Table of Contents
Sort Your Hand
Getting Your Mahjong
Chinese Mahjong is a game of strategy, skill, and a bit of luck. The game is like rummy card and tile games and is often played competitively.
In Chinese Mahjong, players are trying to be the first to form melds with the tiles in their hand and by adding and discarding a card each turn. A player wins the hand by either being the first to have 4 sets of 3 and 1 pair. A set in Chinese Mahjong is a grouping of three or four tiles sharing the same rank or a sequence of three tiles in the same suit.
The following items are necessary to play Chinese Mahjong:
Mahjong Tile Set
Dots (36 tiles, 4 of each number 1-9)
Bams (36 tiles, 4 of each number 1-9)
Cracks (36 tiles, 4 of each number 1-9)
Winds (also called Honor tiles, 16 tiles, 4 of each wind, East/South/West/North)
Dragons (also called Honor tiles, 12 tiles, 4 of each, Red/White or Soap/Green)
Flowers (8 tiles, 4 are used in Chinese Mahjong)
Seasons (8 tiles, 4 are used in Chinese Mahjong)
Jokers (8 tiles, may be used in Chinese Mahjong. See TABLE RULES.)
Blanks (4 tiles, may be used in Chinese Mahjong. See TABLE RULES.)
Chinese Mahjong typically includes all 36 dots, 36 bams, 36 cracks, 16 winds, 12 dragons, 4 flowers, and 4 seasons. Players can establish TABLE RULES for whether to play with extra tiles.
Players use two dice to determine the dealer and where the dealer will break the wall. If playing without dice, the player sitting in the east chair is the dealer.
Mahjong Tile Racks and Pushers
Each player has a Mahjong rack and pusher to hold tiles. The pusher sits against the back of the rack and will curtsy the tiles when ready to play.
A playing mat adds life to any game, and players often use it on glass tables, card tables, and for outdoor play to muffle the sounds of tiles hitting the table.
To set-up to play, players:
- Place mat on table.
- Position rack with the pusher away from each player.
- Place mahjong tiles in the middle of the table, face down, and shuffle.
- Each player builds a wall against a pusher, creating a row of two tiles, facedown and stacked.
Each wall has approximately the same quantity of tiles. The quantity of tiles varies based on table rules.
Select a Dealer
Each player rolls the dice, and the highest roller becomes the dealer. The dealer is also referred to as “East,” and the remaining winds, South, West, North are assigned clockwise around the table.
The dealer rolls the dice. The roll represents the number of stacked tiles that will remain on the dealer's wall. The dealer counts down the stacks on the wall, starting from the right, to the number rolled.
Slide the pusher left past the last tile counted and break the wall by curtsying out the leftover wall. To curtsy the wall, use the right end of the pusher to angle the tiles forward towards the opposite player. Then, slide the pusher back into place.
From the curtsied wall, the dealer takes the first 2 stacks (4 tiles). The dealer continues counterclockwise, placing two stacks in front of each player until each player has 6 stacks (12 tiles). When the wall runs out, the dealer curtsies the next wall to the left (clockwise).
Once each player has twelve tiles, the dealer takes the first and third top tiles from the wall. The dealer then gives one tile to each player in a counterclockwise fashion.
The dealer will have 14 tiles and each of the other players will have 13. Once the game begins, the dealer will discard a tile and each player will then have 13 mahjong tiles.
The dealer separates 16 tiles from the wall and are set aside as the back wall. The back wall is only used for players to draw a tile when replacing a flower, season, or fourth tile for a Kong.
Each player takes their tiles and displays them on a rack. Players then sort their hands and are looking to make 4 sets and 1 pair.
There are 3 options for making sets:
- Pung – 3 identical tiles. Examples, 3 south winds / 3 green dragons / 3 4-bams
- Kong – 4 identical tiles. Examples, 4 east winds / 4 red dragon / 4 5-dots
- Chow – a sequence of 3 in the same suit. Examples, 2,3,4 bam / 4,5,6 dot / 7,8,9 crack
A pair is 2 identical tiles. Examples, 2 5-crack / 2 green dragon / 2 north winds
Flowers and Seasons cannot be used in pairs, Pungs, Kongs, or Chows, but instead, will receive 1 point for each Flower or Season tile if keeping score.
Starting from the North player and continuing counterclockwise, players expose the Flowers and Seasons from their hand. If a player has a Flower or Season tile, the player places the tile face up on their rack and then draws another tile from the back wall (link to definition above) as a replacement tile. If a player draws another flower or season from the back wall, the player immediately places the flower or season face up and draws another tile from the back wall.
The dealer begins by discarding a tile face up and verbally naming the tile for everyone to hear. Each player names the player’s discard aloud for all players to hear. As soon as the tile touches the mat or the dealer or player has named the tile, it is considered discarded.
Moving counterclockwise, the next player draws a tile from the wall and adds it to their rack. With each draw, players are looking to improve their hand. Anytime a player draws a Flower or a Season, the player places the tile face up on their rack and takes a tile from the back wall in the same turn.
The player then selects and discards an unwanted tile, naming it aloud. Play continues counterclockwise.
When a wall runs out of tiles, the player clockwise will curtsy their wall for players to draw tiles.
If a player has an exposed Pung and draws the 4th tile, the player can add the tile to the exposed Pung making it an exposed Kong. The player then must draw another tile from the back wall. Note that a player cannot pick up a discard to move an exposed Pung to an exposed Kong.
If a player has a Kong in their hand, a player can declare a private Kong and place the tiles face down on their rack. The player then must draw another tile from the back wall.
The rules for picking up a tile are:
- The tile must complete a Pung, Kong, or Chow.
- The player who picks up a tile must expose the Pung, Kong, or Chow on top of their rack for all to see.
- A player cannot pick up a discarded tile that would promote an exposed Pung into an exposed Kong.
- A player can pick up a discard for a pair only if it is the final tile necessary to declare Mahjong.
The player then discards an unwanted tile and play resumes with the player counterclockwise of the player who paused the game. This may mean skipping other players’ turns.
When more than one player pauses the game, the player who can declare “Mahjong” with the claimed tile gets the tile. If no player can win the game with the tile, a player that can use the tile to form a Pung or Kong gets priority over a player that needs the tile for a Chow. If multiple players have the same reason to declare the discard, the player who is closest counterclockwise from the discarding player gets the tile.
The player can retract the pause if the player decides not to pick up the discarded tile.
When a player completes a hand, either by drawing a tile or pausing to pick up their final tile, the player says “Mahjong!” The winner then exposes the winner’s hand and, if keeping score, determines the point value of the hand.
If keeping score, basic scoring rules of Chinese Mahjong are:
- 4 Pungs in a hand = 6 points
- 4 Chows in a hand = 2 points
- 1 Dragon Pung or Kong = 2 points
- 2 Dragon Pungs or Kongs = 6 points
- Pung/Kong of Winds that match the round or seat = 2 points
- Win by self-draw = 1 point
- Flowers or Seasons tiles = 1 point
Competition play uses more complicated scoring rules.
Players often establish table rules, also called house rules. Examples of table rules include:
- A player can only pick up a discard for a Chow if it is their turn.
- A player can only declare Mahjong if their hand is worth a minimum point value of 8. Flowers and Seasons do not count downs the minimum value.
- Players receive extra points for Pungs or Kongs with the wind that corresponds with their seat placement, called the seat wind.
- Players receive extra points for Pungs or Kongs with the current wind for the table for that hand, called the prevalent wind. The players must define the prevalent wind before game play to include this rule.
Players can decide if they wish to include Jokers when playing Chinese Mahjong. A joker can substitute for a tile(s) in a Pung, Kong, or Chow, but one of the most important rules of Mahjong is that a player cannot use a joker for pair. If a player exposes a Joker, any player can swap a specific tile for an exposed joker.
During a player’s turn, the player can swap a specific tile for an exposed joker.
If a player discards a joker, it is dead, and no player can pick it up from the table.
Players often use the blank Mahjong tiles that often come in a Mahjong set. Table Rules determine how to use a blank. Popular tables rules include:
Using the blank to exchange for a discarded tile
- A player can exchange a blank tile for any discarded tile (except for a discarded joker) during the player’s turn, or
- A player can exchange a blank tile for any discarded tile (except for a discarded joker) at any time during the game, not just during the player’s turn.
- Once a player discards a blank, it is dead, and no player can pick it up.
Using the blank as a Super Joker
- A player can use a blank for a pair, or
- A player can use a blank for a single or a pair.
- Online games do not include blank tiles