There is a really interesting way in which the dealer is chosen. He or she can be chosen either by throwing dice or by placing one of each wind face down and having each player randomly select one of these tiles or other house rule variations. In fact, players are seated in the so-called “wind position” at the table in positions of an inverted compass: East is dealer, the right of the dealer is South, across is West and the left is North. The order essentially is counter-clockwise.
A match consists of four rounds, each representing a “prevailing wind”, starting with East. When the first round is completed, the second round begins with South being the “prevailing wind”, and so on. Wind position is significant since it affects the scoring of the game. 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).
Whenever a player in the East position (dealer) wins a hand, an extra hand is then played with the same seating positions and prevailing wind as in the previous hand. The same applies if there is no winner (a draw or “goulash hand”).This means that a match may potentially have no limit to the number of hands played (though some players will set a limit of three consecutive hands allowed with the same seat positions and prevailing wind).
As for the gameplay and shuffling, all tiles are placed face down on the table and shuffled. As a rule, all players should participate in shuffling using both hands. The shuffling is conventionally done by moving the pieces around the table rigorously and loudly for a certain period of time.
After shuffling, each player stacks a row of 18 tiles, two tiles high in front of them, for a total of 36 tiles. Then players push each side of their stack together in order to form a square wall.
The dealer throws three dice in the square wall and sums up the total. Counting anti-clockwise so that the dealer is 1 (or 5, 9, 13, 17), so that south (player to the right) is 2 (or 6, 10, 14, 18), etc., a player’s quarter of the wall is chosen.
The player whose wall is chosen then counts the stacks of tiles from right to left. This determines the location where the ‘deck’ of tiles is cut.
Starting from the left of the stacks counted, the dealer takes four tiles, and then he or she draws blocks of four tiles to players in anti-clockwise order until all players have 12 tiles, so that the stacks decrease clockwise. Each player then draws one last tile to make a 13-tile hand.
Now, dealing does not always have to be so strict. It depends on the house rules, or on a general agreement. It sometimes varies from one region to another.
Players set aside any Flowers or Seasons that they have drawn and take turns to draw replacement pieces from the wall counterclockwise.
If a player gets any Flowers or Seasons tiles in the replacement draw, the players must wait for the next turn to draw replacement tiles.
Every player draws a tile from the wall and then discards it by throwing it into the center announcing out loud what the piece is. The game thus continues until one player has a legal winning hand and calls out “Mahjong” upon revealing their hand.
Again, each player always has 13 tiles in their hand and a winning hand consists of 14 tiles. So, you can win by either taking a piece from the wall or claiming a discard from another player.
If a meld (Pong, Kong or Chow) is declared through a discard, the player must state the type of meld to be declared and place the meld face up. The player must then discard a tile, and play continues to the right. If the player who melds a discard is not directly after the discarder (in order of play), one or two players essentially miss their turn as play continues to the player after the one who declared the meld.
When two or more players call for a discarded tile, a player taking the tile to win the hand has precedence over all others. Otherwise a player who can form a Pong or Kong takes precedence over a player who claims a Chow. Players may only call for a Chow from the discard of the player immediately prior to them, unless the tile is the final one required to complete the hand, but may call for a Pong or Kong from any player. A player may also take the tile to win the hand from any other player.
The winning hand is made of four melds and the eyes.
Generally, most players play with a table minimum, which means a winning hand must score a minimum number of points.
In Hong Kong Mahjong the most common point set is three but can be higher or lower depending on house rules.
Whenever you form a Kong, you must draw an extra tile from the end of the wall and then discard a tile. The fourth piece of a Kong (not Flowers/Seasons) is not considered as one of the 13 tiles a player must always have in their hand. Kongs are worth collecting to score more points and/or deprive opponents of the opportunity to obtain specific tiles.
Whenever a player draws a flower or season, he or she announces it and then places it to the side. This means the card is not considered a part of the hand but the player with the winning hand will earn a bonus point for them.
The last tile of the wall is drawn as a replacement tile so that the player has the 14 pieces needed before their discard. This may happen successively in a player’s turn.
You could have already read in this guide that a player can “call a Mahjong”. Now let us see what this really means.
The goal of the gameis to get a “Mahjong”, which consists of getting all 14 of your tiles into four sets and one pair. A pair means two identical tiles. A set can either be a “pong”, which is three identical tiles, or a “chow”, which is a run of three consecutive numbers in the same suit. A single tile cannot be used in two sets at once.
If at any point in the game a player can use another player’s discard to complete their hand, they yell out “Mahjong”. Then they take the piece and reveal their hand. After this the scoring can begin.
If it occurs that two or three players at the same time need the piece to win, there are two ways to resolve the issue. It depends on the agreed rules. The players can compete to see who would have a better hand in terms of scoring. Another way is that the player closest to the discarder in order of turn wins the game.
So, this is why the game is actually called “Mahjong”. You declare a Mahjong when you win.
Another way of winning, as already mentioned, is that a player draws the tile he or she needed to complete a legal hand on his or her turn. This way players usually win more points.
It is also possible to win more points if the dealer draws a winning hand right at the beginning of the game, or if a player uses the dealer’s first discard to complete his or her winning hand.
There is also another great high-scoring feature of Hong Kong Mahjong, although it occurs very seldom. It is a move called robbing a Kong.
In fact, if a player calls a Kong and another player can use that piece to complete their hand, a player can steal that piece from that player when declaring the Kong and thus go Mahjong.
Another interesting term in the game Mahjong is known as the “window of opportunity”. This is usually agreed upon among the players. It is an agreed amount of time allowed to make a call for a discarded tile before the next player takes their turn. In general it is considered that when the next player’s turn starts, the opportunity is lost. However, this amount of time is agreed upon and usually before your turn, you should give other players a few seconds to claim the most recently discarded tile. The player that has the advantage is the one who claims the discarded tile to complete a Mahjong.
If there is no such a player, then anyone can claim the discarded tile to complete a pong.
In order to win, a player needs to have at least the minimum faan value which is agreed in advance (often 3). Bonus tiles and a few other elements are not included in the minimum faan value a player needs to form a legal winning hand. (i.e. in a three faan minimum game, if a player has two faan points and one bonus point, the player has not met the proper requirements to win and will need to gain another faan point before calling mahjong. Though the bonus points cannot be including in the minimum points needed to win, they are including in the overall score after a player wins.
Since there are many possible scoring variations, players should agree specifically on scoring rules before the game.