mahjong Rules & HOW TO PLAY MahJONG

Mahjong (Mah Jong) is a Chinese game of skill, strategy, and calculation. Researchers have developed a form of healing with Mahjong as they believe that playing the game is beneficial for individuals suffering from dementia, cognitive and memory difficulties. Mahjong is often named as Mah Jongg, Ma Chiao, Ma Jiang, Mo Tsiah, Ma Chiang and Ma Cheuk and can be mispelled Majong or Marjong.

Mahjong is very similar to Rummy and is played with tiles. The main objective is to build sets with the tiles through drawing and discarding them. In different variants it has different tiles but it is always played by four players. There is little uniformity in the way Mahjong is played in various provinces in China and it is played in a different way in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. Traditional Chinese Mahjong is played with 144 tiles (including 8 flower/season tiles) and some variants incorporate just 136 tiles (without flower/season tiles which are optional tiles used to apply bonuses). The rules presented here are based upon a consolidation of various different approaches that is documented under the WSOM (World Series of Mahjong) rules which has attempted a more standardised set of rules.

The Players Different figures of tiles are prevalent in different variants of the game of Mahjong. The game is invariably played by four players. 

Number of  Players Number of Tiles Dealt Total Number of Tiles
4 Players 13 tiles each 136 tiles (144 Total)
Tiles in Mahjong
Bamboo Character Circle Dragon Wind Flower Season
components involved in mahjong

The 136 tiles of Mahjong comprise 34 distinct designs with 4 of each kind. The total number of tiles are classified in basic terms as number tiles and honor tiles. The number tiles are in three suits unlike Rummy which has four suits and the suits being Bamboos (aka "Sticks"), Circles (aka "Dots") and Characters (aka "Actors") with different designs numbered 1 to 9 (the tiles with numbers 1 and 9 are called "Terminals" and the tiles from 2 to 8 are called "Simples"). The "Honor" tiles are the Wind tiles of East, South, West and North (of which there are four duplicates of each). There also the Dragon tiles; Red, Green and White with four duplicates of each.

Tile Name Tile Type Duplicates Number of Designs Total Tiles



4 Duplicates

9 Of Each

36 Tiles

Character Suit 4 Duplicates 9 Of Each 36 Tiles
Circle Suit 4 Duplicates 9 Of Each 36 Tiles
East Wind Honor 4 Duplicates N/A 4 Tiles
West Wind Honor 4 Duplicates N/A 4 Tiles
North Wind Honor 4 Duplicates N/A 4 Tiles
South Wind Honor 4 Duplicates N/A 4 Tiles
Red Dragon Honor 4 Duplicates N/A 4 Tiles
Green Dragon Honor 4 Duplicates N/A 4 Tiles
White Dragon Honor 4 Duplicates N/A 4 Tiles
Flowers Bonus 4 Duplicates N/A 4 Tiles
Seasons Bonus 4 Duplicates N/A 4 Tiles
      Total: 144 Tiles


Chow - A "Chow" is a sequence or a run of three tiles (successive numbers) of the same suit. For example: 7, 8 and 9 of the Circle suit. A concealed hand with three such tiles is known as "Concealed Sequence" and an "Exposed Sequence" is formed on claiming "Chow" loud out. A Chow can essentially be made only from the discards of the players of the left of one and not from other players.

Valid Chow:

Invalid Chow:

Pung - A "Pung" is a triplet or in other words, a set of three identical tiles in the same suit. These identical tiles can be three same numbered tiles of the same suit or three honor tiles. A triplet in a concealed hand is a "Concealed Triplet" and an "Exposed Triplet" is formed on asserting "Pung" out loud and claiming a discarded tile. The player shows the created set on discarding a tile for the next player to take on his turn.


Valid Pung:

Invalid Pung:

KongA "Kong" is a set of four identical tiles of the same suit. It cannot be considered a Kong if a concealed hand has four identical tiles (it is a concealed triplet with an extra tile). When a Kong is formed from a discarded tile, the player announces "Kong" out loud and shows the created set. If this Kong has been formed by a tile drawn from the wall then the player need not expose the set and can hold it concealed. On keeping the Kong hidden the player can later split it and use one of the tiles to make a Chow if he so wishes. This type of Kong is called a "Concealed Kong".

In the case of a Concealed Kong, the player draws a replacement tile from the wall only on declaring the Kong. An important thing to consider here is that we cannot create a Kong using a discarded tile from an already exposed Pung wherein this can happen when the tile is drawn from the wall.

Valid Kong:

Invalid Kong:
Pair - A Pair is formed of two identical tiles. A Pair can be made from a discard only at the time of declaring Mahjong. Only one pair is allowed in a hand.

Valid Pair:

Invalid Pair:

The game of Mahjong involves drawing and discarding tiles in order to form different melds for going out to win the game. Even though the winner of the hand gets the points from other players, forming the best melds is as important as winning in this game as scoring depends on the content of the hand. The final result and the rank of a player are decided upon adding his points on a number of hands. If we consider a play where 16 hands are played then each player’s final result is calculated on adding the cumulative points scores for each hand.


The dice in the game are used for picking the seats and "Breaking The Wall". The count on the dice is assumed to find the player. Supposing a player throws dice and the sum comes up as five then if we consider the thrower as one moving counter-clockwise the count stops on him. We can better understand this looking at the figure below. Here we can also see the Chinese adaptation of the four directions, the same as is followed in the game.

game play STEP BY STEP

The Game  involves the following steps:

(1) Picking The Seats

(2) Creating And Breaking The Wall

(3) Dealing The Tiles

(4) Drawing The Tiles

Picking The Seats – The players initially assume their seats randomly and they pick up a wind tile each. They then put them face down on the table. Then two tiles, one of odd number and the other of even number, are taken and placed face up on either side of the shuffled wind tiles. The wind tiles are sandwiched between the numbered tiles. Now the two (sometimes three) dice are thrown by a random player and the player indicated by the count on the dice is given with the dice. This player again throws the dice and if the count on the dice is odd he picks the wind tile first at the "odd number" end and this course of action passes in the counter clockwise direction as the players pick the subsequent tiles. If the dice count is even, the same process is continued starting from the "even number" end. The player who got the "East" wind tile takes his respective seat and the remaining players occupy the seats in counter clockwise direction (as seen in the figure above).

In a hand each player belongs to a certain wind direction and a wind tile matching the seat’s direction is one’s "Seat Wind" and melding a "Seat Wind" would help a player score more points. The East player is referred to as dealer and after each hand (irrespective of a hand won or lost) the players change their seats and therefore change their wind directions. When we consider the player who sat in the east seat as the east player and also identify the other players with directions of the seats of their first hand, then the directions of their seats in subsequent hands can be visualized as in the figure below:

Building And Breaking the wall As of now the players have assumed their seats. The 136 tiles (144 with flower and season) are shuffled and are placed on the table faced down. Each player now selects 34 tiles (36 if the flower and season tiles are included) and places them on the table arranging them in 2 stacks of 17 tiles (18 with flower and season) each. These tiles are moved forward by each player forming a hollow square generally referred to as the "Wall". The Wall can be seen in the figure below.

The player on the "East" throws the dice to determine the side (direction) where the breaking of the wall procedure has to start. Now as the side is determined by the dice count, the player at this point again throws the dice and the number of tiles (stacks) as in the dice count is counted starting from the right end and are shifted apart slightly to show a distinction thus breaking the wall and these tiles are generally referred to as a "Dead Wall". The tiles on the left of the Dead Wall are known as a "Live Wall".

Important Note: The Dead Wall is reserved for the replacement tiles whenever a player has Concealed Kong or when he encounters a flower or season tile. Generally in the Mahjong, whenever a flower or season tile is dealt or drawn from the wall, the tile has to be put aside face up and a replacement tile has to be drawn from the Dead Wall. If the tile drawn from the Dead Wall is again a flower or season tile, this has to be put aside and another tile has to be drawn. When a player has a Concealed Kong, he can retain it to the end of the hand or else he can declare it to pick up a replacement tile.

Dealing The Tiles: East being the priority wind, starts with taking two stacks (that is four tiles) from the Live Wall, followed by the South player taking two stacks, the West player taking two stacks and finally the North player. This continues until the players have twelve tiles each. The players other than the East player pick one tile each and the East player picks two tiles as he has to start formally with the first tile discard. The East player can pick up the last two tiles in two different ways. In one way, he picks two tiles after every other player picks his 12th tile. In a different approach, he picks one tile after everyone has picked his 12th tile and another tile after everyone has picked his 13th. The second way is shown in the figure:


Drawing The Tiles: The player to the East side, with an extra tile, starts the play by discarding a tile. The discarded tile is placed face up in the middle of the wall. The player to the right of the dealer may pick up this discarded tile or can draw a tile from the wall. If the discarded tile is not claimed, the player to the dealer's right ie South draws and discards a tile  followed by the West drawing and discarding a tile and finally North drawing and discarding a tile. If the discarded tile is claimed by any of the players, then the player claiming it picks and discards a tile consequently breaking the sequence and the game continues from there.

 some notes on scoring

A player wins when he or she has reached a combination of four triplets, quadruplets or sequences. The end of a game is signalled when a player declares Mahjong or when there are not any unused tiles left, in which case, no one wins. A winning player automatically receives 20 points. In Mahjong, when a player discards a tile, any of the players can claim the tile to Pung or Kong the tile except for a Chow where a Chow can only be made from the discards of the players on the left.

If two players in the game try to claim the same discard there is a priority extended to claim the discard as in the following sequence:

(1) Going out (declaring Mahjong).

(2) Kong or Pung.

(3) Chow.

(4) When two players claim the same tile for declaring Mahjong the player to the right of the thrower wins.

On making four sets of Chow, Pung, Kong and Pair a player can declare loud "Mahjong" asserting his or her win. A winning hand has 14 tiles in total. After each round the seating position changes or rotates in counter clockwise even if there is a dead hand, where none of players wins.

Basic Scoring -

Tile Hand

Points Gain

4 Pungs in a hand 6 points
4 Chows in a hand 2 points
1 Dragon Pung or Kong 2 points
A Pair of Dragon Pung 6 points
Pung or Kong of Winds Matching  Round or Seat 2 points
Flowers or Seasons Tile 1 point
Win By Self Drawn 1 point



Our rules features are subject to review and we especially welcome feedback from our Chinese visitors. If you have some feedback on this article or can suggest some corrections to it, please do contact us.


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