Mahjong is a traditional Chinese game, played with tiles (commonly known as p’ais among the Chinese community) that resemble dominoes in terms of physical description. Still, they are split into suits and honors and have Chinese symbols and characters inscribed.
However, mahjong can be very confusing to any new players with its numerous tiles that have different symbols and characters. Players have to organize their strategies carefully to achieve the highest possible combination of tiles and they should learn, understand and memorize the sets before playing.
What makes mahjong such a unique game is that it uses engraved tiles and a standard Mahjong set contains 144 tiles. However, this number might vary when it meets different variations or gameplays.
But first, let us take a look at the most common set of mahjong. The tiles can be divided into different categories, which are quite similar to the suits of cards. Knowing which tiles go together is part of learning the rules of mahjong. All 144 tiles consist of:
- 4 Seasons tiles: Each tile is numbered one to four and is optional. (Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter).
- 4 Flowers tiles: Each tile is numbered one to four and is optional. (Plum, Orchid, Chrysanthemum, and Bamboo).
- 16 Wind tiles: four tiles for each of the four winds. (East, South, West, and North)
- 12 Dragon tiles: Four red dragons, four green dragons, and four white dragons.
- 36 Circles tiles: Each tile is numbered one to nine and features the same number of circles.
- 36 Bamboos tiles: Each tile is numbered one to nine and features the same number of bamboos.
- 36 Characters tiles: Each tile is numbered one to nine and features a Chinese symbol for the number represented.
Winds, dragons, flowers, and seasons are considered special tiles that provide more points for your total score. You get bonus points for each of these tiles in your hand without having to use them in a meld.
Mahjong’s goal is to collect tiles in melds, which are similar to poker or gin rummy hands. If you collect the required number of melds, you can get a mahjong and win the game. Melds are groups of specific combinations of tiles and each type of meld comes with different points. The stronger your melds, the faster you’ll accumulate points and get to declare mahjong before your opponents.
Different types of meld options that you can collect:
- Pong: Three tiles of the same rank and same suit.
- Chow: Three tiles of the same suit in consecutive rank.
- Kong: Four tiles of the same rank and same suit.
- Eye: A pair of identical tiles. The eye meld can only be used as the final piece in a mahjong.
When there are four players at the table, the dealer is determined by a dice roll or by selecting face-down Wind tiles, with the East Wind designated as the dealer. Before the game begins, all tiles are placed face-down on the table and shuffled. Then, each player stacks a row of 18 tiles in front of them, two tiles high (for a total of 36 tiles), and pushes their stacks together to create a square wall.
To begin, each player is given 13 tiles, you will draw a tile when it is your turn. Then you will discard a tile, bringing your turn to an end and it will continue in an anti-clockwise order.
Scream & Shout
Mahjong can be more lively than you thought it would be. Throughout the game, players should keep an eye out for discarded tiles that may help them complete a meld. If a player sees a tile that could be useful, they should shout “Pong” or “Kong” and collect the tile that completes the meld and place them all face-up on the board to their right.
Players will win the current round by having three combinations and a pair. Pairs drawn from the wall can be kept secret and when a player completes the winning combination, they shout “Mahjong” and lay down all of their tiles. After winning the round, players calculate their scores and begin a new round.
When a player goes mahjong, all players should calculate their scores, and the round is effectively over. Players will then continue to play a full session of mahjong, which is typically 16 rounds, or until a certain target score or number of rounds is reached.
With so many tiles and combinations available, calculating scores may appear difficult. However, there are several methods for doing so, but to keep things simple, you may calculate them as follows:
- Four Pongs earn six points.
- Four Chows earn two points.
- One Dragon Pong or Kong earns two points.
- Two Dragon Pongs earn six points.
- Pong or Kong of Winds matching the player’s wind earns two points.
- Flowers or Seasons, if used, earn one point.
- Going mahjong scores ten points.
The other players pay the player who went mahjong the amount scored by their hands. This means that even if other players have higher scores, the player who goes Mahjong always wins the round. If the East wins, others will have to pay double.
Like other casino games, mahjong has numerous variations too!
Two-player mahjong is generally easier than mahjong for four players. One player controls the East Wind, while the other controls the West Wind. Similar to the traditional version, both of them will construct four walls and the game begins with East’s discard tile. The game then resumes with the traditional rules, but with the following modifications:
- There are no chows allowed, so a player must have four doubles before they can play mahjong.
- The East Wind player never pays or receives double scoring when scoring.
- When scoring, if the player going mahjong has a lower score than their opponent, the player with mahjong receives the normal score plus the difference between the two scores.
Three-Player Mahjong is a popular variation that is often played in South East Asia and It has two types of gameplay. The most common method involves players constructing the common four walls and having the North Wind act as a “dummy.” The other option is to play with triangle-shaped walls.
The position of the North Wind player, as well as the four North Wind tiles, are removed entirely in triangular mahjong. This game makes use of a total of 132 tiles. As a result, the walls in triangular mahjong are only made up of 22 stacks of 44 tiles. Aside from that, the game is played according to traditional rules.
There are no jokers or flowers or season tiles in this version of mahjong. A Dora tile and red fives are among the additional bonus options. When a player only needs one tile to win, they can declare ricchi.
Hong Kong Mahjong
This mahjong variation makes use of 136 or 144 tiles. There aren’t many special hands (tile combinations). Count doubles and convert to points to score. Only the winner is compensated.
Malaysia / Singapore Mahjong
The tile set of this mahjong variation contains 148 tiles. These 148 tiles are divided into suits with a total of 136 playable tiles, flower suit tiles with 8 tiles, and animal suit tiles with 4 tiles.
This mahjong variant has eight jokers, allowing players to form melds with five and six tiles. It also includes the Charleston, a pre-game tile trading ritual.
Solo player? This mahjong variation is dedicated to you! Instead of making melds, you match pairs of tiles that are laid out in a specific pattern.
These are just a few of the mahjong variations and there are numerous variations that allow you to play by yourself, with two, three, or four other people.
When it comes to mahjong, note that there aren’t any ‘best’, ‘right’, or ‘sure win’ strategies. Your strategies should be adjusted accordingly based on the game’s situation. However, we do have some useful tips to improve your mahjong skills:
Understand the Structure
As a beginner, It is important to get familiar with the mahjong structure that you are playing. The game will be easier to understand when you know the rules, tiles, melds or combinations, scoring, and more.
Have a Clear Plan
It is recommended that you always have a clear plan or fairly good idea of where you want to go with your hand. Hence, think carefully about the tiles that you want to pick up or discard and remember that your opponents are always observing your move — Be careful, experienced players can predict your sequence by taking note of what you are doing and tailor their moves accordingly.
Although picking up random tiles could be the worst mahjong strategy, you should always be prepared to abandon your planned strategy and change your tactics whenever it is necessary. This helps to keep your opponents guessing what you have and what you are doing. Hence, if the game does not go according to your plan, you should stay calm, be open-minded to the progression and make subtle adjustments.
Avoid the First Discard
Taking the first discard could reveal too much information to your opponents and they might figure out your plan very soon. Instead, playing a hand later could be a very smart move as there are plenty of tiles in mahjong.
Practice and Repeat
As mentioned above, there are no right or wrong mahjong strategies. As you play regularly, you will also learn from your opponents by observing their tricks and strategies and implementing them into your future tactics. The more you play, the better you will be.
1. Is there a time limit in mahjong?
Each player has 3 minutes total for all of his plays in a hand. Prolonging the time limit costs 5 points every 15 seconds (or part thereof). A player has 15 seconds to make a move on each turn.
2. How long does a mahjong game last?
A standard Mahjong session consists of three rounds: East, South, West, and North, and each player takes turns being the dealer for each round; thus, a Mahjong session requires at least 16 games to complete, which takes about two hours. In addition, most players don’t usually play just one session, but most likely play 8 or 12 rounds in one gathering.
3. Can I play mahjong online?
We can easily access mahjong and play it in both online and offline environments. You can play mahjong on these trusted websites .
4. Is mahjong free to play?
You can play mahjong for free or with real money depending on your needs and comfort.
5. Can I win money with mahjong?
Yes and no, it depends on the game you play. If you collect the right melds, you may get a mahjong and win the game.