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Mahjong in Hangzhou.jpg
A game of mahjong being played in Hangzhou, China
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 麻將
Simplified Chinese 麻将
alternative Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 麻雀
Simplified Chinese 麻雀
Japanese name
Kanji 麻雀
Kana マージャン
Korean name
Hangul 마작
Hanja 麻雀
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese mạt chược
Players 4
Age range 4 years and older
Setup time 2–10 minutes
Playing time Dependent on variation and/or house/tournament rules
Random chance Yes
Skills required Tactics, observation, memory
This article contains Chinese text. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Chinese characters.
This article contains Japanese text. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of kanji and kana.

Mahjong (Chinese: 麻將pinyin: má jiàng) is a game for four players that originated in China. Mahjong involves skill, strategy, and calculation, as well as a certain degree of luck (depending on the variation played, luck can be anything from a minor to a dominant factor in winning). In Asia, mahjong is also popularly played as a gambling game. In the game, each player is dealt either thirteen or sixteen tiles in a hand, depending on the variation being played. On their turn, players draw a tile and discard one, with the goal of making four or five melds (also depending on the variation) and one pair, or "head". Winning comes "on the draw" by drawing a new or discarded tile that completes the hand. Thus, a winning hand actually contains fourteen (or seventeen) tiles.



The game was called 麻雀 má què, meaning sparrow in Chinese, which is still the name most commonly used in some southern Chinese dialects such as Cantonese and Min Nan, as well as in Japanese. However, most Mandarin-speaking Chinese now call the game má jiàng (麻將). In Northern Wu Chinese (Shanghainese and its relatives), it is pronounced as 麻將 [mu tsiaŋ], but in actuality, 麻將 is the diminutive form of 麻雀, written as 麻雀兒 [mu ʦiaʔ ŋ], due to an erhua event. It is through the Wu Chinese pronunciation of 麻雀兒 that the diminutive form of 麻雀 in Northern Wu dialect became known as 麻將 in both Mandarin and Wu.


Mahjong in China

One of the myths of the origin of mahjong suggests that Confucius,[1] the great Chinese philosopher, developed the game in about 500 BC. This assertion is likely to be apocryphal. According to this myth, the appearance of the game in the various Chinese states coincided with Confucius' travels at the time he was teaching his new doctrines. The three dragon (cardinal) tiles also agree with the three cardinal virtues bequeathed by Confucius. Hóng Zhōng (紅中 MJd1.png, red middle), Fā Cái (發財 MJd2.png, prosperity), and Bái Ban (白板 MJd3.png, white board) represent benevolence, sincerity, and filial piety, respectively.

The myth also claims that Confucius was fond of birds, which would explain the name "mahjong" (maque 麻雀 = sparrow). However, there is no evidence of mahjong's existence before the Taiping era in the 19th century, which eliminates Confucius as a likely inventor.

Many historians believe it was based on a Chinese card game called Mǎdiào (馬吊) (also known as Ma Tiae, hanging horse; or Yèzí [葉子], leaf) in the early Ming dynasty.[2] This game was played with 40 paper cards similar in appearance to the cards used in the game Ya Pei. These 40 cards are numbered 1 to 9 in four different suits, along with four extra flower cards. This is quite similar to the numbering of mahjong tiles today, although mahjong only has three suits and, in effect, uses four packs of Ya Pei cards.

There is still some debate about who created the game. One theory is that Chinese army officers serving during the Taiping Rebellion created the game to pass the time. Another theory is that a nobleman living in the Shanghai area created the game between 1870 and 1875. Others believe that two brothers from Níngpō created mahjong around 1850, from the earlier game of Mǎdiào.

This game was banned by the government of People's Republic of China when it took power in 1949.[3] The new Communist government forbade any gambling activities, which were regarded as symbols of capitalist corruption. After the Cultural Revolution, the game was revived, without gambling elements (see below), and the prohibition was revoked in 1985.[4] Today, it is a favorite pastime in China and other Chinese-speaking communities.

Mahjong in the Western world

Students in the United States learning how to play mahjong

In 1895, Stewart Culin, an American anthropologist, wrote a paper in which mahjong was mentioned. This is the first known written account of mahjong in any language other than Chinese. By 1910, there were written accounts in many languages, including French and Japanese.

The game was imported to the United States in the 1920s. The first mahjong sets sold in the U.S. were sold by Abercrombie & Fitch starting in 1920. [5] It became a success in New York, and the owner of the company, Ezra Fitch, sent emissaries to Chinese villages to buy every set of mahjong they could find. Abercrombie & Fitch sold a total of 12,000 sets.[5]

Also in 1920, Joseph Park Babcock published his book Rules of Mah-Jongg, also known as the "red book". This was the earliest version of mahjong known in America. Babcock had learned mahjong while living in China. Babcock's rules simplified the game to make it easier for Americans to take up, and his version was common through the mahjong fad of the 1920s. Later, when the 1920s fad died out, many of Babcock's simplifications were abandoned.

The game has taken on a number of trademarked names, such as "Pung Chow" and the "Game of Thousand Intelligences". Mahjong nights in America often involved dressing and decorating rooms in Chinese style.[6] Several hit songs were also recorded during the mahjong fad, most notably "Since Ma is Playing Mah Jong" by Eddie Cantor.[7]

Many variants of mahjong developed during this period. By the 1930s, many revisions of the rules developed that were substantially different from Babcock's classical version (including some that were considered fundamentals in other variants, such as the notion of a standard hand). The most common form, which eventually became "American mahjong", was most popular among Jewish women [8]. Standardization came with the formation of the National Mah Jongg League (NMJL) in 1937, along with the first American mahjong rulebook, Maajh: The American Version of the Ancient Chinese Game.

While mahjong was accepted by U.S. players of all ethnic backgrounds during the Babcock era, many consider the modern American version a remake of a Jewish game,[9] as many American mahjong players are of Jewish descent. The NMJL was founded by Jewish players and is considered a Jewish organization. In addition, players usually use the American game as a family-friendly social activity, not as gambling.

In recent years, a second organization has formed, the American Mah Jongg Association. The AMJA currently hosts tournaments all across North America, with their signature event being at the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

British author Alan D. Millington revived the Chinese classical game of the 1920s with his book The Complete Book of Mah-jongg (1977). This handbook includes a formal rules set for the game. Many players in Western countries consider Millington's work authoritative.

Mahjong is not the first re-appearance of the Chinese game in the western world. It was also introduced by W. H. Wilkinson, an official of Britain's Consular Service, in card form under the name of Khanhoo, prior to 1895. This card game does not seem to have made any impression. The later success of mahjong came in part from the elegance of its mechanism as embodied in the domino-like pieces.

Current development

Today, the popularity and the characteristics of players of mahjong vary from country to country. There are also many governing bodies, which often host exhibition games and tournaments. It remains far more popular in Asia than in the West.

Mahjong, as of 2010, is the most popular table game in Japan.[10] In Japan, there is a traditional emphasis on gambling, and the typical player is male. Many devotees there believe the game is losing popularity and have taken efforts to revive it.[citation needed] There are several manga and anime (e.g. Saki and Akagi) devoted to dramatic and comic situations involving mahjong.[11] In addition, Japanese video arcades have introduced mahjong arcade machines that can be connected to others over the Internet. Additional incentives for video game players in Japan come in the form of beautiful and scantily clad young female opponents (mostly anime, but sometimes videotaped models) playing a form of strip mahjong by removing clothing items when they lose a hand.

Mahjong culture is still deeply ingrained in the Chinese community. Sam Hui wrote Cantopop songs using mahjong as their themes, and Hong Kong movies have often included scenes of mahjong games. Many gambling movies have been filmed in Hong Kong, and a recent sub-genre is the mahjong movie.

A 2007 study by doctors in Hong Kong concluded that extensive playing of the game can induce epileptic seizures.[12][13]

Studies by doctors have also shown in Hong Kong that the game is beneficial for individuals suffering from dementia or cognitive memory difficulties, leading to the development of mahjong therapy.[14]

Type of game

Because of the solid form of the tiles, mahjong is sometimes classified as a domino game. However, it is much more similar to Western-style card games such as rummy.


There are many variations of mahjong. In many places, players often observe one version and are either unaware of other variations or claim that different versions are incorrect. Although many variations today differ only by scoring, there are several main varieties:

  • Chinese classical mahjong is the oldest variety of mahjong and was the version introduced to America in the 1920s under various names. It has a small, loyal following in the West, although few play it in Asia.
  • Hong Kong mahjong or Cantonese mahjong is possibly the most common form of mahjong, differing in minor scoring details from the Chinese Classical variety. It does not allow multiple players to win from a single discard.
  • Korean mahjong is unique in many ways and is an excellent version for beginners and three players. One suit is ommited completely (usually the Bamboo set) as well as the seasons. The scoring is simpler and the play is faster. No melded chows are allowed in and concealed hands are common. Riichi (much like its Japanese cousin) is an integral part of the game as well. Korean Rules
  • Sichuan mahjong is a growing variety, particularly in southern China, disallowing chi melds, and using only the suited tiles. It can be played very quickly.
  • Taiwanese mahjong is the variety prevalent in Taiwan and involves hands of 16 tiles (as opposed to the 13-tile hands in other versions), features bonuses for dealers and recurring dealerships, and allows multiple players to win from a single discard.
  • Japanese mahjong is a standardized form of mahjong in Japan and is also found prevalently in video games. In addition to scoring changes, the rules of rīchi (ready hand) and dora (bonus tiles) are unique highlights of this variant. Besides, there is a variation called sanma (三麻) based on this sort, which is modified for playing by three players, and its main differences from the standard one are that chī (Chow) is disallowed and the simple tiles (numbers two through eight) of one suit (usually characters) are removed.
  • Western classical mahjong is a descendant of the version of mahjong introduced by Babcock to America in the 1920s. Today, this term largely refers to the "Wright-Patterson" rules, used in the U.S. military, and other similar American-made variants that are closer to the Babcock rules.
  • American mahjong is a form of mahjong standardized by the National Mah Jongg League[15] and the American Mah-Jongg Association.[16] It uses joker tiles, the Charleston, plus melds of five or more tiles, and eschews the Chow and the notion of a standard hand. Purists claim that this makes American mahjong a separate game. In addition, the NMJL and AMJA variations, which differ by minor scoring differences, are commonly referred to as mahjongg or mah-jongg (with two Gs, often hyphenated).
  • Three-player (or three-ka) mahjong is a simplified three-person mahjong that involves hands of 13 tiles (with a total of 84 tiles on the table) and uses joker tiles as well. It includes only the stones tiles. It has jackpot or royal flush rules of winning, in which whoever accumulates a point of 10 is considered to hit the jackpot. It needs fewer people to start a game and the turnaround time of a game is short—hence, it is considered a fast game.
  • Singaporean/Malaysian mahjong is a variant similar to the Cantonese mahjong played in Malaysia. Unique elements of Singaporean/Malaysian mahjong are the four animal tiles (cat, mouse, cockerel, and centipede) as well as certain alternatives in the scoring rules, which allow payouts midway through the game if certain conditions (such as a kang) are met.
  • Fujian mahjong, with a Dàidì joker 帶弟百搭.
  • Vietnamese mạt chược, with 16 different kinds of jokers.
  • Filipino mahjong, with the Window Joker.
  • Pussers bones is a fast-moving variant developed by sailors in the Royal Australian Navy. It uses a creative alternative vocabulary, such as Eddie, Sammy, Wally, and Normie, instead of East, South, West, and North.

Mahjong competition rules

The top three in the World Mahjong Championship in Tokyo, October 2002. In the middle: world champion Mai Hatsune, from Japan
The first Open European Mahjong Championship, Nijmegen, the Netherlands, June 2005
The winners of the second Open European Mahjong Championship, Copenhagen, Denmark, June 2007. From left: Kohichi Oda (2), Martin Wedel Jacobsen (1), and Benjamin Boas (3)

In 1998, in the interest of dissociating illegal gambling from mahjong, the China State Sports Commission published a new set of rules, now generally referred to as Chinese Official rules or International Tournament rules (see Guobiao Majiang). The principles of the new, wholesome mahjong are: no gambling, no drinking, and no smoking. In international tournaments, players are often grouped in teams to emphasize that mahjong from now on is considered a sport.

The new rules are highly pattern-based. The rulebook contains 81 combinations, based on patterns and scoring elements popular in both classic and modern regional Chinese variants; some table practices of Japan have also been adopted. Points for flower tiles (each flower is worth one point) may not be added until the player has scored 8 points. The winner of a game receives the score from the player who discards the winning tile, plus 8 basic points from each player; in the case of zimo (self-drawn win), he receives the value of this round plus 8 points from all players.

The new rules were first used in an international tournament in Tokyo, where, in 2002, the first World Championship in Mahjong was organized by the Mahjong Museum, the Japan Mahjong Organizing Committee, and the city council of Ningbo, China. One hundred players participated, mainly from Japan and China, but also from Europe and the United States. Mai Hatsune, from Japan, became the first world champion. The following year saw the first annual China Majiang Championship, held in Hainan; the next two annual tournaments were held in Hong Kong and Beijing. Most players were Chinese, but players from other nations attended as well.

In 2005, the first Open European Mahjong Championship[17] was held in the Netherlands, with 108 players. The competition was won by Masato Chiba from Japan. The second European championship[18] in Copenhagen (2007) was attended by 136 players and won by Danish player Martin Wedel Jacobsen. The first Online European Mahjong Championship was held on the Mahjong Time server in 2007, with 64 players, and the winner was Juliani Leo, from the U.S., and the Best European Player was Gerda van Oorschot, from the Netherlands. The Third Open European Mahjong Championship 2009 [19]at Baden/Vienna, Austria, was won by Japanese player Koji Idota, while runner-up Bo Lang from Switzerland became European Champion. There were 152 participants.

In 2006, the World Mahjong Organization (WMO) was founded in Beijing, China, with the cooperation of, amongst others, the Japan Mahjong Organizing Committee (JMOC) and the European Mahjong Association (EMA). This organization held its first World Championship in November 2007 in the Chinese town of Chengdu, attended by 144 participants from all over the world. It was won by Li Li, a Chinese student at Tsinghua University. The next World Championship will take place in Utrecht, the Netherlands, in Summer 2010.

Some other parties have also attempted to create international competition rules. The most noticeable one is the Zung Jung (中庸) Mahjong Scoring System, created by Hong Kong mahjong scholar Alan Kwan. Unlike the Chinese Official rules, Zung Jung is designed with simplicity as one of its design goals and aims to be suitable for casual entertainment as well as tournament play. Zung Jung is adopted by the World Series of Mahjong event held annually in Macau. The World Series of Mahjong was last held in September 2008, in which 302 participants took part. The main event had a prize pool of US$1-million, which was won over three days of play by Alex Ho, from Hong Kong. He won US$500K from the prize pool and a mahjong necklace designed by Steela+Steelo.[20]


Basic equipment: chips, tiles, and dice

Mahjong can be played either with a set of mahjong tiles or a set of mahjong playing cards (sometimes spelled "kards" to distinguish them from the list of standard hands used in American mahjong). One brand of mahjong cards calls these Mhing. Playing cards are often used when travelling, as they take up less space and are lighter than their tile counterparts; however, they are usually of a lower quality. In this article, "tile" will be used to denote both playing cards and tiles.

Many mahjong sets will also include a set of chips or bone tiles for scoring, as well as indicators denoting the dealer and the Prevailing Wind of the round. Some sets may also include racks to hold tiles or chips (although in many sets, the tiles are generally sufficiently thick so that they can stand on their own), with one of them being different to denote the dealer's rack.

Computer implementations of mahjong are also available. These allow you to play against computer opponents, or against human opponents on the Internet.

A set of mahjong tiles will usually differ from place to place. It usually has at least 136 tiles (most commonly 144), although sets originating from America or Japan will have more. Mahjong tiles are split into these categories: suits, honor, and flowers.


The suits of the tiles are money-based. In ancient China, the copper coins had a square hole in the center; people passed a rope through the holes to tie coins into strings. These strings are usually in groups of 100 coins, called diào (弔, or variant 吊), or 1000 coins, called guàn (貫). Mahjong's connection to the ancient Chinese currency system is consistent with its alleged derivation from the game named mǎ diào (馬弔).

In the mahjong suits, the coppers represent the coins, the ropes are actually strings of 100 coins, and the character myriad represents 10,000 coins or 100 strings. When a hand receives the maximum allowed winning of a round, it is called mǎn guàn (滿貫, literally, "full string of coins".)

  • Stones (alternatively wheels or circles): one through nine (🀙🀚🀛🀜🀝🀞🀟🀠🀡). Named as each tile consists of a number of circles. Each circle is said to represent can (筒, tóng) coins with a square hole in the middle.


  • Bamboos: one through nine (🀐🀑🀒🀓🀔🀕🀖🀗🀘). Named as each tile consists of a number of bamboo sticks. Each stick is said to represent a string (索, sǔo) that holds a hundred coins. Note that 1 Bamboo is an exception: it has a bird sitting on a bamboo, to prevent alteration.


  • Characters (alternatively numbers): one through nine (🀇🀈🀉🀊🀋🀌🀍🀎🀏). Named as each tile represents ten thousand (萬, wàn) coins, or one hundred strings of one hundred coins.



  • Wind tiles: 🀀 East Wind (東, dōng east), 🀁 South Wind (南, nán south), 🀂 West Wind (西, west), and 🀃 North Wind (北, běi north).


  • Dragon tiles: 🀄 Red Dragon, 🀅 Green Dragon, and 🀆 White Dragon. The term dragon tile is a Western convention introduced by Joseph Park Babcock in his 1920 book introducing mahjong to America. Originally, these tiles are said to have something to do with the Chinese Imperial Examination. The red tile ("中"榜, zhōngbǎng) means passing the examination to clear the way to officialdom. The green tile ("發"財, fācái, literally "get rich") means wealth. The white tile (白板, báibǎn, literally "clean slate") means freedom from corruption. It usually has a blue border to distinguish from replacement tiles and prevent alterations. In the original Chinese mahjong, these pieces are called jiàn (箭), which represents archery, and the red "中" represents a hit on the target. In ancient Chinese archery, one would put a red "中" to signify that the target was hit. White "白" represents failure, and green "發" means that one will release the draw.[citation needed]



The last category, and typically optional components to a set of mahjong tiles, these tiles often contain artwork. Many people prefer not to use these tiles, because they make it easier to win and earn bonus points. For example, if you have no flowers in your hand, you get only one bonus point; but if you hold two flower tiles that match your seat/wind direction, you're entitled to two bonus points, since flowers correspond with wind directions. For example, holding a pair of the symbol 3 flower while you are in the West Wind position earns 2 bonus points for that hand, since the 3 flower is associated with the West Wind.

Four of the flower tiles represent the four noble plants of Confucian reckoning: 🀢 plum, 🀣 orchid, 🀥 chrysanthemum, and 🀤 bamboo.


The other four flower tiles represent seasons: 🀦 spring, 🀧 summer, 🀨 autumn, and 🀩 winter.


Setting up the board

The following sequence is for setting up a standard Hong Kong (or Singapore) game. Casual or beginning players may wish to proceed directly to gameplay. Shuffling the tiles is needed before piling up.

Game Wind and Prevailing Wind

To determine the Player Game Wind (門風 or 自風), each player throws three dice (two in some variants) and the player with the highest total is chosen as the dealer or the banker (莊家). The dealer's Wind is East; the player to the right of the dealer has South wind; the next player to the right has West; and the fourth player has North (imagine a reversed map). Game Wind changes after every hand, unless the dealer wins. In some variations, the longer the dealer remains dealer, the higher the value of each hand.

The Prevailing Wind (場風) is always set to East when starting. It changes after the Game Wind has rotated around the board; that is, after each player has lost as the dealer. The dealer is always East. A full game of mahjong lasts until the Prevailing Wind has cycled through all four.

A mahjong set with Winds in play will usually include a separate Prevailing Wind marker (typically a die marked with the Wind characters in a holder) and a pointer that can be oriented towards the dealer to show Player Game Wind. In sets with racks, a rack may be marked differently to denote the dealer.

These Winds are also significant, as Winds are often associated with a member of a Flower tile group, typically 1 with East, 2 with South, 3 with West, and 4 with North.

Dealing tiles

All tiles are placed face down and shuffled. Each player then stacks a row of tiles two tiles high in front of him, the length of the row depending on the number of tiles in use:

  • 136 tiles: 17 stacks for each player
    • Suits of dots, bamboos, and characters + winds + dragons
  • 144 tiles: 18 stacks for each player
  • 148 tiles: 19 stacks for dealer and player opposite, 18 for rest
  • 152 tiles: 19 stacks for each player

The dealer throws three dice and sums up the total. Counting counterclockwise so that the dealer is 1, a player's row is chosen. Starting at the right edge, "sum" tiles are counted and shifted to the right.

The dealer now takes a block of four tiles to the left of the divide.

The player to the dealer's right takes four tiles to the left, and players (counterclockwise) take blocks of four tiles (clockwise) until all players have 12 tiles (for 13-tile variations) and 16 (for 16-tile variations). In 13-tile variations, each player then takes one more tile, to make a 13-tile hand. In practice, in order to speed up the dealing procedure, the dealer often takes one extra tile during the dealing procedure to start his turn.

The board is now ready, and new tiles will be taken from the wall where the dealing left off, proceeding clockwise. In some special cases discussed later, tiles are taken from the other end of the wall, commonly referred to as the back end of the wall. In some variations, a group of tiles at the back end, known as the dead wall, is reserved for this purpose instead. In such variations, the dead wall may be visually separated from the main wall, but it is not required.

Unless the dealer has already won (see below), the dealer then discards a tile. The dealing process with tiles is ritualized and complex to prevent cheating. Casual players, or players with mahjong playing cards, may wish to simply shuffle well and deal out the tiles with fewer ceremonial procedures.


In the American variations, it is required that before each hand begins, a Charleston is enacted. In the first round, three tiles are passed to the player on one's right; in the next round, the tiles are passed to the player opposite, followed by three tiles passed to the left. If all players are in agreement, a second Charleston is performed; however, any player may decide to stop passing after the first Charleston is complete. The Charleston is followed by an optional pass to the player across of one, two, or three tiles. The Charleston, a distinctive feature of American mahjong, may have been borrowed from card games such as Hearts.


Each player is dealt either thirteen tiles (for 13-tile variations) or sixteen tiles (for 16-tile variations). If a player is dealt a hand of tiles that is determined to be a winning hand (known as a "heavenly win", 天胡), he or she may declare victory immediately before the game even begins. However, this scenario of victory occurs very rarely.

A turn involves a player's drawing a tile from the wall (or draw pile) and then placing it in his or her hand; the player then discards a tile onto the table. This signals the end of his or her turn, prompting the player to the right to make his or her move. Some variants encourage each player to loudly announce the name of the tile being discarded as a form of courtesy. Many variations require that discarded tiles be placed in an orderly fashion in front of the player, while some require that they be placed face down.

During gameplay, the number of tiles maintained by each player should always be the same; i.e., thirteen or sixteen. A player must discard a tile after picking up one. Failure to do so rules that player effectively out of winning, since a winning combination could never be built with one extra tile or fewer, but the player is obliged to continue until someone else wins.

A distinctive feature of West tiles: when three players drop the West tile, the fourth player will usually avoid discarding another West in the following turn. This is caused by a superstition that says, when all the players discard a West ("西") together, all players will die ("歸西") or be cursed with bad luck (see tetraphobia). During the West Prevailing Wind round, players will also avoid throwing in the One Circle during the first move, because One Circle sounds like "together" in Mandarin; thus, "to die all together" ("一同歸西"). In fact, because of this superstition, some variants require players to restart the game when all tiles of one kind of wind are discarded either in the first four turns, or during any four turns during the game.[citation needed]


When a player discards a tile, any other player may "call" or "bid" for it in order to complete a meld (a certain set of tiles) in his own hand. The disadvantage of doing this is that the player must now expose the completed meld to the other players, giving them an idea of what type of hand he or she is creating. This also creates an element of strategy as, in many variations, discarding a tile that allows another player to win the game requires the discarding player to lose points, or pay the winner more, in a game for money.

Most variants, with the notable exception of American mahjong, allow three types of melds. When a meld is declared through a discard, the player must state the type of meld to be declared and place the meld face up. (As for the Japanese variant, callings to make melds are different from the actual names of the types of melds, favoring the original chinese names over the japanese translation.) The player must then discard a tile, and play continues to the right. Because of this, turns may be skipped in the process.

  • Pong, or Pung (碰 pinyin pèng, Japanese: 刻子 kōtsu)—A Pong, or Pung, is a set of three identical tiles.
    For example: MJt9.pngMJt9.pngMJt9.png; MJs3.pngMJs3.pngMJs3.png; MJf2.pngMJf2.pngMJf2.png; MJd2.pngMJd2.pngMJd2.png.
    In American mahjong, where it is possible to meld Flower tiles, a Pong may also refer to a meld of three of the four Flower tiles in a single group. American mahjong may also have hands requiring a knitted triplet—three tiles of identical rank but of different suits.
  • Kong (槓/杠 pinyin gàng, Japanese: 槓子 kantsu)—A Kong is a set of four identical tiles.
    For example:MJd1.pngMJd1.pngMJd1.pngMJd1.png; MJs7.pngMJs7.pngMJs7.pngMJs7.png.
    Because all other melds contain three tiles, a Kong must be immediately exposed when explicitly declared. If the fourth tile is formed from a discard, it is said to be an exposed Kong (明槓/明杠, pinyin míng gàng). If all four tiles were formed in the hand, it is said to be a concealed Kong (暗槓/暗杠, pinyin àn gàng). In some forms of play, the outer two tiles of a concealed Kong are flipped to indicate its concealed status. It is also possible to form an exposed Kong if the player has an exposed Pung and draws the fourth tile. In any case, a player must draw an extra tile from the back end of the wall, or from the dead wall, if it exists, and discard as normal. Play then continues to the right. Once a Kong is formed, it cannot be split up, i.e., to use one tile as part of a Chow, and thus, it may be advantageous not to immediately declare a Kong.
  • Sheung (上, in some versions 吃 chi, Japanese: 順子 shuntsu)—A Sheung is a meld of three suited tiles in sequence.
    For example: MJs1.pngMJs2.pngMJs3.png; MJs3.pngMJs4.pngMJs5.png; MJs7.pngMJs8.pngMJs9.png; MJt5.pngMJt6.pngMJt7.png.
    Unlike other melds, an exposed Sheung may only be declared off the discard of the player on the left. The only exception is when the player needs that tile to form a Sheung to win. In this case, a Sheung can be declared at any opponent's turn. American mahjong does not have a formal Sheung (Sheungs cannot be declared), but some hands may require that similar sequences be constructed in the hand. Some American variations may also have the knitted sequence, where the three tiles are of three different suits. Sequences of higher length are usually not permissible, unless it forms more than one meld.
  • Eye (將 jiàng, in some versions 眼 yǎn, Japanese: 対子 toitsu or 雀頭 jantō; also Pair)—The pair, while not a meld (and thus cannot be declared or formed with a discard, except if completing the pair completes the hand), is the final component to the standard hand. It consists of any two identical tiles.
    For example, this hand MJf4.pngMJf4.pngMJt5.pngMJt5.pngMJt5.pngMJs5.pngMJs5.pngMJs5.pngMJf1.pngMJf1.pngMJf1.pngMJd3.pngMJd3.pngMJd3.png uses two MJf4.png as the eyes.

American mahjongg hands may have tile constructions that are not melds, such as "NEWS" (having one of each Wind). As they are not melds, they cannot be formed off discards, and in some variations, cannot be constructed in part or in whole by Joker tiles. In the Chinese official (and several other) rulesets, there are further hands, such as Seven Pairs or Thirteen Orphans.

When two or more players call for a discarded tile, a player taking the tile to win the hand has precedence over all others, followed by Pong or Kong declarations, and lastly, Chows. In American mahjong, where it may be possible for two players needing the same tile for melds, the meld of a higher number of identical tiles takes precedence. If two or more players call for a meld of the same precedence (or to win), the player closest to the right wins out. In particular, if a call to win overrides a call to form a kong, such a move is called "robbing the Kong", and may give a scoring bonus. The game may be declared an abortive draw if two or more players call a tile for the win though, again depending on the variation.

There is generally an informal convention as to the amount of time allowed to make a call for a discarded tile before the next player takes their turn. In American mahjong, this "window of opportunity" is explicitly stated in the rules; whereas in other variants, it is generally considered that when the next player's turn starts, i.e., the tile leaves the wall, the opportunity has been lost.


Flower tiles, when dealt or drawn, must be immediately replaced by a tile from the dead wall (or if no dead wall exists, the back end of the wall). With the exception of American mahjong, they are immediately exposed, placed in view on the table on front of the player's tiles. At the start of each round, where two or more players may have Flower tiles, Flower tiles are replaced starting with the dealer and moving to the right. Flower tiles may or may not have point value; in some variations, possession of all the Flower tiles wins the round regardless of the actual contents of the hand.

In American mahjong, Flower tiles are not instantly exposed and replaced, as they may be melded with other Flower tiles in the same group (in essence, they are treated as if they were another set of honor tiles) or be used as a requirement of a winning hand. Early versions of American mahjong used Flower tiles as Joker tiles.


A feature of several variations of mahjong, most notably American variations, is the notion of some number of 🀪 Joker tiles. They may be used as a wild card: a substitute for any tile in a hand, or, in some variations, only tiles in melds. Another variation is that the Joker tile may not be used for melding. Depending on the variation, a player may replace a Joker tile that is part of an exposed meld belonging to any player with the tile it represents.

Rules governing discarding Joker tiles also exist; some variations permit the Joker tile to take on the identity of any tile, and others only permit the Joker tile to take on the identity of the previously discarded tile (or the absence of a tile, if it is the first discard).

Joker tiles may or may not have an impact on scoring, depending on the variation. Some special hands may require the use of Joker tiles (for example, to represent a "fifth tile" of a certain suited or honor tile).

In American mahjong, it is illegal to pass Jokers during the Charleston.


A player wins the round by creating a standard mahjong hand, which consists of a certain number of melds (namely, four for 13-tile variations and five for 16-tile variations) and a pair. If a player needs only one more tile to complete his winning hand and another player discards the tile he needs, he may claim it immediately, regardless of who discarded it or what part of his hand it completes.

Examples of winning hands (split into melds and pair for clarity):

  • MJf1.pngMJf1.png - MJs3.pngMJs3.pngMJs3.png - MJd3.pngMJd3.pngMJd3.png - MJd2.pngMJd2.pngMJd2.png - MJd1.pngMJd1.pngMJd1.png
  • MJt1.pngMJt2.pngMJt3.png - MJt4.pngMJt5.pngMJt6.png - MJt7.pngMJt7.pngMJt7.png - MJt8.pngMJt8.png - MJt9.pngMJt9.pngMJt9.png

In Western Classical variants, this is known as creating a mahjong, and the process of winning is called going mahjong.

Variations may have special nonstandard hands that a player can make (in this sense, American mahjong is a variant where only special hands exist).

Some variations may require that winning hands be of some point value. If a player declares victory but is discovered not to be holding a winning hand, he or she suffers a penalty of having to pay all the opposing players (called a jaa woo, or zhà hú [詐胡] in Cantonese and Mandarin, respectively, or literally translated, "fake hand"). In some versions a player needs a very demanding winning hand to win such as 5 fan Hong Kong mahjong.

Winning is called (胡) in Chinese, and agari (アガリ) or hōra (和了) in Japanese. If the player wins by drawing a tile from a wall during his turn, a special name is given to this type of win in Chinese and Japanese: zìmō (自摸) in Chinese and tsumo (自摸, ツモ) in Japanese, while when the player wins by taking a tile cast off by another player, in Japanese it is called ron (栄, ロン).

Ready hands

When a hand is one tile short of winning (for example: MJs1.pngMJs2.pngMJs3.pngMJs1.pngMJs2.pngMJs3.pngMJs2.pngMJs3.pngMJs7.pngMJs8.pngMJs9.pngMJd2.pngMJd2.png, waiting for: MJs1.png, MJs4.png, or MJd2.png, as MJs1.png can be eyes), the hand is said to be a ready hand (Traditional Chinese: 聽牌; Simplified Chinese: 听牌; Japanese: tenpai [聴牌]), or more figuratively, "on the pot". The player holding a ready hand is said to be waiting for certain tiles. It is common to be waiting for two or three tiles, and some variations award points for a hand that is waiting for one tile. In 13-tile mahjong, the largest number of tiles for which a player can wait is 13 (the thirteen wonders, or thirteen orphans, a nonstandard special hand). Ready hands must be declared in some variations of mahjong, while other variations prohibit the same.

Some variations of mahjong, most notably Japanese and Korean ones, allow a player to declare rīchi (立直; sometimes known as reach, as it is phonetically similar). A declaration of rīchi is a promise that any tile drawn by the player is immediately discarded unless it constitutes a win. Standard requirements for rīchi are that the hand be closed or have no melds declared (other than a concealed kong) and that players already have points for declaration of rīchi. A player who declares rīchi and wins usually receives a point bonus for their hand directly, and a player who won with rīchi also has the advantage to open the inner dora (ドラ, from "dra"gon) which leads to higher possibilities to match such a card, thus has more chance to grant additional bonus. However, a player who declares rīchi and loses is usually penalized in some fashion. Declaring a nonexistent rīchi is also penalized in some way.

In some variations, a situation in which all four players declare a rīchi is an automatic drawn game, as it reduces the game down to pure luck, i.e., who gets their needed tile first.


If only the dead wall remains (or if no dead wall exists and the wall is depleted) and no one has won, the round is drawn (流局 liú jú, 黃莊 huáng zhuāng, Japanese ryūkyoku), or "goulashed". A new round begins, and depending on the variant, the Game Wind may change. For example, in most playing circles in Singapore, if there is at least one Kong when the round is a draw, the following player of the dealer becomes the next dealer; otherwise, the dealer remains dealer.

Japanese mahjong has a special rule called sanchahō (三家和), which is, if three players claim the same discard in order to win, the round is drawn. One reason for this is that there are cases in which bars of 1,000 points for declaring rīchi cannot be divided by three. The rule is treated the same as "abortive draws".

Abortive draws

In Japanese mahjong, rules allow abortive draws to be declared while tiles are still available. They can be declared under the following conditions:

  • 九種么九牌倒牌 (kyūshu yaochūhai tōhai): On a player's first turn when no meld has been declared yet, if a player has nine different terminal or honor tiles, the player may declare the round to be drawn (for example, MJt1.pngMJt4.pngMJt5.pngMJt9.pngMJs1.pngMJs4.pngMJs6.pngMJs9.pngMJw1.pngMJf1.pngMJf3.pngMJd1.pngMJd1.pngMJd3.png, but could also go for the nonstandard thirteen wonders hand as well).
  • 四風子連打 (sūfontsu renda): On the first turn without any meld declarations, if all four players discard the same Wind tile, the round is drawn.
  • 四家立直 (sūcha rīchi): If all four players declare rīchi, the round is drawn.
  • 四槓算了 (sūkan sanra): The round is drawn when the fourth Kong is declared, unless all four Kongs were declared by a single player. Still, the round is drawn when another player declares a fifth Kong.

Turns and rounds

If the dealer wins the game, he will remain the dealer. Otherwise, the player to the right becomes dealer, and that player's Wind becomes the Game Wind, in the sequence East-South-West-North.

After the Wind returns to East (i.e., each player has been the dealer), a round is complete and the Prevailing Wind will change, again in the sequence East-South-West-North. A full game of mahjong ends after when the North Prevailing Wind round is over. It is often regarded as an unlucky act to stop the gameplay at the West round, as the Chinese word for West (西) has a similar sound to the word for death (死).

However, the Japanese variation differs in that the game starts on the East round, where a special table Wind is assigned to all games in that round. The dealer is also always considered East seat, so when the dealership passes to the next player, it reassigns all the seat Winds to the next player, although nobody actually moves around. After every player has been East at least once, the East round is over and the South round begins. Play usually ends after the South round; however, if none of the players has more than a certain amount, usually 30,000, then play will continue to the West, and possibly even to the North round.

The Korean variation is similar to the Japanese one, though east paying double is optional. In some three player versions (three player versions not being frowned upon in Korea) two North tiles are removed, meaning it can only be used as a pair. This leaves three rounds of three games. This is often doubled to last 18 games, which can be played surprisingly fast in a three player game.


Scoring in mahjong involves points, with a monetary value for points agreed upon by players. Although in many variations scoreless hands are possible, many require that hands be of some point value in order to win the round.

While the basic gameplay is more or less the same throughout mahjong, the greatest divergence between variations lies in the scoring systems. Like the gameplay, there is a generalized system of scoring, based on the method of winning and the winning hand, from which Chinese and Japanese (among notable systems) base their roots. American mahjong generally has greatly divergent scoring rules, as well as greatly divergent gameplay rules.

Because of the large differences between the various systems of scoring (especially for Chinese variants), groups of players will often agree on particular scoring rules before a game. As with gameplay, many attempts have been made to create an international standard of scoring, but most are not widely accepted.

Points (terminology of which differs from variation to variation) are obtained by matching the winning hand and the winning condition with a specific set of criteria, with different criteria scoring different values. Some of these criteria may be subsets of other criteria (for example, having a meld of one Dragon versus having a meld of all of them), and in these cases, only the most general criterion is scored. The points obtained may be translated into scores for each player using some (typically exponential) functions. When gambling with mahjong, these scores are typically directly translated into sums of money. Some criteria may be also in terms of both points and score.

Mahjong in Unicode

The Unicode range for mahjong is U+1F000 .. U+1F02F. Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points.

Mahjong Tiles chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+1f00x 🀀 🀁 🀂 🀃 🀄 🀅 🀆 🀇 🀈 🀉 🀊 🀋 🀌 🀍 🀎 🀏
U+1f01x 🀐 🀑 🀒 🀓 🀔 🀕 🀖 🀗 🀘 🀙 🀚 🀛 🀜 🀝 🀞 🀟
U+1f02x 🀠 🀡 🀢 🀣 🀤 🀥 🀦 🀧 🀨 🀩 🀪 🀫        

See also

This article contains Chinese text. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Chinese characters.


  1. ^ Butler, Jonathan. The Tiles of Mah Jong. 1996.
  2. ^ Yèzí in Ming Dynasty Chinese only
  3. ^ Carlisle, Rodney P. (2009). Encyclopedia of Play in Today's Society. SAGE. p. 133. ISBN 9781412966702. 
  4. ^ "转发公安部关于废止部分规范性文件的通知". Guangdong Provincial Public Security Department. Retrieved 25 October 2009. 
  5. ^ a b [1], A&F Careers, History, "1920"
  6. ^ Bill Bryson, Made in America. Harper, 1996, ch. 16.
  7. ^ Eddie Cantor and his mahjong song
  8. ^ Why do so many Jewish women play mah jongg?
  9. ^ unreliable source?] Why are so many players of American mah-jongg Jewish?
  10. ^ Pakarnian, John, "Game Boy: Glossary of Japanese Gambling Games", Metropolis, January 22, 2010, p. 15.
  11. ^ Schodt, Frederik, Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics. Kodansha, 1986, Chapter 5
  12. ^ Richard SK Chang, Raymond TF Cheung, SL Ho, and Windsor Mak (2007), "Mah-jong–induced seizures: case reports and review of twenty-three patients", Hong Kong Med J 13 (4): 314–318, 
  13. ^ Vaudine England (4 August 2007), Mahjong game can induce epileptic seizures, BBC News
  14. ^ An exploratory study of the effect of mahjong on the cognitive functioning of persons with dementia
  15. ^ National Mahjjong League
  16. ^ Amja
  17. ^ Mahjong News
  18. ^ Mahjong News
  19. ^ Mahjong News
  20. ^ "World Series of mahjong". 

Further reading

Chinese classical
  • Babcock, Joseph Park, Babcock's Rules for Mah-jongg. Mah-jongg Sales Company of America: 1923.
  • Babcock, Smith, Hartman, Work, and Foster, The American Code Of Laws For Mah-Jongg. Standardization Committee: 1924.
  • Millington, A.D., Complete Book of Mah Jong. Weidenfeld & Nicolson: 1993. ISBN 0-297-81340-4.
Chinese official
  • Competition mahjong Official International Rulebook. Takeshobo: 2002. ISBN 4-8124-0944-6.
  • Handbook for the Competitions of the Chinese MaJiang. Organizing Committee of Chinese MaJiang: 2005.
  • Hatsune, Mai and Takunori Kajimoto, translation by Ryan Morris World-Class mahjong with World Champion Mai Hatsune: 2005.
  • Pritchard, David B.,The New mahjong. Right Way: 2004. ISBN 0-7160-2164-1.
  • Lo, Amy. The Book of Mah jong: An Illustrated Guide. Tuttle Publishing: 2001. ISBN 0-8048-3302-8.
  • Oxfeld, Ellen, Blood, Sweat, and Mahjong: Family and Enterprise in an Overseas Chinese Community. Cornell University Press: 1993. ISBN 0-8014-9908-9.
  • Pritchard, David B.,Teach Yourself mahjong. McGraw-Hill/Contemporary: 2001. ISBN 0-658-02147-8.
  • Sloper, Tom., Mah-Jongg: Game of the Orient. Self-published: n.d.
  • Wright Patterson Mah Jongg Group, Mah Jongg; Wright-Patterson Rules. Wright Patterson Mah Jongg Group: 1963.

External links

Simple English

[[File:|thumb|250px|Basic equipment: chips, tiles and dice.]] Mahjong is a game for four players that was created in China. It is a game of skill, intelligence, calculation and luck.

The Set-Up

A Mahjong game is played at a square table (four sides all the same length). The dealer is called the "east" player and everyone else is called a different direction because of where they are sitting - so the person to East's left is South, the person across from East is West, and the person to East's right is North. If East wins, he is the dealer again for the next round; if he does not, the dealer is the person to his right (North). That person then becomes East. A game of Mahjong ends when every player has been the dealer four times, or when they have played the number of rounds they said they would play before they started.

The Rules

See Mahjong.


A single-player version of this game exists, called Mahjong Solitaire. It is based on the four-player game, but can be played by one person, so it is one of the games that are played often on computers (such as Solitaire, Spider Solitaire, or Minesweeper. Mahjong Solitaire is much simpler than four-player Mahjong: it is played without dice or chips, by removing tiles (set up in the shape of a pyramid) from the board in sets of two. Each set of two has to match - they are either exactly the same, or go together (two "flowers" tiles, for example). A Mahjong Solitaire player wins when he picks up all the tiles, or he loses when he runs out of sets of two that he can pick up.

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