This is a complete guide to the rummy game Mahjong.

I will explain how Mahjong is played.

I will tell you all about its rules and variations.

Sounds good? Let’s dive in…


1:What is Mahjong?

In this chapter I will explain what Mahjong exactly is.

I will tell you how it is played.

And I will give you some of its particularities.


Mahjong belongs to the Rummy group of games. It was invented in China since the Qing dynasty and since then the game has further developed throughout the world up to the early 20th century.


Mahjong is usually played by four players, although there are certain three-player variations found in South Korea, Japan and Southeast Asia. There are many regional variants of the game across Asia, but the game also varies across other countries in the world.


Mahjong is extremely popular and entertaining throughout the world, and it has been widely accepted. Similar to the Western card game rummy, Mahjong is a game of skill, strategy, and calculation, but it also involves a degree of chance.

This game is played with a set of 144 tiles which are based on Chinese characters and symbols. In almost all variations, the game begins with each player getting 13 tiles. In turn players draw and discard tiles until they complete a legal hand using the 14th drawn tile to form 4 melds (or sets) and a pair (eye). It is also possible to win with a small class of special hands.

We can say that Old Hong Kong Mahjong is the most suitable version for learning game rules since it uses the same basic features and rules as the majority of the different variations of the game.

Old Honk Kong Mahjong is played with a standard set of Mahjong tiles. Sets often include counters (to keep score), dice (to decide how to deal) and a marker to show who the dealer is and which round is being played. Some sets include racks to hold the tiles, especially if they are larger/smaller than standard tiles or have an odd shape.

2: Understanding the Mahjong Tiles

In this chapter I will explain the Mahjong Set of Tiles.

Also, I will explain how melds are formed.

Sounds good? Let’s dive in…

There are 3 suits of simples and in each suit the tiles are numbered from 1 to 9. The suits are: bamboos, dots and characters. There are 4 identical copies of each simples tile totaling 108 simples tiles.


There are two different sets of Honors tiles: Winds and Dragons. The Winds are East, South, West and North.


In Mahjong East (not North) is the beginning.

TheDragonsare Red, Green and White. The white dragon has a blue or black frame on the face of the piece or in some sets is entirely blank. These tiles have no numerical sequence like the simples (for example the bamboo pieces number 1 to 9).


There are two sets of bonus tiles: Flowers and Seasons.

The flower and season tiles are specific. They are represented by only one tile. In fact, there are four flower and four season tiles in the set. The tiles have a different artistic rendering of a specific type of flower or season. These tiles are actually set aside and kept near the player’s other tiles for scoring purposes if they need to win the hand.


It is not necessary to know the exact names of the bonus tiles, only its numbers. However, you can read here that flowers are named: 1. Plum, 2. Orchid, 3. Chrysanthemum, 4. Bamboo. The seasons are named 1. Spring, 2. Summer, 3. Autumn, 4. Winter. In traditional Chinese culture, the plum, orchid, chrysanthemum and bamboo are collectively known as the Four Gentlemen and are regarded as the respective representative plants of Winter, Spring, Autumn and Summer.



Melds or Pongs are a set of three identical tiles. You can form a Pong with any tile, except Flowers or Seasons because these are bonus tiles. In a Pong tiles must be identical, which means you cannot mix suits.

Kong is a complete set of four identical tiles. It is basically the same as a Pong but with an additional tile to make a complete set of four.

A Kong can be formed in three ways.

The first wayis during initial play, before the first piece is discarded by the dealer or upon drawing a tile. A player who has a set of four matching tiles in his or her hand can declare a Kong. They do it by revealing the meld and placing two pieces in the middle face up and two pieces on the ends face down. This is called a concealed or hidden Kong.

The second wayis if a player can use a discarded tile to complement three matching tiles they already have in their hand, they can thus take the piece and reveal a “Kong by discard” or “melded Kong”. The player reveals his or her three pieces face up and places the stolen discard on top of the middle tile.

And finally, the third wayto form a Kong is if a player has already melded a piece to make a Pong and then later in the game draws the fourth piece from the wall, he or she can announce (then or later in the game) a Kong by placing the fourth tile on top of the middle piece of the melded Pong.

Chowis a meld of three suited tiles in sequence. This meld must be in absolute numerical sequence and in the same suit. You cannot use Honors, Flowers and Seasons to form chows, since they do not have numerical value.

Eyes(also known as a pair) are two identical tiles which are an essential part of a legal winning hand. A piece cannot be stolen (melded) to form a pair of eyes unless the player simultaneously completes a legal winning hand.



3: Rules of the Mahjong Gameplay

In this chapter I will explain how the game is conducted.

We will go through rules and conventions.

I will tell you some of the particularities of the game.


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.

4: Mahjong – How Popular and Widespread it is?

In this chapter I will show you briefly where you can play Mahjong.

I will also show you its possibilities and variations.

As you can see, the game of Mahjong is actually rather similar to the Rummy principles. You also need to form melds, i.e., certain combinations although the difference lies in the “cards” and certain conventions especially those derived from the Chinese tradition. All in all, Mahjong is extremely popular and many people enjoy very much in playing it, particularly since it is very interesting.

Of course, you could see that Mahjong has many variations on the Internet and the computer version has existed ever since 1990s. Today you can play the game with the computer or with your friends online.

Certainly, Mahjong can be played for money. So, some people play it for fun while others play Mahjong as a gambler’s game. You can place bets at the beginning of each round and there are 16 rounds in a full game of mahjong. The amount of money is determined by the player before the game.

When playing for money, it depends on the game ending who will pay. If the winner draws the winning tile themselves from the wall, then everyone must pay the winner.

If the winner takes the winning tile from within the walls, the player who discarded it pays the winner.

There are always certain penalizations in the game if a player for example takes more tiles than prescribed. These rules are also determined before the game and it is indeed very important that the players agree on all the rules before. The same goes for the money invested and the way bets are placed.

It is also possible that all the wall tiles will be drawn and no winner is declared. When this happens, no one gets money.

You can find many online variations of Mahjong which is great since you can really learn practically how to play it and get more acquainted with the game in this way. For instance, you can check It is great since you do need to download anything, you can play it from your internet browser.