2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Games

This article contains Chinese text.
Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Chinese characters.
Players 3-4
Age range > Any
Setup time 2-30 minutes
Playing time 0-3 hours
Random chance Yes
Skills required Tactics, observation, memory

Mahjong ( Traditional Chinese: 麻將; Simplified Chinese: 麻将; Hanyu Pinyin: Májiàng; Cantonese: Màhjeung; or Chinese: 麻将; Hanyu Pinyin: Májiàng; Cantonese: Màhjeuk; other common English spellings include mahjongg, majiang, and hyphenated forms such as mah-jong or mah-jongg) is a game for four players that originated in China.

It involves skill, strategy, and calculation, as well as luck. Depending on the variation which is played, luck can be anything from a minor to a dominant factor in success. In Asia, mahjong is as popular as gambling or computer games.

The object of the game is to build complete suits - or melds (usually of threes) - from either 13 or 16 tiles. The first person to achieve this goal wins the game. The winning tile completes the player's set of either 14 or 17 tiles.


Mahjong in China

One of the myths of the origin of Mahjong suggests that Confucius, the great Chinese philosopher, had developed the game in about 500 BC. This assertion is likely to be apocryphal. According to this myth, the appearance of the game in the various Chinese states coincided with Confucius' travels at the time he was teaching his new doctrines. The three dragon (Cardinal) tiles also agree with the three Cardinal virtues bequeathed by Confucius. Zhōng (中 , lit. middle) the Red, (發 , lit. prosperity) the Green, Bái (白 , lit. white) the White represent Benevolence, Sincerity, and Filial piety respectively, again under this myth. In fact, the "middle" is likely a reference to 中国 (zhōngguó)—China's name in Chinese.

Also, this myth claims that Confucius was fond of birds, which would explain the name "Mahjong" (sparrow). However, there is no evidence of Mahjong's existence prior to the Taiping era in the 19th century which eliminates Confucius as a likely inventor.

Another theory implies the game was developed from existing Chinese card and domino games sometime around 1850. Many historians believe it was based on a Chinese card game called Mádiào (馬吊) (also known as Ma Tiae, lit. Hanging Horse; or Yèzí (葉子), lit. Leaf) in the early Ming dynasty. This game was played with 40 paper cards similar in appearance to the cards used in the game Ya Pei. These forty cards, numbered 1 to 9 in four different suits along with four extra flower cards, are quite alike to the numbering of Mahjong tiles today. There is still a healthy debate about who created the game. One theory is that Chinese army officers serving during the Taiping Rebellion created the game to pass the time. Another theory is that a noble living in the Shanghai area created the game between 1870 and 1875. Others believe that around 1850 in the city of Níngpō two brothers had created Mahjong from the earlier game of Mádiào.

This traditional Chinese game was banned in its homeland in 1949, when the People's Republic of China was founded. The new Communist government forbade any gambling activities, which were regarded as symbols of capitalist corruption. After the Cultural Revolution, the game was revived, and once again Mahjong has become one of the favorite pastimes of the Chinese. In Hong Kong, Macao and elsewhere however, mahjong has always been popular, particularly amongst the Cantonese.

Mahjong in the Western world

Students in the United States learning how to play Mahjong
Students in the United States learning how to play Mahjong

By 1895, Stewart Culin, an American anthropologist, wrote a paper in which Mahjong was mentioned. This is the first known written account of Mahjong in any language other than Chinese. By 1910, there were written accounts in many languages including French and Japanese. An important English book was Joseph Park Babcock's Rules of Mah-Jongg, which, simplified in 1920, was simply known as the "red book". Although this was the earliest version of Mahjong that had been introduced to America, many of Babcock's simplifications were abandoned when the 1920s fad died out.

The game was a sensation in America when it was imported from China in the 1920s, as the same Mahjong game took on a number of trademarked names, such as Pung Chow or the Game of Thousand Intelligences. Part of Mahjong nights in America was to decorate rooms in Chinese style and dress like Chinese. Several hit songs were also recorded during the mahjong fad, most notably "Since Ma is Playing Mah Jong" by Eddie Cantor.

American mahjong, which was mainly played by women during the time, grew from this craze. By the 1930s, many revisions of the rules developed that were substantially different from Babcock's classical version (including some that were considered fundamentals in other variants, such as the notion of a standard hand). Standardization came with the formation of the National Mah Jongg League in 1937, along with the first American mahjong rulebook, Maajh: The American Version of the Ancient Chinese Game.

While mahjong was accepted by U.S. players of all ethnic backgrounds during the Babcock era, many consider the modern American version a Jewish game, as many American mahjong players are of Jewish descent. (Also, the NMJL was founded by Jewish players and considered a Jewish organization.) In addition, players usually use the American game as a family-friendly social activity, not as gambling.

British author Alan D. Millington revived the Chinese Classical game of the 1920s with his book, The Complete Book of Mah-jongg (1977). This handbook includes a formal rules set for the game. Many players in Western countries consider Millington's work authoritative.

Current development

Today, the popularity and the characteristics of players of Mahjong varies from country to country. There are also many governing bodies, which often host exhibition games and tournaments. It remains far more popular in Asia than in the West.

In Japan, there is a traditional emphasis on gambling and the typical player is male. Many devotees there believe the game is losing popularity and have taken efforts to revive it. In addition, Japanese video arcades have introduced Mahjong arcade machines that can be connected to others over the internet, as well as video games that allow a victorious player to view pictures of women in varying stages of undress.

Mahjong culture is still deeply ingrained in the Chinese community: Sam Hui wrote Cantopop songs, using mahjong as their themes. Hong Kong movies have always included scenes of mahjong games. Gambling movies have been filmed time and again in Hong Kong, and a recent sub-genre is the mahjong movie.


Beijing residents playing Mahjong in public.
Beijing residents playing Mahjong in public.

There are many variations of mahjong. In many places, players often observe one version -- and are either unaware of other variations or claim that different versions are incorrect. Although many variations today differ only by scoring, there are several main varieties:

  • Chinese Classical Mahjong is the oldest variety of Mahjong, and was the version introduced to America in the 1920s under various names. It has a small, loyal following in the West, although few play it in Asia.
  • Hong Kong Mahjong or Cantonese Mahjong is possibly the most common form of Mahjong, differing in minor scoring details with the Chinese Classical variety.
  • Taiwanese Mahjong is the variety prevalent in Taiwan and involves hands of 16 tiles, as opposed to the 13-tile hands in other versions. It also features bonuses for dealers and recurring dealerships, and allows for multiple players to win from a single discard.
  • Japanese Mahjong is a standardized form of Mahjong in Japan, found prevalently in video games. In addition to scoring changes, the rules of riichi and dora are unique highlights of Japanese Mahjong.
  • Western Classical Mahjong is a descendant of the version of Mahjong introduced by Babcock to America in the 1920s. Today, this term largely refers to the Wright-Patterson rules, used in the U.S. military, and other similar American-made variants that are closer to the Babcock rules.
  • American Mahjong is a form of Mahjong standardized by the National Mah Jongg League and the American Mah-Jongg Association -- and makes the greatest divergence from traditional Mahjong. It uses Joker tiles, the Charleston, plus melds of five or more tiles, and eschews the Chow and the notion of a standard hand. Purists claim that this makes American Mahjong a separate game. In addition, the NMJL and AMJA variations, which differ by minor scoring differences, are commonly referred to as Mahjongg or Mah-jongg (with two Gs, often hyphenated).

Other variants include Fujian Mahjong (with Dàidì Joker 帶弟百搭), Vietnamese Mahjong (with 16 different kinds of joker), and Filipino Mahjong (with the Window Joker). In addition, Pussers Bones is a fast-moving variant developed by sailors in the Royal Australian Navy; it uses a creative alternative vocabulary, such as Eddie, Sammy, Wally, and Normie instead of East, South, West, and North.'

Competition rules

The top three of the World Championship in Mahjong, Tokyo, October 2002. In the middle: world champion Mai Hatsune from Japan.
The top three of the World Championship in Mahjong, Tokyo, October 2002. In the middle: world champion Mai Hatsune from Japan.
The first Open European Mahjong Championship, Nijmegen, the Netherlands, June 2005.
The first Open European Mahjong Championship, Nijmegen, the Netherlands, June 2005.

In 1998, in the interest of changing mahjong from an illegal gambling game to an approved 'healthy sport', the China State Sports Commission published a new set of rules, now generally referred to as Chinese Official rules or International Tournament rules. The principles of the new, ‘healthy’ mahjong are: no gambling – no drinking – no smoking. In international tournaments, players are often grouped in teams to emphasize that mahjong from now on is considered a sport.

The new rules are highly pattern-based. The rulebook contains 81 combinations, based on patterns and scoring elements popular in both classic and modern regional Chinese variants. Some table practices of Japan have also been adopted. Points for flower tiles (each flower is worth 1 point) may not be added until the player has scored 8 points. The winner of a game receives the score from the player who discard the winning tile, plus 8 basic points from each player; in the case of zimo (self drawn win), he receives the value of this round plus 8 points from all players.

The new rules were used in an international tournament first in Tokyo, where in 2002 the first World Championship in Mahjong was organized by the Mahjong Museum, the Japan Mahjong Organizing Committee and the city council of Ningbo, China, the town where it is believed mahjong most likely originated. One hundred players participated, mainly from Japan and China, but also from Europe and the United States. Miss Mai Hatsune from Japan became the first world champion. The following year saw the first annual China Majiang Championship, held in Hainan. The next two annual tournaments were held in Hong Kong and Beijing. Most players were Chinese, but players from other nations attended as well.

In 2005 the first Open European Mahjong Championship was held in the Netherlands, with 108 players competing. The championship was won by Masato Chiba from Japan. The second European championship will be held in Copenhagen, Denmark, on June 21~24, 2007. The Second World Mahjong Championship will probably take place in Chengdu, China, 1~5 November, 2007. The 'International Rules' were slightly modified in 2006 by the China based World Mahjong Organization and are now called Mahjong Competition Rules.

Critics say that the new rules are unlikely to achieve great popularity outside of tournaments. They argue that regional versions are too well-entrenched, while the Mahjong Competition Rules use many unfamiliar patterns. The new mahjong's advocates claim that it meant to be a standard for international events, not to replace existing variations.


Basic equipment: chips, tiles and dice.
Basic equipment: chips, tiles and dice.

Mahjong, can be played either with a set of Mahjong tiles, or a set of Mahjong playing cards (sometimes spelled 'kards' to distinguish them from the list of standard hands used in American mahjong); one brand of Mahjong cards calls these Mhing. Playing cards are often used when travelling as it reduces space and is lighter than their tile counterparts, but are of a lower quality in return. In this article, "tile" will be used to denote both playing cards and tiles.

Many Mahjong sets will also include a set of chips or bone tiles for scoring, as well as indicators denoting the dealer and the prevailing wind of the round. Some sets may also include racks to hold tiles or chips (although in many sets the tiles are generally sufficiently thick so that they can stand on their own), with one of them being different to denote the dealer's rack.

Computer implementations of Mahjong are also available: these allow you to play against computer opponents, or against human opponents on the Internet.

A set of Mahjong tiles will usually differ from place to place. It usually has at least 136 tiles, most commonly 144, although sets originating from America or Japan will have more. Mahjong tiles are split into these categories: suits, honour and flowers.

  • Dots: named as each tile consists of a number of circles. Each circle is said to represent copper (銅, tóng) coins with a square hole in the middle.


  • Bamboos: named as each tile (except the 1 Bamboo) consists of a number of bamboo sticks. Each stick is said to represent a string (索, sǔo) that holds a hundred coins. Note that 1 Bamboo is an exception. It has a bird sitting on a Bamboo. This is a belief that players cannot draw or add bamboo sticks to 1 Bamboo to change the tile to some other Bamboo.


  • Characters: named as each tile represents ten thousand (萬, wàn) coins, or one hundred strings of one hundred coins.


  • Wind tiles: East (東, dōng), South (南, nán), West (西, ), and North (北, běi).


  • Dragon tiles: red, green, and white. The term dragon tile is a western convention introduced by Joseph Park Babcock in his 1920 book introducing Mahjong to America. Originally, these tiles are said to have something to do with the Chinese Imperial Examination. The red tile ("中"榜, zhōngbǎng) means you pass the examination and thus will be appointed a government official. The green tile ("發"財, fācái) means, consequently you will become financially well off. The white tile (a clean board) means that because a person is doing well they should act like a good, incorrupt official. In the original Chinese Majiong, the piece called "箭" (jiàn), represents archery, the red "中" represents a hit on the target. In ancient Chinese archery, one would put a red "中" to signify that the target was hit. White represents failure, green "發" means that one will release the draw.


  • Flower tiles: The last category and typically optional components to a set of mahjong tiles, often contain artwork on their tiles.


The suits of the tiles are money-based. In ancient China, the copper coins had a square hole in the centre. People passed a rope through the holes to tie coins into strings. These strings are usually in groups of 100 coins called diào (弔 or variant 吊) or 1000 coins called guàn (貫). Mahjong's connection to the ancient Chinese currency system is consistent with its alleged derivation from the game named mǎ diào (馬吊).

In the mahjong suits, the coppers represent the coins; the ropes are actually strings of 100 coins; and the character myriad represents 10,000 coins or 100 strings. When a hand received the maximium allowed winning of a round, it is called màn guàn (滿貫, lit. full string of coin.)

Setting up the board

The following sequence is for setting up a standard Hong Kong (or Singapore) game. Casual or beginning players may wish to proceed directly to gameplay. Shuffling the tiles is needed before piling up.

Prevailing Wind and Game Wind

To determine the Player Game Wind (門風 or 自風), each player throws three dice (two in some variants) and the player with the highest total is chosen as the dealer or the banker (莊家). The dealer's Wind is now East, the player to the right of the dealer has South wind, the next player to the right has West and the fourth player has North. Game Wind changes after every round, unless the dealer wins. In some variations, the longer the dealer remains as the dealer, the higher the value of each hand.

The Prevailing Wind (場風) is always set to East when starting. It changes after the Game Wind has rotated around the board, that is, after each player has lost as the dealer.

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) and a pointer that can be oriented towards the dealer to show Player Game Wind. In sets with racks, a rack may be marked differently to denote the dealer.

These winds are also significant as winds are often associated with a member of a Flower tile group, typically 1 with East, 2 with South, 3 with West, and 4 with North.

Dealing tiles

All tiles are placed face down and shuffled. Each player then stacks a row of tiles two deep in front of him, the length of the row depending on the number of tiles in use:

  • 136 tiles: 17 tiles for all players
  • 144 tiles: 18 tiles for all players
  • 148 tiles: 19 tiles for dealer and player opposite, 18 for rest
  • 152 tiles: 19 tiles for all players

The dealer throws three dice and sums up the total. Counting counterclockwise so that the dealer is '1', a player's row is chosen. Starting at the right edge, 'sum' tiles are counted and shifted to the right.

The dealer now takes a block of 4 tiles to the left of the divide.

The player to the dealer's right takes 4 tiles to the left, and players (counterclockwise) take blocks of 4 tiles (clockwise) until all players have 12 tiles for 13-tile variations and 16 for 16-tile variations. In 13-tile variations, each player then takes one more tile to make a 13-tile hand. In practice, in order to speed up the dealing procedure, the dealer often takes one extra tile during the dealing procedure to start their turn.

The board is now ready and new tiles will be taken from the wall where the dealing left off, proceeding clockwise. In some special cases discussed later, tiles are taken from the other end of the wall, commonly referred to as the back end of the wall. In some variations, a group of tiles at the back end, known as the dead wall, is reserved for this purpose instead. In such variations, the dead wall may be visually separated from the main wall, but it is not required.

Unless the dealer has already won (see below), the dealer then discards a tile. The dealing process with tiles is ritualized and complex to prevent cheating. Casual players, or players with Mahjong playing cards, may wish to simply shuffle well and deal out the tiles with fewer ceremonial procedures.


In the American variations, it is required that before each hand begins, a Charleston is enacted. This consists of a procedure where three tiles are passed to the player on one's right, followed by three tiles passed to the player opposite, followed by three tiles passed to the left. If all players are in agreement, a second Charleston is performed, however, any player may decide to stop passing after the first Charleston is complete. The Charleston(s) are followed by an optional pass to the player across of one, two or three tiles. This is a distinctive feature of American-style Mahjong that may have been borrowed from card games.


Each player is dealt either 13 tiles for 13-tile variations or 16 tiles for 16-tile variations.

A turn involves a player drawing a tile from the wall (or draw pile) and then placing it in his or her hand. The player then discards a tile onto the table. This signals the end of his or her turn, prompting the player to the right to make his or her move. As a form of courtesy, each player is encouraged to announce loudly the name of the tile being discarded. Many variations require that discarded tiles be placed in an orderly fashion in front of the player, while some require that these be placed face down.

During gameplay, the number of tiles maintained by each player should always be the same, ie. 13 or 16. A player must discard a tile after picking up one. Failure to do so rules that player effectively out of winning (since a winning combination could never be built with one extra tile or less), but he or she is obliged to continue until someone else wins.

When three players ditch the West tile, the fourth player will usually avoid discarding another West the following turn. That is caused by a superstition that, when all the players discard a West ("西") together, all players will die ("歸西") or be cursed with bad luck (see Tetraphobia). Also, during the West Prevailing Wind Round, players will also avoid ditching the One Circle during the first move because One Circle in Chinese sounds like together.

Flower tiles

Flower tiles, when dealt or drawn, must be immediately replaced by a tile from the dead wall, or if no dead wall exists, the back end of the wall. They are immediately exposed (placed in view on the table on front of the player's tiles). At the start of each round, where two or more players may have flower tiles, flower tiles are replaced starting with the dealer and moving to the right. Flower tiles may or may not have point value; and in some variations, possession of all the flower tiles wins the round regardless of the actual contents of the hand.

In American Mahjong, however, Flower tiles are not instantly exposed and replaced, as they may be melded with other Flower tiles in the same group (in essence, they are treated as if they were another set of honour tiles) or be used as a requirement of a winning hand. Early versions of American Mahjong used Flower tiles as Joker tiles.

Joker tiles

A feature of several variations, most notably American variations of Mahjong, is the notion of wild card or Joker tiles. They may be used as a substitute for any tile in a hand (or, in some variations, only tiles in melds). Depending on the variation, a player may replace a Joker tile that is part of an exposed meld belonging to any player with the tile it represents.

Rules governing discarding Joker tiles also exist: some variations permit the Joker tile to take on the identity of any tile, and others only permit the Joker tile to take on the identity of the previously discarded tile (or the absence of a tile, if it is the first discard).

Joker tiles may or may not have an impact on scoring, depending on the variation. Some special hands may require the use of Joker tiles (for example, to represent a "fifth tile" of a certain suited or honour tile).

In American Mahjong, it is illegal to pass jokers during the Charleston.


When a player discards a tile, any other player may "call" or "bid" for it in order to complete a meld (a certain set of tiles) in his or her own hand. The disadvantage of doing this is that the player must now expose the completed meld to the other players, giving them an idea of what type of hand he or she is creating. This also creates an element of strategy, as in many variations, discarding a tile that allows another player to win the game causes the discarding player to lose points (or pay the winner more in a game for money).

Most variants (again, with the notable exception of American Mahjong) allow three types of melds. When a meld is declared through a discard, the player must state the type of the meld to be declared and place the meld face-up. The player must then discard a tile, and play continues to the right. Because of this, turns may be skipped in the process.

  • Pong or Pung (碰 pinyin peng, Japanese ポンpon) - A pong or pung is a set of three identical tiles. In American Mahjong, where it is possible to meld Flower tiles, a pong may also refer to a meld of three of the four flower tiles in a single group. American Mahjong may also have hands requiring a knitted triplet - three tiles of identical rank but of three different suits. For example:; ; ; .
  • Kong (槓/杠 pinyin gang, Japanese カンkan) - A kong is a set of four identical tiles. Because all other melds contain three tiles, a Kong must be immediately exposed when explicitly declared. If the fourth tile is formed from a discard, it is said to be an exposed Kong (明槓/明杠, pinyin ming gang). If all four tiles were formed in the hand, it is said to be a concealed Kong (暗槓/暗杠, pinyin an gang). In some forms of play, the outer two tiles of a concealed Kong are flipped to indicate its concealed status. It is also possible to form an exposed Kong if the player has an exposed Pung and draws the fourth tile. In any case, a player must draw an extra tile from the back end of the wall (or from the dead wall, if it exists) and discard as normal. Play then continues to the right. Once a Kong is formed, it cannot be split up (say, if you wanted to instead use one tile as part of a Chow), and thus, it may be advantageous not to immediately declare a Kong. For example: ;
  • Chow (吃 chi, in some versions 上 shang Japanese チー) - A chow is a meld of three suited tiles in sequence. Unlike other melds, an exposed Chow may only be declared off the discard of the player on the left. The only exception is when the player needs that tile to form a chow to win. In this case, a chow can be declared at any 3 opponents' turns. American Mahjong does not have a formal chow (that is, you cannot declare chows), but some hands may require that similar sequences be constructed in the hand. Some American variations may also have the knitted sequence, where the three tiles are of three different suits. Sequences of higher length are usually not permissible (unless it forms more than one meld). For example: ; ; ;
  • Eye (將 jiang, in some versions 眼 yan, also Pair) -The pair, while not a meld (and thus, cannot be declared or formed with a discard), is the final component to the standard hand. It consists of any two identical tiles. Two are the eyes in this case:

Note that American mahjong hands may have tile constructions that are not melds, such as "NEWS" (having one of each wind). As they are not melds, they cannot be formed off discards, and in some variations, cannot be constructed in part or in whole by Joker tiles.

When two or more players call for a discarded tile, a player taking the tile to win the hand has precedence over all others, followed by pong or kong declarations, and lastly chows. In American Mahjong, where it may be possible for two players needing the same tile for melds, the meld of a higher number of identical tiles takes precedence. If two or more players call for a meld of the same precedence (or to win), the player closest to the right wins out (but the game may be declared an abortive draw if two or more players call a tile for the win, again depending on the variation). In particular, if a call to win overrides a call to form a kong, such a move is called robbing the Kong, and may give a scoring bonus.

There is generally an informal convention as to the amount of time allowed to make a call for a discarded tile before the next player takes their turn. In American Mahjong, this "window of opportunity" is explicitly stated in the rules, whereas in other variants, it is generally considered that when the next player's turn starts (i.e. the tile leaves the wall), the opportunity has been lost.

Ready hands

When a hand is one tile short of winning (for example: , waiting for: , or as can be eyes), the hand is said to be a ready hand (Traditional Chinese: 聽牌 Simplified Chinese: 听牌 Japanese: テンパイ), or more figuratively, "on the pot". The player holding a ready hand is said to be waiting for certain tiles. It is common to be waiting for two or three tiles, and some variations award points for a hand that is waiting for one tile. In 13-tile Mahjong, the most amount of tiles that you can wait for is 13 (the thirteen terminals, a nonstandard special hand).

Some variations of Mahjong, most notably Japanese variations, allow a player to declare riichi (立直 - sometimes known as reach as it is phonetically similar). A declaration of riichi is a promise that any tile drawn by the player is immediately discarded unless it constitutes a win. A player who declares riichi and wins usually receives a point bonus for their hand, while a player who declares riichi and loses is usually penalized in some fashion. When four players declare a riichi, the game is a draw. Declaring a nonexistent riichi is penalized.


If only the dead wall remains and no one has won, the round is drawn (流局 liu ju, Japanese Ryuukyoku) or " goulashed". A new round begins, and depending on the variant, game wind may change. For example, in most playing circles in Singapore, if there is at least one Kong in the round by any player, the following player becomes the dealer for the next round. If there is no Kong, then the existing dealer remains as the dealer for the next round.

Abortive draws

In Japanese Mahjong, abortive draws (draws where the game is declared drawn while tiles are available) are possible. They can be declared under the following conditions:

  • 九種么九倒牌 (kyuu shu yao kyuu tou pai): If, on a player's first turn, and with no melds declared, a player has nine different terminal or honour tiles, the player may declare the round to be drawn (for example: ; but could also go for the nonstandard thirteen terminals hand as well).
  • 三家和 (san ka agari): If three players claim the same discard in order to win the round, the round is drawn.
  • 四風子連打 (suu fontsu renda): If, on the first turn without any meld declarations, all four players discard the same wind tile, the hand is drawn.
  • 四家立直 (suu ka riichi): If all four players declare riichi, the round is drawn.
  • 四槓流れ (suu kan nagare): The round is drawn when the fourth kong is declared, unless all four kongs were declared by a single player. In this case, the round is drawn when another player declares a kong.


A player wins the round (Chinese: 糊, hu, Japanese:ロン ) by creating a standard mahjong hand (in Western Classical variants, this is known as creating a Mahjong, and the process of winning is called going Mahjong) which consists of a certain number of melds, four for 13-tile variations and five for 16-tile variations, and a pair. Some variations may also require that winning hands be of some point value.

If the player wins by drawing a tile from a wall during his turn, a special name is given to this type of win in Chinese and Japanese(Chinese: 自摸, Japanese: ツモ).

Variations may also have special nonstandard hands that a player can make (in this sense, American Mahjong is a variant where only special hands exist).

Turns and rounds

If the dealer wins the game, they will stay as the dealer. Otherwise, the player to the right becomes dealer and the player's wind becomes the Game Wind, in the sequence East-South-West-North.

After the wind returns to East (ie. each player has been the dealer), a round is complete and the Prevailing Wind will change, again in the sequence East-South-West-North. A full game of mahjong ends after 4 rounds, ie. when the North Prevailing Wind round is over. It is often regarded as an unlucky act to stop the gameplay at the West round, as West has a similar sound to death in Chinese.

It is also generally considered poor etiquette to touch the shoulders of someone during the game as this is said to give bad luck to the player.


Scoring in Mahjong involves points, with a monetary value for points agreed upon by players. Although in many variations scoreless hands are possible, many require that hands be of some point value in order to win the round.

While the basic gameplay is more or less the same throughout mahjong, the greatest divergence between variations lies in the scoring systems. Like the gameplay, there is a generalized system of scoring, based on the method of winning and the winning hand, from which Chinese and Japanese (among notable systems) base their roots. American mahjong generally has greatly divergent scoring rules (as well as greatly divergent gameplay rules).

Because of the large differences between the various systems of scoring (especially for Chinese variants), groups of players will often agree on particular scoring rules before a game. As with gameplay, many attempts have been made to create an international standard of scoring, but most are not widely accepted.

Points (terminology of which differs from variation to variation) are obtained by matching the winning hand and the winning condition with a specific set of criteria, with different criteria scoring different values. Some of these criteria may be subsets of other criteria (for example, having a meld of one Dragon versus having a meld of all of them), and in these cases, only the most general criterion is scored. The points obtained may be translated into scores for each player using some (typically exponential) functions. When gambling with mahjong, these scores are typically directly translated into sums of money. Some criteria may be also in terms of both points and score.

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