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What is mahjong and how to play mahjong


how to play mahjong

Characteristics and objective

In order to understand what Mahjong is and be able to play, we must first think that a set of Mahjong is for Asians as a deck of cards for Europeans and Americans. What’s more, it would be like 4 decks, since in a Mahjong set there are 4 copies of each tile:


In this section we will try to explain the general aspects of the game that are used in the different modalities that exist. As we have seen in the section History, as the game expanded by new countries, its rules were adapted with typical aspects of the games of the place. So, let’s look at the chips; its meaning; The mechanics of the game; And other peculiarities, but without entering into the different types of norms that each modality has. This can be seen in the Rules section.

Due to the Chinese origin of Mahjong, the game has a first barrier that gives complexity to it since the design of the chips and the terminology applied are totally new to us. Having overcome this initial barrier, we can assure that it is a great game and very addictive.

To begin with, we have to say that Mahjong is a four-player game, although it is also possible to play it in three, in a special version of the Japanese rules (also called Riichi).

Now let’s start getting into the game.


In Mahjong there are 4 suits, as in a deck of cards. The difference is that there are 3 sticks equal to ours with chips from 1 to 9, and a “strange” stick as it is composed of Kanjies or also called Honors tiles (Kanjies or Honors tiles are Chinese letters or drawings that Have their own meaning). The characteristics of this suit is that there are 7 tokens instead of 9, and that the tokens are not numbered, so only trios, not stairs, can be made. Kanjies are divided between 3 dragons and 4 winds.

We see it below:

The Ball of Balls

Stick balls

The bamboo stick


The stick


The Three Dragons (White – Green – Red)


The Four Winds (East – South – West – North)


Flowers and Seasons


Composition of the Chips

The Mahjong consists of 144 chips:

  • 9 × 4 Balls stick (also called Circles, Balls, Dots, Coins or Plates)
  • 9 × 4 Bamboo Stick Tokens
  • 9 × 4 Character Chips (also called Numbers or Figures)
  • 4 × 4 Wind Records (East, South, West and North)
  • 3 × 4 Dragons Chips (Red Dragon, White Dragon and Green Dragon)
  • 4 cards of Flowers
  • 4 Stats tabs

The tokens of the three sticks (Discs, Bamboos and Characters) are numbered from one to nine; As for the winds, there are four: North, South, East and West; In addition, there are three dragons: Red, White and Green.

All this makes a total of (9 x 3) + 4 + 3 = 34 different tokens, which are repeated 4 times. Adding the 4 Flowers and the 4 Stations we get (34 x 4) + 4 + 4 = 144 tokens.

In addition, the winds and the dragons are called Honors . The ones and nines of each suit are called Terminals . The remaining chips, from 2 to 8 of each suit, are also called Simple .

Flowers and Seasons give extra points and are not used in all versions of the game.

Equipment needed

In order to play Mahjong the only essential element is the chips. Apart from the tiles, there are a number of elements that usually come in the Mahjong set and will facilitate the development of the game. For example it is advisable to have music stands to place the chips (one for each player); A set of tokens to account for points (can serve those used for poker, or any other game); A square table preferably; Of the data; And a Wind marker , to display at each moment the round being played.

Player draw

To start the game the seats are drawn, and each player occupies the wind that has touched him. In tournaments normally what is done is to turn the 4 wind tiles and the players in order are choosing a token and thus the seats are assigned. Anyway, any way to get around them is valid.

After this draw the player who has touched the East will start the game.

It is necessary to take into account that the winds are ordered inverted with respect to the terrestrial map, with what the south and the north are inverted as can be seen in the following image:


Number of matches and rounds

We will call “game” to each of the episodes in which they move and deal the chips, and that ends either when a player wins by doing Mahjong or when they finish the tiles of the wall and declare a tie (Wash out). Each game has two winds that affect it, the “dominant wind” (or “wind of the round”) and the “own wind” (or “seat wind”). The first game has a dominant wind east. It is called “own wind” to the wind that corresponds to each player according to the site that occupies with relation to the east. The dominant wind is changed every four games (One round). Following the east wind round, the South round would start, and so on.

Getting a combination with the dominant wind or with your own wind is important to calculate the score (later on you will see how). When in a game the dominant wind and wind themselves coincide for a player, the wind is said to be “double wind”, which is a very favorable circumstance; In the first round, for the player East, the East is double wind and gives two points to the play.

We will call “game” to the set of the four rounds. By now we know that a game has four rounds, and each round has at least four games, so a game has a minimum of sixteen games (This may vary according to the rules played).

Before starting to play a game of Mahjong you must remember the number of rounds that are going to play or the time that will last the game. Usually 2 or 4 rounds are agreed, and if established by time, 90 or 120 minutes.

As for duration, a game can be very fast, or not so much. Theoretically, it could happen that one of the players won with the chips that are dealt to him (although the probability is minimal), but the usual thing is to take about 15 or 20 minutes in each game. So the most normal thing is that a game of 8 rounds lasts approximately 2 or 3 hours, depending on the speed of the players when it comes to playing and building the wall.

Formation of the wall

We are already in the development of the game. Once all the chips are placed face down on the table, the players will proceed to mix them well so that the chips of the previous combinations do not stay together. Then the so-called “wall” will be constructed, using all the tiles, formed by four walls, each of which will have 18 length cards (17 if flowers and stations are not used) and two height tiles. All these tokens will be face down. The four rows will be arranged like sides of a square, in the center of which the chips are discarded.

Opening of the wall and distribution of the tokens

The player who is wind This one takes two dice and throws them; With the number obtained, counts, counterclockwise and starting on its own, on which side of the wall the chips will be picked up. For example, suppose that the east wind rolls the dice and gets a 7, the chips will be taken by the side of the player West (1 East, 2 South, 3 West, 4 North, 5 East, 6 South and 7 West).

Once you know the side of the wall that will begin to pick up the chips, the player on that side of the wall will count from their right corner of the wall as many rows to the left as the number that had come out in the dice; In our example, the West would stop at row 7; (As each row is double, at that time there are 14 tokens from the right corner to that place). From that card, the player takes four, and puts them in front (ie, he distributes himself first), which would correspond in our example to rows 7 and 8; Then the South would take another two rows (the 9 and the 10), etc .; When each player has taken four chips, this same operation is repeated twice more, so that each has 12 chips; Then each player will pick up one more chip, Always starting with the East, with which all have 13 chips, and lastly, the East takes one last chip for him alone, so that the East wind is left with 14 chips, and the others with 13. The gap left by the Chips that have been dealt is called a gap, so sometimes the initial deal of chips is called “opening the wall gap”. The game has begun.

Open wall

Turn of each player

Once the chips are dealt, the player who is the seat wind has left 14 chips in his hand. If coincidentally it turns out that the tiles that have corresponded to him form Mahjong would say it immediately and that game would have finished; But this is very rare, so try to go looking for better chips. (Note that at the moment we do not worry about explaining how Mahjong is done, and, therefore, we do not know which tiles are good or bad, that does not matter at the moment).

Then the first player will discard one of the chips in his hand and place it on the table, face up, in the central space bordered by the wall. This means that he has finished his turn, and that of the player on his right, which will proceed to steal the first token of the wall (the one to the left of the newly opened breach), will be the bottom of his row, and That the token above has been apportioned. After stealing, he has 14 chips, and then (unless he has formed a Mahjong, which ends the game), locates a chip he wants to discard, he does, and passes the turn, and so on.

It is important to note that players are always taking the first free tile of the wall, ie, the one to the left of the gap; Although it has not been mentioned so far, it is clear that the tokens are taken from top to bottom, ie first the top, then the bottom, then the top of the next row, and so on. This principle by which the players are taking by turns a token of the wall is affected by some exceptions indicated below, which allow one player to take the discarded chip by another, and the order of play is altered, Jumping to some player.

End of game

As the game progresses, they will progressively consume the tokens of the wall. Generally, the game will end when any of the four players get their Mahjong cards, but if all the valid tiles are consumed without any of them, a new game will be started, rotating the winds assigned to each player.

Once the game is over, and the winner and the losers are determined, the points are counted that must be received by each of the losers; This operation is done with the help of all, since even though the rivalry between them is great while competing, it is normal to collaborate to streamline this phase of the game, which is the most tedious, especially if the players are new.

The winds are rotated counterclockwise. That is, the East would become North, the South would be East, the West would be South and the North would be West. If no one wins, the winds also rotate.

After this, the chips are mixed, and a new game is started.


Stairs, trios and quartets (Chow, Pung and Kong)

In order to continue explaining the development of the game we need to introduce these three concepts:

  • A pung, pon or trio (碰, png) is always formed by three identical tokens.


  • A chow, chii or ladder (吃, chì) is formed by three consecutive tokens of the same suit, or by the three dragons.


  • A kong, kan or quartet (槓, 杠, gang) consists of four identical tokens (the four white dragons, the four 7 discs …), that is to say, it is the same as a pung but with four tokens instead of three . However, the pung and chow formations are “normal” and the kong formation is “exceptional”, as will be seen later. Note that chow can not be formed with winds or dragons, it is only possible to use them to form pung or kong.


When a player has in his hand a pung, chow or kong, which he has achieved either because he was dealt in between his starting chips, or has managed to discard and steal chips from the wall, it is said that these formations are “Hidden”. A hidden combination stays that way until the player does Mahjong, that is, does not show the other players that have them, except in the case of kong. If a player had a kong and did not say anything, he could not do mahjong, since he would lack a token to be able to form four combinations of three tokens and the pair (see next section). Therefore, if a player has a hidden kong, he must declare it before the end of the game (before completing any of his turns). At any time during his turn, the player drops the four kong tokens before him,


The objective of every player in each game is always the same: to do mahjong. This is achieved when, after stealing a new tile from the wall or ordered a discard (ie, the player with 14 tiles in the hand), they are distributed in any of the combinations that are considered “mahjong”. Therefore, a mahjong is a combination of 14 chips, distributed as follows: four combinations of any three chips (pung, or chow) or four if you have any Kong, and a pair of identical chips. There are some exceptional combinations that are mahjong and do not respond to this scheme, but for now we can consider that we will always have four combinations and one pair. It is important to note that kong work like pung, but when a player kong gets an extra chip, otherwise,

Using Discarded Tabs

As mentioned earlier, each player in his turn steals from the wall (with which he momentarily has 14 chips), and then, if he does not have mahjong formed, discards one, returning to the number of 13. But many times he would like to take the Which someone has discarded instead of taking one of the wall, which can do this:

To make a Pung

If any player discards a chip, and another has two identical chips in his hand, he can claim the discarded chip for himself, saying “pung”. In doing so, the game interrupts the normal sequence, and continues the turn by the player who claimed the discard, who should then discard a token, then continue normally. Let’s take an example: North steals the wall and discards a 4 character. It would play to play to the East, but the West has in the hand two 4 of characters, and says “pung”. At that moment, the West takes the table of 4 characters and places it next to the two hidden and discards another chip. Continue playing the North again (which is the next player to the West), etc.

There can only be one player able to say pung to a discarded chip, since we remember that there are four chips of each, one of which has been discarded, so that two players can not have two more chips each in the hand.

As soon as the player says “pung”, and as a check that he actually had the two chips he needed, he will lower the trio he has formed with the chips in sight (the rest of the game will remain the same). When this occurs the pung is said to be “exposed” or “seen”. The player then discards, and is continued by the next player.

A player may claim his pung as soon as the appropriate chip is discarded, and he continues to be entitled to it as long as the next player has not discarded it, even if he has stolen from the wall. If this happens, ie if a player claims pung after the next player has stolen, as the turn is going to skip, he will return to the wall the chip he stole (and possibly have already seen).

This rule can be modified opting that as soon as the next robber of the wall missed the right to claim the “pung”, this increases the difficulty of the game and makes him very attentive to it.

To make a Kong

The rules are similar to the pung case, but saying “kong” instead of “pung”. A kong also has preference over chow. When a kong is achieved in this way, by asking for a discarded chip, the resulting kong is of the “exposed” type, and is placed in front of the player with all the tiles seen during the remainder of the game.

To make a Chow

If a player discards a chip, he can only claim it to form a chow with it the next player; To do so, it will say the word “chow” or “chi”, and instead of stealing from the wall will take the newly discarded chip. It is necessary that this player has already two other chips of the chow he is forming, and as in the case of pung, the chow will return before him, which is then “exposed” the rest of the game.

A chow does not alter the turn of play, as it can only be requested by the next player in turn (ie, the one on the right). The exception is when a player waits to make a chow to do mahjong (in that case he can steal the chip of any player, not only that of his left).

If a token is claimed at once by the next player for chow, and for another for pung, whoever claims pung prevails, which will take it.

If the next player who discards a chip steals from the wall, he can no longer return it and instead claim chow, that is, the right is lost as soon as it is stolen.

To do Mahjong

When a player is missing a single card to do mahjong, he can ask for it in case any player discards it; It will do it saying “mahjong”, will take the tab of the table, and the game will have finished, happening to calculate the score. If a chip is desired by other players for pung, kong or chow, the one who requests it to do mahjong has priority. If there are several players who claim the chip to do mahjong, it will get the one that is located first with respect to who discarded the chip, always counting in the sense of the game (ie, counterclockwise). Note that to make mahjong we can ask for any tokens, even if it is for the pair of eyes.

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