- Tiles used in Mahjong
- The objective of the game
- A brief overview of the game play
- Determining the seats
- Arranging the wall and dealing the tiles
- Replacing the Bonus tiles
- Turn order and basic game play
- Claiming a tile for a pong
- Claiming a tile for a kong
- Claiming a tile for a chow/chi
- Claiming a tile for the pair
- Further notes on claiming tiles
- Completing a concealed pong or chow/chi by drawing
- Drawing the fourth identical tile when you have a concealed pong
- Drawing the fourth identical tile when you have an exposed pong
- Drawing a Bonus tile
- Declaring mahjong and going out
- Washout, or dead hand
- Dealer Rotation and Repeat Counters
- Special Hands
- Heaven's Blessing/Heavenly Harmony
- Earth's Blessing/Earthly Harmony
- The Thirteen Unique Wonders / Thirteen Grades of Imperial Treasure
- Catching the Moon from the bottom of the Sea
- Gathering the Plum Blossom from the Roof
- The Three great Scholars
- Four large Blessings
- Twofold Plenty / Kong on Kong
- Fourfold Plenty
- The Nine Gates / The Gates of Heaven / The Nine united Sons
- Buried Treasure
- All Honours / Greater Honours
- All Green / Imperial Jade
- Heads and Tails
- The Wriggling Snake
The “Classical Chinese game” is a bit of a misnomer, as there never was a standardized set of rules when mahjong was first invented in China in the mid-1800's and then spread around the country, and after the turn of the century 1900 overseas to other countries. Instead the game developed gradually and was played with slightly differing rules in different regions. The following rule set and scoring system however represent a fair picture of how mahjong was played during its first golden age, in the 1920's when the game also reached the West and spread like wildfire – and, indeed, of how many hundreds of thousands of Europeans still play it today.
Mahjong is played with a set of rectangular tiles. Below you find a list of the tiles used in the classic game. Each of the tiles shown, occurs four times in a complete mahjong set, except for the bonus tiles of which there are only one copy of each type.
The objective of the game is to be the first to go out by achieving a “mahjong hand”: a hand where all your tiles form four sets, plus one pair. Any set must consist of either three identical tiles (called a pong),
or four identical tiles (called a kong),
or three Suit tiles in numerical sequence and of the same suit (called a chow or chi).
A pong or a kong must be made up of identical tiles. Note also that a chow/chi must consist of exactly three tiles, no more and no less, and of the same suit.
The pair may be any pair, as long as it consists of two identical tiles.
You cannot form any set or pair with your Bonus tiles! Instead, as soon as you draw a bonus tile, you set it aside and draw a replacement tile. The bonus tiles you accumulate (if any), will score extra points for you at the end.
Note that you may also go out with any of a number of special mahjong hands, which do not necessarily confirm to the “four sets, one pair” rule above! Go to the Special Hands section to see a list of these special hands.
In mahjong, the four players sit at a table facing each other, as when playing bridge or whist. Unlike in these card games, however, mahjong players do NOT play in teams: rather, it is every player for himself.
Each deal begins by shuffling and arranging the 144 tiles in a square 2x18 tiles long on every side, called “the Wall”. Then each player draws (according to a certain ritual) 13 tiles each; the exception is the player in the East seat, who draws 14 tiles. (Here, this entire process is taken care of by the software.)
The players, starting with East who must first discard one of his/her tiles, now in counterclockwise order take turns to draw tiles: either the last one discarded by a previous player (provided certain conditions are met), or the next available one from the Wall. After drawing, that same player must immediately discard a tile, after which it is the next player's turn.
While drawing and discarding, each player tries to exchange and arrange his/her tiles so as to form them into a mahjong hand (four sets and a pair). The first player to accomplish this declares “Mahjong!”, upon which the game immediately stops. Note that a player declaring mahjong and thereby going out, does not discard a tile in that same turn.
The winning player is then paid by all the others: the more valuable the hand, the more points he/she gets. Then the other players pay off each other for the sets and bonus tiles accumulated so far, after which all the tiles are shuffled together again and another deal begins.
Mahjong is also playable with two or three players instead of four (though the game works best with four), following the same principles as above.
As soon as you choose a table here, the software will take you to it and randomly assign you a seat. If you enter a tournament, the software will assign you both a table and a seat at it.
Each player's seat is designated by a name, the same as for the cardinal directions. Going counterclockwise, the seats are referred to as East-South-West-North. Note that this order is the customary one among the Chinese, and NOT the same as on a compass!
As soon as a new deal begins, the 144 tiles are shuffled and then arranged in a square: each side is 18 tiles long, and 2 tiles high. This arrangement is called “the Wall”.
With the help of dice, the spot where you “break the Wall” and start drawing tiles is randomly chosen. Fourteen tiles counterclockwise from this position another break is made and these tiles are reserved as the “kong box” or “dead wall”. The remaining tiles are called the “live wall”. All this is automatically handled by the software.
Starting with East taking the first 4 tiles, each player eventually draws 13 tiles from the live wall; the exception is the player in the East seat, who draws 14 tiles. Again, here the entire process is automatically taken care of by the software.
When the tiles are dealt, you will see your own tiles face up on the screen, while those of the other players are seen standing on edge and are hidden from you.
During the game you will draw “normal” tiles from the live wall in clockwise fashion, but drawing any replacement tiles from the the dead wall. The dead wall is always kept at the size of at least 13 tiles by taking a pair of tiles from end of the live wall when needed.
If the live wall is empty and a player needs to draw a tile from the wall, play stops. This is called a “washout” or a “dead hand” (see below).
Each player now examines the tiles he/she has drawn. In turn order counterclockwise, starting with East, the players now declare any Bonus tile or tiles they have, setting them aside face up, and drawing replacement tiles from the Dead Wall.
If any new Bonus tiles are drawn when replacing, these are also set aside and further replacement tiles drawn. After this procedure is completed, the players should once again have 13 tiles each in hand, with the exception of East who should have 14 tiles. Again, this procedure is handled automatically by the software.
Also, if a player is dealt a concealed kong, he/she may declare it immediately – see below.
The East player always takes the first turn, by discarding any of the 14 tiles in his hand, face up within the area of the Wall. If none of the other players claims this tile, South now draws the next tile from the Wall and then discards any of his tiles in the same manner, followed by West, North, East again, and so on in counterclockwise order around the table, drawing and discarding each time in turn.
Note that the tiles from the Wall are drawn in clockwise fashion, while the turn order among the players goes counterclockwise!
The only time that you do not draw a tile from the Wall during your turn, is when you instead claim another player's recently discarded tile.
If any of the other players discards a tile which you need to complete a pong (three identical tiles), you may say “Pong!” and then pick up this tile. Any player/-s sitting between you and he/she who discarded the tile, are skipped over in turn order.
You must then at once, during that same turn, expose and put on the table (face up) the set you claimed for. After this you as usual discard a tile, and the turn then passes to the next player counterclockwise.
Example: South has two White Dragons in hand, when East discards another White Dragon. South immediately shouts “Pong!”, picks up the tile, and exposes and places his three White Dragons as a set beside him on the table. Then South discards one of the tiles in his hand, and it is East's turn again. Note that West and North were skipped over in the turn sequence!
If no player claims a newly discarded tile, it is considered “dead”, remains face up on the table, and may NOT be claimed at a later point in the game.
In a live game, it is customary to put the claimed tile sideways in the exposed set, so as to show which of the other players discarded it.
Claiming a tile for a kong (four identical tiles) is performed exactly as when claiming a tile for a pong – see above. The only difference is that the player claiming and exposing the kong must then immediately draw a replacement tile from the Dead Wall, before discarding one of the tiles in hand. (This replacement is done for mathematical reasons: if you do not draw a replacement tile after putting down a kong, it is impossible to form four sets and a pair with the tiles you have in hand!)
Example: North has three tiles of the Four of Bamboos in hand, when West discards another Four of Bamboos. North immediately shouts “Kong!”, picks up the discarded tile, exposes and puts down her set of four identical tiles, draws a replacement tile, and finally discards one of her tiles, after which it is East's turn. Note that in this example, none of the other players were skipped over in the turn sequence.
As when claiming a tile for a pong, it is customary in a live game to put the claimed tile sideways in the exposed set, so as to show which of the other players discarded it.
Claiming a tile for a chow/chi may ONLY be done by the next player in turn. South may only claim such a tile if it is discarded by East; West may only claim such a tile if it is discarded by South; and so on around the table. Apart from this, the procedure is the same as when claiming a tile for a pong.
Example: South discards the Eight of Characters. West, who is next in turn, happens to have both the Six and the Seven of Characters and therefore immediately shouts “Chow!” and picks up the discarded tile. He exposes his set, puts it on the table, and discards one of his tiles in hand. Now it is North's turn.
As when claiming a tile for a pong, it is customary in a live game to put the claimed tile in a chow/chi sideways in the exposed set, so as to show which of the other players discarded it.
If completing a chow/chi would also complete your mahjong hand, you may claim this tile no matter which of the other players discards it – just say “Mahjong!” and pick up the tile to your hand.
This may only be done on one condition: that the player claiming the tile thereby immediately can finish his mahjong hand and go out. Under no other circumstances may a player claim a discard to complete the pair (any pair) needed in a mahjong hand.
Note: you are NEVER forced to claim a suitable tile! Instead, you may if you wish just draw the next tile from the Wall, even if you could have claimed the previous discard.
What happens if two players both claim the same tile? Then the claim priority rules come into effect:
Claiming a tile for a pong or a kong has priority over claiming for a chow/chi.
Claiming a tile for mahjong has priority over any other claim.
If two or three players both claim the same tile for mahjong, the player sitting closest in (counterclockwise) turn order after the discarder has priority.
When playing at this site, any claiming options on your turn are clearly indicated on the screen by the software – just click to claim, within the set time limit.
If you do not claim a possible tile before the next player in turn draws a tile from the Wall, you have forfeited your opportunity and may not claim the discarded tile later in the game; this is also the custom in a live game!
If drawing a tile from the Wall completes a pong in your hand, or a chow/chi, or if you are dealt such a set at the start of the game, it is considered concealed and you do NOT need to declare this set before you go out by achieving your mahjong hand: when this occurs, such sets are shown but still considered concealed. Keeping your opponents from knowing whatever combinations of tiles you have in hand during play is a tactical advantage!
Any tiles in concealed sets in hand may of course be rearranged in new combinations, whenever you wish. However, exposed sets may never be touched.
If you already have a concealed pong (three identical tiles) in hand, and draw the fourth identical tile from the Wall, you have a concealed kong. You declare this set by putting it on the table in that same turn. You must then immediately draw a replacement tile from the Dead Wall, after which you as usual discard a tile. It is then the next player's turn.
If you are dealt a concealed kong at the start of the game, you also declare it in the same way, and draw a replacement tile.
Note that you are not required to declare a concealed kong! You may if you wish keep your concealed pong, and use the fourth identical tile in a chow/chi set instead.
If you have previously claimed a tile to complete a pong, having the exposed pong beside you on the table, and you later yourself draw the fourth identical tile from the Wall, you may add this tile to your exposed pong: this turns it into an exposed kong instead.
Note that you may NOT claim this fourth tile to an already exposed pong, if it is discarded by another player!
When drawing and adding the fourth identical tile, you must as with any declared kong draw a replacement tile from the Dead Wall before discarding.
If you draw a Bonus tile during the game, you simply set it aside with your exposed sets (if any), draw a replacement tile from the Dead Wall, and then discard a tile as usual.
Whenever you draw the last tile you need to complete your mahjong hand consisting of four sets and a pair, you say “Mahjong!”. Show the tiles you have in hand, taking care to mark concealed sets.
You may also claim the last tile you need to complete your mahjong hand, regardless of whether for a pong, a chow/chi, or the pair, and regardless of which of the other players discards it; again, call out “Mahjong!”.
As soon as a player calls out “Mahjong”, play immediately stops after that player has shown his or her hand.
Note that when going out with a mahjong hand, you draw or claim a tile – but this is the only time you do NOT discard a tile during your move!
Now the scoring begins, for both the winning hand and the other players – see the Scoring section for information on this.
Note that you may also go out with any of a number of special mahjong hands, which do not necessarily confirm to the “four sets, one pair” rule above! See the Special Hands section for a list of these special hands, which are called “limit hands” as they score the maximum number of points allowed in the game.
Play continues until a player goes out, or until no tiles remain in the live wall. If the last allowable tile is drawn from the live Wall and no player goes out on either this tile or the discard from the player who drew the last available tile, it is known as a “washout” or a “dead hand”: no-one wins, and no points are scored.
In express games, the seating positions are rotated one step counterclockwise after each hand: the East player now becomes North, the South player becomes East, and so on. This is the case even if the hand was an exhaustive draw or an abortive draw, and regardless of who won.
For multi-hand games, i.e., sit-and-go and multi-table tournaments, the dealer rotation in the following manner:
If east wins, that player continues in the east position for the next hand.
If the hand ends with a washout, the deal is repeated with the same seating.
Otherwise, the deal is rotated.
In addition to all the millions of possible “normal” mahjong hands, there are a number of special mahjong hands that either
are defined as winning hands, even though they do not conform to the “four sets and a one pair” rule, or
conform to the “four sets and a pair” rule but for aesthetic or other reasons are given special consideration.
All these hands listed below automatically score the limit. They are as follows:
When East immediately goes out with a mahjong hand, after having drawn his/her 14 first tiles (and replacing any Bonus tiles).
When either South, West or North player immediately goes out with a mahjong hand, by claiming the first discarded tile from East player.
One 1 and one 9 from each suit, one of each Dragon, one of each Wind, and a fourteenth tile that will make up a pair with any of the others. Only the last tile may be claimed (or drawn from the Wall).
When a player draws the last available tile from the “live” section of the Wall, this tile is 1 of Dots, and the player goes out with this tile (regardless of how the actual sets in hand score).
When a player goes out by drawing the 5 of Dots tile as a replacement tile (for a Bonus tile or after having completed a kong) from the Dead Wall (regardless of how the actual sets in hand score).
A pong or kong in all three Dragons, plus any pong or kong and any pair. Tiles may be claimed to complete any or all of these sets.
A pong or kong in all four Winds, plus any pair. Tiles may be claimed to complete any or all of these sets.
When a player first completes a kong (by drawing or claiming), then with the help of the replacement tile completes another kong, and then with the help of this next replacement tile goes out.
A hand consisting of four kongs (any kongs) plus any pair. Tiles may be claimed to complete any or all of these kongs.
A concealed hand consisting of the tiles 1-1-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-9-9 from the same suit, but no other suits and no Winds or Dragons. Any tile 1-9 from that same suit, drawn from the Wall or claimed, will now complete the mahjong hand.
A hand consisting of four pongs (but no kong), plus any pair. All tiles, including the one completing the mahjong hand, must have been drawn from the Wall and may not have been claimed.
A hand consisting of four pongs or kongs, plus a pair, entirely in Winds and Dragons in any combination. Tiles may be claimed to complete any or all of these sets.
A hand consisting entirely of all green tiles: Green Dragons plus 2, 3, 4, 6 and 8 of Bamboos, in any combinations making up four sets plus a pair. One or more chows may be included. Tiles may be claimed to complete any or all of these sets.
A hand consisting of four pongs or kongs plus one pair, and which must be made up entirely of 1's and 9's, from any or all of the suits. Tiles may be claimed to complete any or all of these sets.
As soon as a player has achieved a mahjong hand and gone out, play stops and everyone exposes the tiles still in hand.
Naturally, when playing at this site all the scoring is done automatically by the software and shown on the screen.
The scoring described below in Chinese classical mahjong applies to ALL the players, whether going out or not.
Any chow/chi always scores 0 points. (This is for mathematical reasons - there are about ten times as many chow/chi combinations possible, as pong and kong combinations.)
A pair of Dragons, or of your own Wind - 2 points
All other pairs score 0 points. Your own wind is defined as your seating position right then: South if you are sitting in South position, and so on.
An exposed pong in Simples (2-8) - 2 points
An exposed pong in Terminals (1 or 9) or Winds or Dragons - 4 points
A concealed pong in Simples (2-8) - 4 points
A concealed pong in Terminals (1 or 9) or Winds or Dragons - 8 points
An exposed pong is one containing a tile claimed from an opponent. A concealed pong is one where you yourself has drawn all the tiles from the Wall.
An exposed kong in Simples (2-8) - 8 points
An exposed kong in Terminals (1 or 9) or Winds or Dragons - 16 points
A concealed kong in Simples (2-8) - 16 points
A concealed kong in Terminals (1 or 9) or Winds or Dragons - 32 points
The following doubles apply ALL the players in Chinese classical mahjong, whether going out or not:
For every pong or kong of Dragons - 1 double
For every pong or kong in your own wind - 1 double
For having all four Season tiles - 2 doubles
For having all four Flower tiles - 2 doubles
For having all eight Bonus tiles - 5 doubles
For having two sets of Dragons and a pair of the third Dragon - 3 doubles
For having three sets in all three Dragons (Three Great Scholars) - 5 doubles
For having three sets of Winds and a pair of the fourth Wind - 1 double
For having four sets in all four Winds (Four Large Blessings) - 3 doubles
For three concealed pongs - 1 double
Note that some of the doubles exclude each other in a logical way: if you have two sets of Dragons and a pair of the third Dragon, the individual doubles for the two sets are already included in the 3 doubles. Note that all applicable doubles are cumulative, meaning that the points you score may for example be doubled three times over (2x2x2 is 8) where applicable.
The player going out by achieving mahjong may in addition to the Basic Points above also include the following additional points (before doubling), as applicable:
For going out (always) - 20 points
For having drawn the winning tile from the Wall - 2 points
For going out with the only possible tile - 2 points
The only possible tile is defined as:
the tile completing the pair when all other sets have already been completed, or
the middle tile in a chow/chi (such as drawing or claiming 7 of Bamboos when you have 6 and 8 of Bamboos, which completes your mahjong hand), or
the Terminal tile in a chow/chi which can only be completed this way (such as drawing or claiming 9 of Dots when you have 7 and 8 of Dots, and all 6 of Dots tiles have already been discarded or placed in exposed sets belonging to the other players), or
the tile when you towards the end have two pairs left in hand and can only go out by completing one of them to a pong, since the tiles that would complete the other pair have already been discarded or placed in exposed sets belonging to the other players.
Note that “The only possible tile” refers to the one value needed to complete your mahjong hand. If you have 6 and 8 of Bamboos in hand and are waiting for the 7 of Bamboos and there are two or more such identical tiles remaining in the game, it does not matter which of these 7 of Bamboos tiles you draw or claim.
The player going out by achieving mahjong may in addition to any doubles listed above also apply the following doubles, where applicable:
Going out by drawing the last tile from the Wall - 1 double
Going out by claiming the last discard, after the last tile has been drawn from the Wall - 1 double
Going out by drawing a replacement tile from the Wall (called Winning on the Roof) - 1 double
Going out by drawing the last remaining tile of the Wall as a replacement tile (called Opening a Flower) - 2 doubles
Going out with a worthless hand (only chows and a non-scoring pair) - 1 double
For a hand containing no chows - 1 double
For a hand consisting of sets in Terminals and/or Honours (no Simples) only, and any pair - 1 double
For a hand of Honour tiles and one suit only - 1 double
For a hand of tiles from only one suit, and no Honour tiles - 3 doubles
Also all these doubles are cumulative, where applicable. In order to simplify the calculations, it is suggested that you after you have calculated the points then calculate the number of doubles, and do the math.
1 double - multiply by 2
2 doubles - multiply by 4
3 doubles - multiply by 8
4 doubles - multiply by 16
5 doubles - multiply by 32
Since a player's score, using many doubles, could theoretically run into millions of points when winning with a very unusual and lucky hand, a limit on the number of points a player can score is applied. This limit is usually between 200 and 2000 and is set for each table in the i-Mahjong.com game. (This limit applies regardless of whether you are playing East or any other position.)
Note that you may also go out with any of a number of special mahjong hands, which do not necessarily confirm to the “four sets, one pair” rule above! See the Special Hands section for a list of these special hands, which are all limit hands as they score the maximum number of points allowed in the game.
Once a player goes out, he or she scores his hand first, and receives that number of points from each of the other players.
Then, in Chinese classical mahjong, the other players in counterclockwise order score their hands and receive that number of points from the others – but NOT from the player who went out.
In a live game, the score is kept using tally sticks or chips – even poker chips will do nicely – or sometimes using just paper and pencil. When playing at this site, naturally all the scoring is done automatically by the software and shown on the screen.
West went out, with a mahjong hand made up of the following combinations:
A concealed pong in 9 of Dots - 8 points
An exposed pong in 7 of Characters - 2 points
An exposed kong in West Wind - 16 points
A chow, 5-6-7 of Bamboos - 0 points
A pair in 4 of Bamboos - 0 points
One Flower tile (Chrysanthemum) - 4 points
Drawing the winning tile from the Wall - 2 points
For going out - 20 points
That gives a sum of 52 points.
In addition, the player receives a double for having a kong in his own Wind.
That gives a final sum of 104 points.
East, South and North now all pay 104 points each to the winner West. If all players started with 2000 points each, the score for the moment looks like this:
East: 1896 p. South: 1896 p. West: 2312 p. North: 1896 p.
(Note that mahjong is a zero-sum game: what one player wins, another loses. If all players started with 2000 points each, the sum total of all four players' scores must always total 8000 if all the calculations have been done correctly.)
West has finished scoring; now it is North's turn. She has a concealed pong in White Dragons in hand (8 points), an exposed pong in Simples (2 points) and one Season tile (4 points, but it is not her own). Her uncomplete hand is therefore only worth 14 basic points, but in addition she receives a double for her pong of Dragons, bringing the total up to 28 points. She receives this amount from East and South (but not West, since he won the hand), after which the score for the moment looks like this:
East: 1868 p. South: 1868 p. West: 2312 p. North: 1952 p.
East has two chows (0 points each), one pair in East Wind (which happens to be his own wind, so 2 points), an exposed kong in 8 of Dots (8 points), but otherwise worthless tiles. Sum total is 10 points, which he receives from South and North respectively.
South, finally, has a concealed pong in 1 of Bamboos (8 points), an exposed kong in West Wind (16 points), a Season tile (4 points), a Flower tile (4 points, and it is his own Flower), and a pair of Green Dragons (2 points). The sum is 34 points, which the double for his own flower brings up to 68 points. After scoring this as well, the final point standings after the hand are as follows:
East: 1820 p. South: 1994 p. West: 2312 p. North: 1874 p.
... and once again, the total of all players' points after this hand is 8000 in this example.
Note that it is actually possibly for a losing player to score more points than the winning player who went out, if the winning player has a very low-scoring hand but the other player has almost completed an exceptionally strong hand!