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Archive for March, 2007

Mahjong Game Equipment

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

Describes the pieces of equipment required to play Mahjong


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). Playing cards are often used when travelling as it reduces space and is lighter than their tile counterparts.

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.

Mahjong Game Pieces

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). One of the racks will be different from the rest, to denote the dealer’s rack.

The set of Mahjong tiles used differs from place to place. There are usually at least 136 tiles, most commonly 144. Sets originating from America or Japan have more. Within the set there are a number of different types of tiles.

Types of Mahjong Tiles

  • Circle suit: named as each tile consists of a number of circles. Each circle is said to represent copper (tong) coins with a square hole in the middle.
  • Bamboo suit: named as each tile (except the 1 Bamboo) consists of a number of bamboo sticks. Each stick is said to represent a string (suo) that holds a hundred coins.
  • Character suit: named as each tile represents ten thousand (wan) coins, or one hundred strings of one hundred coins.
  • Wind tiles: East, South, West, and North.
  • Dragon tiles: red, green, and white. 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 means you pass the examination and thus will be appointed a government official. The green tile means, consequently you will become financially well off. The white tile (a clean board) means since you are now doing well you should act like a good, incorrupt official.
  • Flower tiles: typically optional components to a set of mahjong tiles, often contain artwork on their tiles. 


This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material adapted from the Wikipedia article "Mahjong".
[tags] mahjong, mahjongg, mah jong, mah jongg, mahjong tiles, mahjong tile sets, mahjong board, mahjong rack [/tags]

Principal Mahjong Game Variants

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

There are many variations of the game of Mahjong. Here we give a very brief overview of the main variants currently in play across the world.

The main varieties of Mahjong are as follows:

  • Chinese Classical Mahjong – this is the oldest version 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 nowadays.
  • Hong Kong Mahjong or Cantonese Mahjong  – this is now the most common form of Mahjong, differing in fairly minor scoring details from the Chinese Classical variety.
  • Japanese Mahjong – this is a standardized form of Mahjong in Japan. In addition to scoring changes, the rules of riichi and dora are unique features of Japanese Mahjong.
  • Western Classical Mahjong – this is a descendant of the version of Mahjong introduced by Babcock to America in the 1920s. Today, Western Classical is largely based on the Wright-Patterson rules, used in the U.S. military, and other variants of Babcock’s rules.
  • American Mahjong – this is the form of Mahjong standardized by the National Mah Jongg League and the American Mah-Jongg Association. This version has the greatest divergence from traditional Mahjong. It uses Joker tiles, the Charleston rule, 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 from Mahjong. 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).

Other variants include

  • Fujian Mahjong – played with Dadi Joker
  • Taiwanese Mahjong – with 16 tiles for each player
  • Vietnamese Mahjong – with 16 different kinds of joker
  • Filipino Mahjong – with the Window Joker
  • Pussers Bones – 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.



This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material adapted from the Wikipedia article "Mahjong".
[tags] mahjong, mahjongg, mah jong, mah jongg, mahjong tiles, mahjong solitaire, mahjong tile sets, china [/tags]

Setting Up a Mahjong Game Board

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

These are the steps for setting up a standard Hong Kong (or Singapore) Mahjong game board.

Setting the Prevailing Wind and Game Wind

To determine the Player Game Wind, each player throws three dice (two in some variants) and the player with the highest total is chosen as the dealer or the banker. The dealer’s Wind is now 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. Game Wind changes after every round, unless the dealer wins.

In some variations, the longer the dealer remains as the dealer, the higher the value of each hand.

The Prevailing Wind 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.

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 Mahjong Tiles

All tiles are placed face down and shuffled. 

The dealing process that follows is ritualized and complex to prevent cheating. (But casual players, or players with Mahjong playing cards, may wish to simply shuffle well and deal out the tiles with fewer ceremonial procedures.)


Process of dealing

Each player stacks a row of tiles two deep in front of him, the length of the row depending on the number of tiles in use:

  • 136 tiles: 17 tiles for all players
  • 144 tiles: 18 tiles for all players
  • 148 tiles: 19 tiles for dealer and player opposite, 18 for rest
  • 152 tiles: 19 tiles for all players

The dealer then 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 4 tiles to the left of the divide.

The player to the dealer’s right takes 4 tiles to the left, and players (counterclockwise) take blocks of 4 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 their 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, 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, the dealer then discards a tile.



In the American variations, it is required that before each hand begins, a Charleston is enacted. This consists of a procedure where three tiles are passed to the player on one’s right, followed by three tiles passed to the player opposite, followed by three tiles passed to the left.

The dealer can demand for a second Charleston, followed by an optional pass to the player across of one, two or three tiles. This is a distinctive feature of American-style Mahjong that may have been borrowed from card games.


The Mahjong Game Play can now begin! 


This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material adapted from the Wikipedia article "Mahjong".
[tags] mahjong, mahjongg, mah jong, mah jongg, mahjong tiles, play mahjong, mahjong rules, mahjong game [/tags]


History and Development of Mahjong

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

A brief summary of the history of the game of Mahjong.


Did Confucious Invent Mahjong?

One of the myths regarding the origin of Mahjong suggests that Confucius, the great Chinese philosopher, developed the game about 500 BC. According to this myth, the appearance of the game in various Chinese provinces coincides with Confucius’ travels at the time he was teaching his new doctrines. The three dragon (Cardinal) tiles are said to coincide with the three Cardinal virtues bequeathed by Confucius; the Red dragon for Benevolence, the Green for Sincerity, and the white Filial Piety. Also, the myth has it that Confucius was fond of birds, which would explain the name "Mahjong" (sparrow). 

However, there is little or no evidence of Mahjong’s existence prior to the Taiping era, which effectively eliminates Confucius as a likely inventor.

Was Mahjong Originally a Card Game?

Another theory implies the game was developed from existing Chinese card and domino games, sometime around 1850. Some historians believe it was based on a Chinese card game Madiao, dating back to the early Ming dynasty. This game was played with 40 paper cards. These forty cards, numbered 1 to 9 in four different suits along with four extra flower cards, are quite similar to the numbering of Mahjong tiles today.

There is great debate about to whom the creation of the game should be attributed. One theory is that Chinese army officers serving during the Tai Ping Rebellion created the game to pass the time. Another theory is that a noble living in the Shanghai area created the game between 1870 and 1875. Others believe that two brothers created Mahjong around 1850 in the city of Ningpo from the earlier game of Madiao.

Banning of Mahjong in China

Mahjong was banned in China in 1949, when the People’s Republic of China was founded. The new Communist government forbade any gambling activities, which were regarded as symbols of capitalist corruption.

After the Cultural Revolution, the game was revived, and once again Mahjong became one of the favorite pastimes of the Chinese people.

Mahjong in the western world

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.

1920s – Mahjong Fad in America

The game was imported from China to America in the 1920s and became a sensation, especially amongst women. Mahjong Nights were popular, with players decorating rooms in Chinese style and dressing in Chinese costume. Several hit songs were recorded during the mahjong fad, most notably "Since Ma is Playing Mah Jong" by Eddie Cantor.
An important English writing from the time was Joseph Park Babcock’s "Rules of Mah-Jongg", which, simplified in 1920, was simply known as the "red book". This version of the rules was widely adopted in America and took on a number of trademarked names, such as Pung Chow or the Game of Thousand Intelligences. Many of Babcock’s simplifications were abandoned when the 1920s fad died out.

1930s – National Mah Jongg League

By the 1930s, many revisions of the rules had developed that were substantially different from Babcock’s classical version. Standardization came eventually with the formation of the National Mah Jongg League 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 racial backgrounds during the Babcock era, many consider the modern American version a Jewish game as many American mahjong players are of Jewish descent. Also, the NMJL was founded by Jewish players and at the time considered a Jewish organization.

1970s – New Versions of Mahjong

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.

Current developments

Today, the popularity and demographic of players of Mahjong differs greatly from country to country. There are also many governing bodies, which often host exhibition games and tournaments.

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. In addition, Japanese video arcades have introduced Mahjong arcade machines that can be connected to others over the internet, as well as video games that allow a victorious player to view pictures of women in varying stages of undress.

Recent Mahjong Developments in China 

Mahjong culture is deeply ingrained in the Chinese community, family life and popular culture.

In 1998 the China State Sports Commission, in the interest of changing mahjong from an illegal gambling game to an approved ‘healthy sport’, with the principles of no gambling, no drinking and no smoking.

They published a new set of rules, now generally referred to as Chinese Official rules or International Tournament rules.

Mahjong International Tournament Rules

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 1 point) may not be added until the player has scored 8 points. The winner of a game receives the score from the player who discard 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 used in an international tournament first 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, the town where it is believed mahjong most likely originated. One hundred players participated, mainly from Japan and China, but also from Europe and the United States. Miss 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, in the Netherlands, the first Open European Mahjong Championship was held, with 108 players. The first prize was won by Masato Chiba from Japan. The second European championship is in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2007.

Critics say that these new rules are unlikely to achieve great popularity outside of tournaments. They argue that regional versions are too well-entrenched, while the international rules use many unfamiliar patterns. The new mahjong’s advocates claim that it meant to be a standard for international events, not to replace existing variations. 


This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material adapted from the Wikipedia article "Mahjong".
[tags] mahjong, mahjongg, mah jong, mah jongg, mahjong rules, mahjong history, chinese mahjong, mahjong tournament [/tags]


Mahjong Game Play

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

An overview of Mahjong game rules and explanations of key terminology.


To start the game, depending on the version of Mahjong being played, each player is dealt either 13 or 16 tiles.

A ‘turn’ in Mahjong involves a player 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. As a form of courtesy, each player is encouraged to announce loudly the name of the tile being discarded. Many variations require that discarded tiles be placed in an orderly fashion in front of the player, while some require that these be placed face down.

During gameplay, the number of tiles maintained by each player should always be the same, ie. 13 or 16. 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 less), but he or she is obliged to continue until someone else wins.

When three players ditch the West tile, the fourth player will usually avoid discarding another West the following turn. That is caused by a superstition that, when all the players discard a West together, all players will die or be cursed with bad luck! Also, during the West Prevailing Wind Round, players will also avoid ditching the One Circle during the first move because One Circle in Chinese sounds like together.

Flower tiles

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. 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; and in some variations, possession of all the flower tiles wins the round regardless of the actual contents of the hand.

In American Mahjong, however, 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.

Joker tiles

A feature of several variations, most notably American variations of Mahjong, is the notion of wild card or Joker tiles. They may be used as a substitute for any tile in a hand (or, in some variations, only tiles in melds). 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.


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 or her 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 causes the discarding player to lose points (or pay the winner more in a game for money).

Most variants (again, 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 the meld to be declared and place the meld face-up. 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

A pong or pung is a set of three identical tiles. 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 three different suits.


A kong is a set of four identical tiles. 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. If all four tiles were formed in the hand, it is said to be a concealed Kong. 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 (say, if you wanted to instead use one tile as part of a Chow), and thus, it may be advantageous not to immediately declare a Kong.


A chow is a meld of three suited tiles in sequence. Unlike other melds, an exposed Chow 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 chow to win. In this case, a chow can be declared at any 3 opponents’ turns. American Mahjong does not have a formal chow (that is, you cannot declare chows), 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).


The pair, while not a meld (and thus, cannot be declared or formed with a discard), is the final component to the standard hand. It consists of any two identical tiles.

Note that American mahjong 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.

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 (but the game may be declared an abortive draw if two or more players call a tile for the win, again depending on the variation). 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.

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.

Ready hands

When a hand is one tile short of winning, the hand is said to be a ready hand, 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 most amount of tiles that you can wait for is 13 (the thirteen terminals , a nonstandard special hand).

Some variations of Mahjong, most notably Japanese variations, allow a player to declare riichi (sometimes known as reach as it is phonetically similar). A declaration of riichi is a promise that any tile drawn by the player is immediately discarded unless it constitutes a win. A player who declares riichi and wins usually receives a point bonus for their hand, while a player who declares riichi and loses is usually penalized in some fashion. When four players declare a riichi, the game is a draw. Declaring a nonexistent riichi is penalized.


If only the dead wall remains and no one has won, the round is drawn or "goulashed". A new round begins, and depending on the variant, game wind may change. For example, in most playing circles in Singapore, if there is at least one Kong in the round by any player, the following player becomes the dealer for the next round. If there is no Kong, then the existing dealer remains as the dealer for the next round.

Abortive draws

In Japanese Mahjong, abortive draws (draws where the game is declared drawn while tiles are available) are possible. They can be declared under the following conditions:

If, on a player’s first turn, and with no melds declared, a player has nine different terminal or honor tiles, the player may declare the round to be drawn (for example: ; but could also go for the nonstandard thirteen terminals hand as well).

If three players claim the same discard in order to win the round, the round is drawn.

If, on the first turn without any meld declarations, all four players discard the same wind tile, the hand is drawn.

If all four players declare riichi , the round is drawn.

The round is drawn when the fourth kong is declared, unless all four kongs were declared by a single player. In this case, the round is drawn when another player declares a kong.

Winning Mahjong

A player wins the round by creating a standard mahjong hand, (in Western Classical variants, this is known as creating a Mahjong, and the process of winning is called going Mahjong ) which consists of a certain number of melds, four for 13-tile variations and five for 16-tile variations, and a pair. Some variations may also require that winning hands be of some point value. Variations may also have special nonstandard hands that a player can make (in this sense, American Mahjong is a variant where only special hands exist).

Turns and rounds in Mahjong

If the dealer wins the game, they will stay as the dealer. Otherwise, the player to the right becomes dealer and the player’s wind becomes the Game Wind, in the sequence East-South-West-North.

After the wind returns to East (ie. 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 4 rounds, ie. 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 West has a similar sound to death in Chinese.


This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material adapted from the Wikipedia article "Mahjong".

[tags] mahjong, mahjongg, mah jong, mah jongg, mahjong tiles, mahjong rules, mahjong game [/tags] 

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