hands you make, the quicker they'll sink in. You can also learn a lot by seeing which hands the bots do. The platform has 3 levels of intelligent bots. So you can start at level 1 and work your way up as you gain confidence
  • Use the "Just-for-Fun" mode: This will allow you to practice without dinging your stats and rating. So you play, without any time pressure or the fear of making a mistake, and really let the new hands sink in
  • Use the "Practice Mode": (Found under “Just-for-Fun” games on the Game Launchpad). This option will offer suggestions on the best hands to play, given the tiles in your hand at any point during the mahjong game. A great way to discover hands you may have missed or not even thought of. We encourage you to think through your hand options first, before taking a look at what the tool suggests. Here's a screenshot of what it looks like:


Final Thoughts

It takes a while to learn a new mahjong card. Don't get discouraged if you struggle at first (especially when playing with bots, who master the card instantly). Embrace the challenge and enjoy the journey just as much as the destination.

We hope you found our tips helpful! If you have any questions (about the card, our online mahjong platform or the mahjong game in general), don't hesitate to contact us at

If you'd like to try the I Love Mahj online mahjong game, use this link to register and you'll get 4 weeks free (instead of the regular two week trial). Plus you can play online with The Mahjong Line’s botanical mahjong tile set. Enjoy!

Comment below: Tell us your favorite hand in the new 2021 card and why you like it? 


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