Mahjong

MAHJONG



OBJECTIVE OF MAHJONG: Create sets and runs with mahjong tiles and score the fewest number of points possible.

NUMBER OF PLAYERS: 4 players

MATERIALS: 152 tiles, 2 dice, Scoring sticks or coins, Wind indicator (optional), 4 racks (optional but recommended), 4 pushers (optional)

TYPE OF GAME: Tile matching

AUDIENCE: Adult


INTRODUCTION TO MAHJONG

Mahjong or Mah Jongg is a four-player game that employs both skill and luck. It was brought to the United States in the 1920s when Joesph Park Babcock published “Rules of Mah-Jongg.”

Below are the rules of American Mahjong, which differs slightly from its Asian predecessor. American Mahjong employs racks, jokers, and some different mechanisms of play. The objective is to be the first player to match fourteen tiles and declare, “Mahjong.”

THE TILES

Mahjong has 166 game tiles, 152 of which are used in play. The remaining are spare tiles. The tiles are split into four groups.

Suits – 108 Tiles

Circles/Dots – 36 Tiles/4 of each

Bamboos/Bams – 36 Tiles/4 of each

Characters/Craks – 36 Tiles/4 of each

Honors – 28 Tiles 

Winds – 16 Tiles/4 of each

Dragons – 12 Tiles/4 of each

They are the White Dragon (Soap), Green Dragon, and Red Dragon, respectively.

Soaps can be employed as zeros.

Flowers & Seasons – 8 Tiles (1 each)

Jokers/Wilds – 8 Tiles

Jokers can be used to replace any tile in a set of 3 to 6 identical tile sets. However, it can not be used in a pair.

OTHER MATERIALS

Wind Indicators 

These are used to indicate which direction of the wind is current, this is the player who began the round. These are optional and not required for gameplay. 

Scoring Coins or Scoring Sticks

These are tools that can be used to keep track of the score. Whether sticks or coins, players may assign them a point value. These are optional and not required for gameplay.

Racks & Pushers

Each player can have a rack to hold their tiles during play. Pushers are used to push racks forward during play, without revealing the tiles.

Dice

The game uses two dice to assign the position of the dealer (East) and to figure out where to break the wall (discussed below).

Score Cards

Players score various hands based on information determined by the National Mahjong League. These are updated annually and should be used as a reference when building hands.

MAHJONG SET-UP

Each player grabs a rack and places it in front of them. All of the 152 tiles are shuffled around in the center of the racks. Players build the wall by building a row of tiles in front of their rack that is two tiles high and 19 tiles across. The wall utilizes every tile.

After the wall has been built, players must figure out who will be East wind or the dealer. Players take turns rolling the dice, the player who rolls the highest number first becomes East. The player to the right of East is South wind, then West wind, and finally North wind. 

Next, Breaking the Wall occurs. The player who is East rolls the dice. Based on the number they roll, they count the tiles in front of them, right to left, and then break the wall. 

For example, East rolls a six. After, East will separate a group of 6 tiles (by two tiles tall) from the right end of the wall in front of them. After, East takes four tiles (two tiles from the top row and two from the bottom row).

Breaking the wall passes to the right. Players take turns grabbing four tiles for their hand until each player has 12 tiles.  After everyone has 12 tiles, East or the dealer grabs two extra tiles, these tiles come from the first and third tiles of the top row. Then, the other players take a single tile from the end. South grabs the first bottom tile, North grabs the second bottom tile, and West grabs the second top tile.

East has 14 tiles and all other players have 13 tiles.

READING THE SCORECARD

Hands are represented on the score card with numbers or letters in red, green, or blue. The colors do not correlate to a specific suit but rather mean different suits are used. Flowers and Zeros are not in a suit, they are always blue.

1-9: Number on tile (does not include flowers)

N, S, E, W: North, South, East, West

D: Dragon

R: Red Dragon

G: Green Dragon

0: White Dragon (Soap, Zeros)

F: Flower

Hands

Scorecards are divided into categories:

Year: Patterns that create a year. For example, 2017 would be made of 2s, 0s, 1s, and 7s.

2468: Patterns with even-numbered tiles

Change-up: Varies

Quints: Hands that contain at least 1 quint with one tile as a joker. Quints are 5 identical tiles.

Runs: Patterns that contain consecutively numbered tiles.

13579: Patterns containing only odd-numbered tiles.

Winds-Dragons: Patterns that use wind and dragon tiles.

Singles & Pairs: Patterns that have single tiles and paired tiles.

Hand Combinations

Pair: 2 of the same tiles

Pung: 3 of the same tiles

Kong: 4 of the same tiles

Quint: 5 of the same tiles, use a joker

Sextet: 6 of the same tiles, use a joker

Hands can also be X or exposed or C or concealed. This is used for gambling and scoring purposes.

THE CHARLESTON

Prior to play is The Charleston. This is unique to American Mahjong and began being practiced in the 1920s. The Charleston is a tile exchange that allows players to improve their hands by passing around tiles they do not want to opponents.

  1. Each person passes 3 unwanted tiles to their right.
  2. Each person passes 3 unwanted tiles to the player sitting across from them.
  3. Players pass 3 unwanted tiles to their left, this is the first left. You may also pass up to three tiles blind, or receive and pass them without looking. This is called a blind pass.

This can be repeated if need be a second time, pending all players’ agreement. Reverse the directions of the passing (first passing left, then across, then to the right). The pass to the right is called the last right. 

After the second Charleston is completed, players can take a courtesy pass. A player may agree with another to exchange up to 3 tiles. Jokers cannot be passed at this time.

THE PLAY

The objective of the game is to be the first player to construct a hand that matches one on the scorecard. If you are successful, declare “Mahjong” to win.

Drawing & Discarding Tiles

Players attempt to improve their hands. Since East’s hand has 14 tiles, they begin by discarding a single tile. If a player does not call or claim the discarded tile, play moves to the right. The next player starts their turn by drawing a tile from the wall. The tile is drawn from the spot where the broken wall was left off. Start by drawing the top tile, then the bottom tile if the wall is no longer two tiles high.

After, players can choose to discard the drawn tile or keep it in hand and discard another tile. Discarded tiles are announced and put face-up in the center of the table. Keep in mind that when you discard tiles since all other players are aware of what they are, they can deduce what hand you are trying to make. This is repeated by the next player on the right if a tile is not called.

Calling Tiles

The tile that has most recently been discarded can be called by any other player if the tile will complete a pung, kong, quint, sextet, or any other combination for an exposed hand. 

  • Combinations that require only a single tile may not call upon a tile.
  • A tile cannot be called upon to complete a pair unless that pair completes a Mahjong hand.
  • Dead tiles, or tiles previously discarded, cannot be called upon.

If a player calls and does not Mahjong, the combination that tile completed must be exposed on their rack and cannot be changed for the remainder of the game. After, they discard, and play moves to the right. If a player calls, some turns may be skipped.

If more than one person calls:

  • The player who calls to complete a Mahjong trumps the player who is just completing a set.
  • If neither are completing a Mahjong, the player whose turn is nearest takes the tile.

All tiles in concealed hands must be taken from the wall unless it is the final tile to declare Mahjong.

JOKERS

Jokers can replace any tile in a pung, kong, or sextet. They cannot be used in singles or pairs. If a hand is exposed, and you have the tile a joker is replacing in an opponent’s hand, you may exchange the tiles and take the joker by the following:

  • Call a discard or draw a tile as usual
  • Exchange the actual tile for the joker. This can be more than one tile for multiple jokers.
  • Discard a tile to maintain a 13-tile hand.

Jokers in dead hands (hands that are no longer in the game for rule violation) can be exchanged.

ENDING PLAY

The game concludes when someone declares Mahjong!

The payout is based on the hand and the way it was created.

KIND OF MAHJONG AND PAYOUTS

Mahjong made from a discard: Discarder pays Mahjong winner double the value of the hand. All others pay single.

Mahjong from draw off the wall: Each player pays the winner double the hand’s value.

Mahjong off discards with no jokers, singles, or pairs: Discarder pays 4x hand value. All others pay 2x.

Mahjong is made off a wall draw with no jokers, singles, or pairs: Each player pays the winner 4x hand value.

Note, if all tiles have been drawn from the wall and the final discard made with no Mahjong, there is no payout. The game ends as a draw.

After the first game is completed, the position of East or dealer passes to the right. Reshuffle the tiles and repeat the rules above.

REFERENCES:

https://www.ymimports.com/pages/how-to-play-american-mahjong

https://www.mastersofgames.com/rules/mah-jong-rules.htm

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS?

How many people can play mahjong?

4 players can play a game of Mahjong.

How many tiles does a player start with in Mahjong?

A player will build a wall of 38 tiles at the start of the game.

How many flowers and jokers are there in American Mahjong?

There are 8 jokers and 8 flower tiles.

What is the difference between American Mahjong and Chinese Mah Jongg?

American Mahjong has additional tiles and different scorecards than Chinese Mah Jongg.

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24 thoughts on “Mahjong”

  1. 2019 card. NNNN EW SSSS 2019. picked up from discard white dragon to display 2019 told not allowed unless calling mahjong is that the rule?

  2. Have searched for a rule stating that if a player discards a tile allowing another player to call Mahjongg with three exposures already showing the discarding player is responsible for payouts of all three players.

    • Hi Dianne, I have not heard of this special ruling or variation. I did a bit of research and could not find any official or unofficial sources with this ruling either.

    • Hi Charlene, Yes you can exchange Jokers from any exposures that were made before the hand was declared
      dead. Once a hand is declared dead, any Jokers that were exposed at the same time as that
      declaration cannot be redeemed as that is when the error was made. These Jokers, along with any other
      tiles which were exposed as part of the dead hand, are to be returned to the player’s rack. Only the
      exposure(s) made prior to the hand being called dead should remain on top of the rack.
      If the hand was not declared dead until later, all the Jokers exposed could be redeemed.

    • Hi Betty, you are not supposed to touch other player’s tiles, and it is completely up to that player if they wish to disclose what tiles they have in hand. I hope this helps.

  3. After playing 4 sets of mahj, we like to rotate the players so we don’t keep passing to the same player. Don’t remember the sequence of rotation.
    1 goes to (which seat)?
    2 goes to (which seat)?
    3 goes to (which seat?
    4 goes to (which seat)?

    • Hi Bobbe, I have not been able to find an official rotation list. Most of what I have found mentions rotating the players (dealer and seat winds) counter-clockwise when the dealer does not win and leaving them the same when the dealer is the winner of a set. I hope this helps.

    • Hi Bobbe, recapturing just means to capture another player’s stone after they have captured yours, but when recapturing you cannot place your stone in the same position on the board as I previously was until a new play has been made.
      Here’s a resource to further explain recapturing in greater detail and its limitations. I hope this helps. https://www.ymimports.com/pages/how-to-play-go

  4. on my 2021 card under singles and pairs, the 2nd row is: 113 in green-11335 in red 113355 in blue so i am assuming this is bam,craks and dots, since there is no description does this mean the hand has to be played exactly in that order ? Bam,
    crak and Dot colors?

    • Hi Meretha, with official league questions I would urge you to reach out to an official Mahjong judge or the company who runs the league. I am not familiar with the layout and requirements of the cards and would hate to give you any misguided information.

  5. Under Any Like Numbers NEWS appear. Is each letter considered independent or if you have EWS can you call for the N?

    • Hi Betty I’m a little confused by your question. I’m not sure what exactly you are asking. Here’s what I found while searching online for NEWS in Mahjong. The North, East, West, and South tiles belong to the winds set. There are four of each and they are one of two sets in the honors category. As far as I can tell, I did not come across any site that forbade the calling fo a NEWS tile. I hope this helps.

    • Hi Denise, yes you can use all jokers for the set but I belive you still have to declare what set you are making so as the natural tiles are revealed they can be replaced/

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