Mahjong is played with rectangular tiles instead
of a deck of cards. Since the main object of the
game is to assemble a hand of certain tiles, let's
look at the different kinds of tiles you'll find.
They're called the Characters, the Sticks, the
Balls, the Winds, the Dragons, and the Red and
THE CHARACTER TILES...
This suit is referred to in English as the
Characters. The symbol in red signifies ten
thousand, implying prosperity. The symbols in
blue are the numbers One through Nine. There
are four of each. I have marked them with
Arabic numbers so that you won't have to learn
to recognize the Chinese numbers.
The second numerical suit is the bamboo Sticks.
There are four of each. Hey, there's a bird on the
number One Stick! It's easy to figure out the value
of the other tiles. Just count the twigs.
The third and last numerical suit is the Balls.
Some people like to call these the Circles or Dots.
It's very easy to recognize the value of each tile
just by counting the spots. There are four of each
of these tiles.
The object of the game is to arrange the tiles into
"sets". Each player starts off with 13 tiles. With
each turn you get to pick up a 14th tile, and then
discard one from your hand. If you are the first
player to collect 4 "sets" of three tiles plus a
single pair of tiles, you win the hand. The types
of tiles you've collected determine how many chips
the other players have to pay you.
Next I'll describe the three types of "sets" -
Chow, Pong, and Kong.
One type of "set" you can put together is called
a Chow. This means a group of tiles (Characters,
Sticks, or Balls) like the 3-4-5 of Sticks or 6-7-8
of Balls. Shown above is a Chow of the 1-2-3 of Balls.
You can make a Chow from the fresh tiles you'll be
picking up with each turn or from a tile discarded by
the player on your Left IF (and only if) you are
already holding 2 of the 3 needed tiles. Example -
You are holding a 7 Balls and an 8 Balls. You may
Chow the 6 or 9 Balls thrown by the player on your
A second type of "set" is called a Pong. This means
a group of three identical tiles of any suit. Shown
above is a Pong made up of the 5 Sticks. You can
make a Pong from the fresh tiles you pick up, or
from a tile discarded by ANY other player IF (and
only if) you are already holding 2 of the 3 needed
tiles. Example - You are holding a pair of the 9
Characters. You may Pong a 9 Character thrown
by any other player.
The last type of "set" is called a Kong. This means
a group of all 4 identical tiles of any suit. Shown
above is a Kong made up of the 5 of Characters. You
can make a Kong from the fresh tiles you pick up or
from a tile discarded by any other player IF (and
only if) you are already holding 3 of the 4 needed
tiles. This "set" still counts as if it were only 3
tiles. Its purpose is to create a simple way of
making use of a 4th matching tile rather than
forcing a player to discard it.
These are the four Winds: East, South, West, and
North. There are four of each, and having a Pong or
Kong of a Wind MAY add points to your hand. (More
on this later...). I've marked them so that they
are easy to recognize and I'll always put two images
in the lower right corner to inform you of your
extra point Winds for a particular hand.
These are the Dragons: White, Green, and Red. There
are four of each, and each Pong or Kong of a Dragon
WILL add points to your hand. I've marked them so
that you can distinguish them from the Winds.
A game consists of 4 rounds: the East round, the
South, the West, and the North. Within a round, each
player's seat is designated as the East seat, then
the South seat, etc., as each hand is played, except
that the Winds don't rotate if the player whose seat
is East is the winner or if no one wins (dead hand).
A complete game, then, is four rounds of four Winds
each. This will be a minimum of 16 hands, and often
many more. Remember this for later - The order of
the Winds is East(1), South(2), West(3), and North(4).
For every hand that you play, a Pong or Kong of the
Wind tile that matches your SEAT will give you 1 extra
point if you win. The same is true if you have a Pong
or Kong of the Wind tile for that ROUND. Watch the
bottom-right corner, and try to collect Winds that
match those images.
There will be four occasions during a game where
the Round Wind and your Seat Wind will match. For
example, at some point your Seat will be East in
the East Round. A Pong or Kong of the East Wind
would then be TWO extra points.
These are the Red and Blue Flowers. There is only one
of each. When you pick one up, it is automatically
set aside and replaced by a regular tile. When the
hand is over, the winner gets one point if they have
NO flowers at all, or one point for any flower whose
value matches their Seat. For example, the South
player hopes to get the '2' flowers. All 4 of the
red-numbered or all 4 of the blue-numbered flowers
are an additional point.
TO HELP YOU WITH THE FLOWERS...
For example, if your Seat happens to be North, you
would get a point for each '4' Flower you picked up.
As above, Flowers that have value for a player are
always marked with a different color on the edge of
the tile. This will be very helpful to you, because
Flower points often make a crucial difference in the
value of your hand.
Remember - having NO Flowers at all is worth 1 point.
AND ONE MORE THING...
When Flowers are set aside and replaced with another
tile from the Wall, that tile is taken from the OTHER
end of the Wall.
The same is true if you have made a Kong (set of 4
tiles) and need to pick up a new tile to re-balance
Play goes counter-clockwise around the table unless
a tile is thrown which someone can claim as a Pong or
Kong. In that case, the turn jumps to their position.
When it's your turn, you must decide which tile you
want to discard, and the hand continues.
For all players, those tiles Chowed, Ponged, or Konged
are laid out for all players to see. Tiles picked up
fresh during your regular turn are kept discreetly
hidden from others.
A claim to Win has priority over Pong and Kong. A claim
to Pong or Kong has priority over Chow. Sometimes you
may claim a tile (like for a Chow) and have it snatched
away from you by a higher priority claim.
Also, sometimes more than one player is waiting to Win
on the same tile. If that tile gets thrown, then the
first claiming player to the right of the thrower wins.
For example, if South throws a tile that would let both
West and North complete their hand, then West is the
These are ordinary dice, and they are used to
determine where to start taking tiles from the Wall.
All three are thrown together onto the table between
the rows of tiles. The total ranges from 3 to 18.
The thrower (East) counts counter-clockwise around
the table, from their position (1) to the position
indicated by the dice total. For example, if you are
East, then your row of the Wall would be the starting
point for totals of 5, 9, 13, or 17. A total of 6,
for example, would be the row to your right. When
the row is determined, East counts from the end of
that row by the same number of stacks of tiles, and
starts from there.
This is the Mahjong table from above.
The Walls are the tiles stacked in two
layers, eighteen stacks to a side. The
dice, thrown by the East player,
determine where to start taking tiles.
This makes "planting rice" (loading
the Wall) impossible. After everyone
has taken turns getting their first
thirteen tiles, and replacements for
any Flowers they pick up, play begins.
The dice are stored below East's name.
The dice will move around the table,
but a triangle will stay in place as a
reminder of where the game began.
To win, keep your eye on what's been thrown and
what's been exposed by your opponents. Don't be
waiting to win on tiles that are already gone!
Though the element of luck is great, the long-term
winnings go to the player who pays attention and
makes good choices on what to keep and what to
throw. You must balance your desire to put together
a high-paying hand with the need to "go out" (win)
before the other players.
A hand which is merely complete is scored at 0
extra points. If a hand contains 4 Chows, 1 extra
point is given. If a hand contains 4 Pongs and/or
Kongs, 3 extra points. If the winning tile is picked
up fresh (not a discard), 1 point. If there are 1
or 2 Dragon Pongs (or Kongs), 1 point each. Two
Dragon Pongs and a Pair of the other Dragon,
4 points. All three Dragon Pongs is 6 points extra.
Pongs/Kongs of Winds matching the Round or Seat,
1 point. No Flowers, 1 point. Flowers that match
the Seat value, 1 point each. All four Red Flowers
or Blue Flowers, 1 point more.
A hand which has tiles from only one of the regular
suits (Characters, Sticks, Balls) with the rest Winds
and/or Dragons is Semi-Pure, 3 extra points. If all
the tiles are from one suit, the hand is Pure, 6 extra
This hand is Semi-Pure.
In addition, a hand which has nothing but Winds and
Dragons is 7 extra points.
Whenever you make a Kong, always pick up a fresh
tile to even out your hand. If that tile causes you
to win, you will get 1 point for Self-Pick plus a 1
Finally, there are the following SPECIAL HANDS -
Scores are adjusted over a 3 band range. Less than 4
points pays you 1, 2, 4, or 8 chips from each opponent,
double from the one who threw the "waiting" tile or
double from all on a Self-Pick. Four or more points
is 16 or 32. Over 6 points, double again. Over 9 points,
double again. Maximum hand is 128 chips.
4, 5, or 6 points is called a FULL HOUSE.
7, 8, or 9 points is called DOUBLE FULL HOUSE.
10 points or more is called TRIPLE FULL HOUSE.
See the following chart...
Chips are paid according to the following scheme:
points if by someone's discard if by self-pick
------ ---------------------- ---------------
0 1+1+2=4 - -
1 2+2+4=8 4+4+4=12
2 4+4+8=16 8+8+8=24
3 8+8+16=32 16+16+16=48
4, 5, 6 16+16+32=64 32+32+32=96
7, 8, 9 32+32+64=128 64+64+64=192
10 or more 64+64+128=256 128+128+128=384
NINE PIECES PENALTY...
If any of the other players has 3 sets of one suit
showing, a warning will appear to remind you -
If you throw a tile of the same suit, and it causes
them to win, and their hand is Pure, you must pay for
everyone. This will amount to 64, 128, or 256 chips!!!
If you throw a tile that causes a player to have 12
pieces of the same suit revealed, and that player then
picks up the winning tile, and their hand is Pure, you
must pay for everyone. This will amount to 192 or 384
chips!!! This is where Mahjong really becomes a game
There are certain rules that you and your opponents
might decide on at the beginning of each session.
Minimum Hand is one of these. A mahjong hand can be
complete but not worth any extra points. This is known
as a "chicken hand".
At the begining of the game you will choose your
opponents and you will choose to play for 0, 1, 2, or
3 points as a minimum. This means that you will have
to have 1 or more Flower points, Dragon Pongs, or
something else of value; otherwise you cannot win.
One of the other choices is the 'False Declaration'
penalty; it's the ultimate rebuke - if you wrongly
declare that you've won, the hand ends and you must
pay 128 chips to each opponent!
FIFTH TILE PENALTY...
This is another rule that you and your opponents
might decide on at the beginning of a session.
Beginners concentrate on making a complete hand so
that they can win something. EXPERTS KNOW THAT IT'S
IMPORTANT TO PREVENT OTHERS FROM WINNING.
This often requires destroying your hand by throwing
the least risky tile, especially late in the hand.
Keep your eye on the Wall. When there are only a few
tiles to go, do not throw tiles that are the same suit
as an opponent's revealed tiles, and do not throw tiles
that have not yet been thrown by anyone.
If there are less than five tiles in the Wall, and you
throw a tile not yet seen, and someone claims it to
Win, you will pay for everyone!