Mahjong A game of mahjong being played in Hangzhou, China Chinese name Traditional Chinese 麻將 Simplified Chinese 麻将 Transcriptions Gan - Romanization ma4 chiong4 Hakka - Romanization ma jiong3 Mandarin - Hanyu Pinyin Má jiàng Wu - Romanization mu ciang (麻雀兒/麻將) Cantonese (Yue) - Jyutping maa4 zoeng3 - Yale Romanization ma4 jeung3 Alternative Chinese name Traditional Chinese 麻雀 Simplified Chinese 麻雀 Transcriptions Gan - Romanization ma4 chhiok6 Hakka - Romanization ma4 jiok3 Mandarin - Hanyu Pinyin Má què Min - Hokkien POJ Moâ-chhiok Wu - Romanization mu ciah Cantonese (Yue) - Jyutping maa4 zoek3 - Yale Romanization ma4 jeuk3 Japanese name Kanji 麻雀 Kana マージャン Transcriptions - Romaji mājan Korean name Hangul 마작 Hanja 麻雀 Transcriptions - Revised
majak - McCune-
machak Vietnamese name Vietnamese mạt chược Mahjong Players 2-4 Age range 4 years and older Setup time 2-5 minutes Playing time Dependent on variation and/or house/tournament rules Random chance Yes Skill(s) required Tactics, observation, memory
Mahjong, sometimes spelled Mah Jongg, is a game that originated in China, commonly played by four players (with some three-player variations found in Korea and Japan). The four player table version should not be confused with the popular Western single player (tile matching) computer game (Mahjong solitaire), which is a recent invention and completely different from the table game. Similar to the Western card game rummy, mahjong is a game of skill, strategy and calculation and involves a certain degree of chance. In Asia, mahjong is also popularly played as a gambling game (though it may just as easily be played recreationally).
The game is played with a set of 136 tiles based on Chinese characters and symbols, although some regional variations use a different number of tiles. In most variations, each player begins by receiving thirteen tiles. In turn players draw and discard tiles until they complete a legal hand using the fourteenth drawn tile to form four groups (melds) and a pair (head). There are fairly standard rules about how a piece is drawn, stolen from another player (melded), the use of basic (numbered tiles) and honours (winds and dragons), the kinds of melds, and the order of dealing and play. However there are many regional variations in the rules; in addition, the scoring system, the minimum hand necessary to win varies significantly based on the local rules being used.
The game was called 麻雀 (pinyin: má què), meaning sparrow in Chinese, which is still the name most commonly used in some southern Chinese dialects such as Cantonese and Min Nan, as well as in Japanese. However, most Mandarin-speaking Chinese now call the game má jiàng (麻將). In Northern Wu Chinese (Shanghainese and its relatives), it is pronounced as 麻將 [mu tsiaŋ], but in actuality, 麻將 is the diminutive form of 麻雀, written as 麻雀兒 [mu tsiaʔ ŋ], due to an erhua event. It is through the Wu Chinese pronunciation of 麻雀兒 that the diminutive form of 麻雀 in Northern Wu dialect became known as 麻將 in both Mandarin and Wu.
Mahjong in China
One of the myths of the origin of mahjong suggests that Confucius, the Chinese philosopher, developed the game in about 500 BC.The three dragon (cardinal) tiles also agree with the three cardinal virtues bequeathed by Confucius. Hóng Zhōng (紅中 , red middle), Fā Cái (發財 , prosperity), and Bái Ban (白板 , white board) represent benevolence, sincerity, and filial piety, respectively.
The myth also claims that Confucius was fond of birds, which would explain the name "mahjong" (maque 麻雀 = sparrow).
Many historians believe it was based on a Chinese card game called Mǎdiào (馬吊) (also known as Ma Tiae, hanging horse; or Yèzí [葉子], 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 40 cards are numbered 1 to 9 in four different suits, along with four extra flower cards. This is quite similar to the numbering of mahjong tiles today, although mahjong only has three suits and, in effect, uses four packs of Ya Pei cards.
There is still some 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 nobleman living in the Shanghai area created the game between 1870 and 1875. Others believe that two brothers from Níngpō created mahjong around 1850, from the earlier game of Mǎdiào.
This game was banned by the government of People's Republic of China when it took power in 1949. The new Communist government forbade any gambling activities, which were regarded as symbols of capitalist corruption. After the Cultural Revolution, the game was revived, without gambling elements (see below), and the prohibition was revoked in 1985. Today, it is a favorite pastime in China and other Chinese-speaking communities.
Mahjong in the Western world
In 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.
The game was imported to the United States in the 1920s. The first mahjong sets sold in the U.S. were sold by Abercrombie & Fitch starting in 1920. It became a success in New York, and the (co.) owner of the company, Ezra Fitch, sent emissaries to Chinese villages to buy every set of mahjong they could find. Abercrombie & Fitch sold a total of 12,000 sets.
Also in 1920, Joseph Park Babcock published his book Rules of Mah-Jongg, also known as the "red book". This was the earliest version of mahjong known in America. Babcock had learned mahjong while living in China. Babcock's rules simplified the game to make it easier for Americans to take up, and his version was common through the mahjong fad of the 1920s. Later, when the 1920s fad died out, many of Babcock's simplifications were abandoned.
The game has taken on a number of trademarked names, such as "Pung Chow" and the "Game of Thousand Intelligences". Mahjong nights in America often involved dressing and decorating rooms in Chinese style. Several hit songs were also recorded during the mahjong fad, most notably "Since Ma is Playing Mah Jong" by Eddie Cantor.
Many variants of mahjong developed during this period. 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). The most common form, which eventually became "American mahjong", was most popular among Jewish women. Standardization came with the formation of the National Mah Jongg League (NMJL) 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 remake of a Jewish game, as many American mahjong players are of Jewish descent. The NMJL was founded by Jewish players and is considered a Jewish organization. In addition, players usually use the American game as a family-friendly social activity, not as gambling. In 1986, the National Mah Jongg League conducted their first Mah Jongg Cruise Tournament, in conjunction with Mah Jongg Madness. In 2010, this large scale seagoing event hosts its 25th Silver Anniversary Cruise, with players from all over the States and Canada participating.
In recent years, a second organization has formed, the American Mah Jongg Association. The AMJA currently hosts tournaments all across North America, with their signature event being at the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
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.
Mahjong is not the first re-appearance of the Chinese game in the western world. It was also introduced in playing card form by an official of Britain's Consular Service named William Henry Wilkinson, author of "Chinese origin of playing cards," under the name of Khanhoo. This card game does not seem to have made much impression. The later success of mahjong came in part from the elegance of its mechanism as embodied in the domino-like pieces.
Today, the popularity and the characteristics of players of mahjong vary 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.
Mahjong, as of 2010, is the most popular table game in Japan. As of 2008, there were approximately 7.6 million Mahjong players in Japan and an estimated 8,900 Mahjong parlors did ¥300 billion in sales. Many devotees there believe the game is losing popularity and have taken efforts to revive it. There are several manga and anime (e.g. Saki and Akagi) devoted to dramatic and comic situations involving mahjong. In addition, Japanese video arcades have introduced mahjong arcade machines that can be connected to others over the Internet. There are also video game versions of strip mahjong.
Mahjong culture is still deeply ingrained in the Chinese community. Sam Hui wrote Cantopop songs using mahjong as their themes, and Hong Kong movies have often included scenes of mahjong games. Many gambling movies have been filmed in Hong Kong, and a recent sub-genre is the mahjong movie.
Like other games, such as chess, Mastermind, checkers and card games, prolonged playing of mahjong may trigger epileptic seizures. The number of such cases, however, are rare. According to a 2007 study, to date there are only 23 reported cases of mahjong-induced seizures in the English medical literature.
Studies by doctors have also shown in Hong Kong that the game is beneficial for individuals suffering from dementia or cognitive memory difficulties, leading to the development of mahjong therapy.
Type of game
Because of the solid form of the tiles, mahjong is sometimes classified as a domino game. However, it is much more similar to Western-style card games such as rummy.
Old Hong Kong mahjong
In an attempt to describe the mechanics, equipment and scoring of the game, this article will first mention Old Hong Kong rules, that is, old as opposed to new which are both played in Hong Kong and abroad, as the rules are easily understood. It uses most of the tiles and has a simple scoring system as well as lacking the more advanced and complicated rules and scoring patterns used in some variations. The features of some variations of mahjong are described in the section of Variations and in other articles.
Hong Kong Mahjong is played with a set of mahjong tiles (though cards may be used). Sets often include counters (to keep score), dice (to decide how to deal) and a marker to show who is dealer and which round is being played. Some sets include racks to hold tiles (if they are shaped small or differently).
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, honor, and flowers.
There are three different suits numbered 1 to 9, which are called simple tiles. They are bamboo, characters (or myriads), and circles (or dots).
Bamboos numbered 1 to 9.
Characters numbered 1 to 9.
Circles or Dots numbered 1 to 9.
In some variations only tiles 1 and 9 are used in the bamboo suit. There are four matching tiles for each value (e.g. there are four Dots tiles with the number 2).
There are two different honor suits: the winds and the dragons. The winds are east, south, west and north, and the dragons are Red, Green and White. They have no numerical sequence and there are four tiles of each honor (e.g. four Red Dragon tiles).
The East, South, West and North
The Red, Green and White Dragons
There are eight bonus tiles: four flowers and four seasons. The flowers are plum, orchid, chrysanthemum and bamboo, and the seasons are spring, summer, autumn and winter.
The four flowers (there is only one of each)
The four seasons (there is only one of each)
Choosing the first dealing and taking positions at the table
The dealer is chosen by various means, either by throwing dice (the highest total takes the east wind) or placing one of each wind face down and having each player randomly select one of these tiles. Each player sits down at their respective position at the table, which is of the reversed map: East is dealer, the right of the dealer is South, across is West and the left is North. The order becomes counterclockwise.
Hands, rounds and matches
A match consists of four rounds. In each round at least four hands are played and each round is named after its prevailing wind. The Prevailing Wind is always set to East when starting. In the second round the prevailing wind is south etc. In each round, each player takes turns being the dealer. As dealer, this player assumes the position of the east wind. It is important not to confuse the prevailing wind with the seat wind as these are distinct. There are four rounds (with their prevailing winds) and in each round each player plays all four seat winds.
Example of Games (assuming the player who is dealer in each hand does not win the hand)
Example of a 16 hand game Hand Number Prevailing Wind Player 1 Player 2 Player 3 Player 4 1 East East (dealer) South West North 2 East North East (dealer) South West 3 East West North East (dealer) South 4 East South West North East (dealer) 5 South East (dealer) South West North 6 South North East (dealer) South West 7 South West North East (dealer) South 8 South South West North East (dealer) 9 West East (dealer) South West North 10 West North East (dealer) South West 11 West West North East (dealer) South 12 West South West North East (dealer) 13 North East (dealer) South West North 14 North North East (dealer) South West 15 North West North East (dealer) South 16 North South West North East (dealer)
If the dealer wins a hand or if there is a draw (no winner), then an extra hand is played and the seating and prevailing wind remains the same. This may mean that a match would have no limit to the amount of hands played (though some players will set a limit to three consecutive hands allowed with the same seat positions and prevailing winds).
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.
Wind position is significant in that it affects the scoring of the game.
All tiles are placed face down on the table and are shuffled. By convention all players should participate in shuffling using both hands moving the pieces around the table, loudly, for a lengthy period. There is no fixed rule on how to deal or how to treat tiles which flip over during shuffle, though possible solutions include turning back over the pieces at the moment they are seen, turning over all revealed pieces at intervals or doing so at the end of the shuffling and forming of the wall.
Each player then stacks a row of 18 tiles two tiles high in front of him (for a total of 36 tiles). Players then push each side of their tiles together to form a square wall.
The dealer throws three dice and sums up the total. Counting counterclockwise so that the dealer is 1 (or 5, 9, 13, 17), so that south is 2 (or 6, 10, 14, 18), etc., a player's quarter of the wall is chosen. Using the same total on the dice, the player then counts the stacks of tiles from right to left. Starting from the left of the stacks counted, the dealer takes four tiles to himself, and players in counterclockwise order take blocks of four tiles until all players have 12 tiles, so that the stacks decrease clockwise. Each player then takes one last tile to make a 13-tile hand. Dealing does not have to be this formal and may be done quite differently based on house rules.
Each player now sets aside any flowers or seasons they may have drawn and takes replacement piece(s) from the wall.
The dealer takes the next piece from the wall, adds it to his hand. If this does not complete a legal hand, he then discards a piece (throwing it into the middle of the wall with no particular order in mind).
Each player takes a turn picking up a tile from the wall and then discarding a tile by throwing it into the centre and, if desired, announcing out loud what the piece is. Play continues this way until one player has a legal hand. At this point a player will call out mahjong and reveal their hand. There are four different ways that this order of play can be interrupted which is mentioned below.
During play, the number of tiles maintained by each player should always be thirteen tiles (meaning in each turn a tile must be picked up and another discarded). Not included in the count of thirteen tiles are flowers and seasons set to the side and the fourth added piece of a kong (mentioned below). If a player is seen to have more or less than thirteen tiles in their hand outside of their turn they are penalised.
A winning hand consists of fourteen tiles (the thirteen tiles in the hand plus the additional tile picked up from the wall or stolen when a player discards a tile needed to complete a hand). The first is called winning from the wall, the second is called winning by a discard.
The winning hand is made of four melds (a specific pattern of three pieces) and the eyes (a pair of two identical pieces).
Most players play with a table minimum, meaning a winning hand must score a minimum amount of points (which can be seen in the scoring section). In Hong Kong Mahjong the most common point set is three.
- Pong/ Pung is a set of three identical tiles. For example:
You can form a pong with any tile (except flowers as they are bonus tiles set to the side when drawn from the wall). The tiles must be identical (you cannot mix suits).
- Kong is a set of four identical tiles. For example:
Consider a Kong the same as a Pong/ Pung with an additional tile to make a set of four. There are three ways to form a Kong. At any point during a players turn, if they have all four matching tiles in their hand, they may declare the Kong. They do so 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. It is worth noting as having several concealed pongs and/or kongs are worth points. If another player discards a tile and a player has the other three matching tiles in their hand, they may take it and create a melded (stolen) Kong. The player does this by placing the three tiles down and the fourth tile on top of the middle one. The final way to make a Kong is if a pong/ pung has already been melded and the player draws the fourth from the wall. They may add the fourth piece on top of the middle tile in the melded pong/ pung. If a pong/ pung has been melded a player cannot steal the fourth piece if another player discards it.
In any case, whenever a Kong is formed, the player must draw an extra tile from the end of the wall and then discard a tile. Kongs count extra for scoring purposes.
- Chow is a meld of three suited tiles in sequence. For example:
The meld must be in absolute numerical sequence. There is no skipping of numbers, nor does 9 loop around to 1. The sequence must be in the same suit. Honours, flowers and seasons cannot be used to make chows. A player can steal a discard to form a chow from the player prior to them in order if no one else needs the tile to make pongs/ pungs or kongs. When stealing a discard, winning precedes merely making melds.
- Eyes, also known as a pair, are two identical tiles which are a component to the standard hand. The eyes cannot be declared or formed with a discard except if completing the pair completes the hand. For example:
Interruption of play
Flower or season
Whenever a player draws a flower or season, it is announced and then placed to the side (it is not considered as a part of the hand but can earn a bonus point for the winning hand) and the last tile of the wall is drawn as a replacement tile so that the player has the fourteen pieces needed before their discard. This may happen twice or more times in a row in a player's turn.
Melding (or stealing) another player's discard
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 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 requires the discarding player to lose points, or pay the winner more, in a game for money.
When 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. (As for the Japanese variant, callings to make melds are different from the actual names of the types of melds.) The player must then discard a tile, and play continues to the right. Because of this, turns may be skipped in the process.
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. 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. The game may be declared an abortive draw if two or more players call a tile for the win though, again depending on the variation.
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.
If at any point in the game a player can use another player's discard to complete a legal hand (and with the agreed minimum points) they yell out Mahjong and take the piece and reveal their hand, with the way of calling it out depending on variations. This ends the hand and scoring commences. If two or three players need the piece to win (rare) there are two ways to resolve the issue depending on agreed table rules. Either the players compete to see who would have a better hand in terms of scoring or simply the player closest to the discarder in order of turn wins the game.
Robbing a kong
A rarely occurring and high scoring feature of Hong Kong Mahjong is a move called robbing the kong. If a player declares a kong (by melding it or adding a fourth piece to a pong to form a kong or declaring a concealed kong) and another player(s) can use that piece to complete a hand (which would only logically happen by making a chow) a player may steal that piece from that player when declaring the kong and go mahjong (win the hand).
Example winning hands
Below are examples of winning hands, which are split into melds and a pair for clarity. A winning hand must consist of four melds and a pair (with special patterns available), and must score the agreed table minimum as well.
Hand formed with pongs and the eyes (pair) of East wind. Only bamboo is used (no other simples) scoring extra points (clean hand). No chows are used (all pong/kong hand scoring extra points).
Hand formed using only circles (pure hand of only one suit worth extra points). Hand is made of chows, pongs and the eyes of circles.
In Western Classical variants, this is known as creating a mahjong, and the process of winning is called going mahjong.
Variations may have special nonstandard hands of which some are more common than others. The hands of seven different pairs and thirteen orphans are examples which do not have four melds and the eyes. For thirteen orphans, see the section of Limit hands.
Turns and rounds
If the dealer wins the game, s/he will remain the dealer and an extra hand is played in addition to the minimum 16 hands in a match. The same occurs if there is no winner.
The dealer position is significant in that s/he owes or is owed double their score.
Extra points are also scored if their hand is composed of pieces that match their seat wind and or prevailing wind.
Flowers and seasons are also scored as bonus points to the winner depending on their seat position.
Scoring in Hong Kong mahjong is a relatively easy process.
1) Only the winner scores points.
2) Winning hands are scored by totaling the point value of each element in the hand.
Point is distinct from the actual payment received from each player (as will be seen in a moment).
3) The winner receives points (also known as faan among some players) for:
- individual melds,
- the composition of the entire hand,
- how the hand was won,
- bonus tiles,
- special patterns,
- and a few other special criteria.
4) In order to win, a player needs to have at least the minimum points agreed in advance (often 3).
5) Bonus points are separate from the minimum points a player needs to win.
6) If a player goes mahjong with a legal and minimum hand, his/her hand is scored by adding his/her points and bonus points together.
7) The payment received from each player depends on three factors:
a) the point value of the hand,
b) if the player won from a discard or from the wall, and
c) if the player was the dealer or not.
There are a series of "limit hands" (players agree in advance on a limit for scoring); for example, 64 points (which is the highest base points doubled twice).
Table rules dictate if these special hands are allowed and which ones.
In some cases it is expected that the hand is achieved without melding any sets (stealing tiles) except when winning and or that it must be won from the wall.
The winner receives a payment of the maximum possible payment (such as 64 points as shown above) from each player without any doubling.
They (limit hands?) are rare. They are also optional.
Some groups also play with the "great flowers" rule, in which: if a player picks up all 4 flowers and all 4 seasons during his/her hand, s/he instantly wins the hand and receives the maximum points from all players. This is exceptionally rare and is also an optional rule.
The number of points scored in a hand is translated to a base number for payment.
The base payment doubles for every increment of two or three points.
Base Payment Points Base Payment 3 1 4 1 5 2 6 2 7 2 8 4 9 4 10 8 11 8 12+ 16
The base payment is doubled for the following (if two criteria apply, the base payment is doubled and then redoubled)
- If the winner wins from the wall the base payment is doubled.
- The discarder pays double the base payment to the winner (if the hand is won on a discard)
- Whoever is east pays or receives double.
Examples of payment
Hand 1 (West wins with 4 points from the wall (base payment of 1) Player Base Payment East (dealer) 1 (base payment) x2 (doubling for winning from wall) x2 (doubling for being east) = -4 South 1 (base payment) x2 (doubling for winning from wall) = -2 West 4 (from east) + 2 (from south) 2 (from north) = +8 North 1 (base payment) x2 (doubling for winning from wall) = -2 Hand 2 (North wins with 6 points on discard from south (base payment of 2) Player Base Payment East (dealer) 2 (base payment) x2 (doubling for being east) = -4 South 2 (base payment) x2 (discarding winning piece) = -4 West 2 (base payment) = -2 North 4 (from east) + 4 (from south) 2 (from west) = +10 Hand 3 (East wins with 10 points on discard from west (base payment of 8) Player Base Payment East (dealer) 16 (from south) + 32 (from west) + 16 (from north) = +64 South 8 (base payment) x2 (paying to east) = -16 West 8 (base payment) x2 (paying to east) x2 (discarding winning piece) = -32 North 8 (base payment) x2 (paying to east) = -16
As one can see Hong Kong mahjong is essentially a payment system of doubling and redoubling. The higher the points, the higher the base score. East gains or suffers more from other players, winning from the wall is beneficial (though not much of a case of strategy but more luck) and throwing away the winning piece can be a big penalty.
A winning hand must include an agreed minimum amount of the following points (often 3)
Basic Elements Item Points A pong/kong of Dragons 1 A pong/kong of Seat wind or Round wind 1 All simples 1 All chows and a pair of simples 1 point more All pongs/kongs and any pair (pong hand) 3 Only one simple suit (no mixing bamboos, circles or characters) and honours (dragons and or winds) (clean hand) 3 Advanced Elements (less common and difficult elements to achieve) Item Points Three unmelded (stolen) pongs/kongs 3 Three kongs 3 Seven pairs (special pattern) 4 Only one suit (pure circles, pure bamboos or pure characters) 6 Little Dragons (two pongs of dragons and a pair of the 3rd dragon) 12 Little Winds (three pongs of winds and a pair of the 4th wind) 12
Bonus points from manner of winning
Bonus Points Table by Manner of Winning (not counted towards the minimum points needed Item Points Winning from the wall 1 Robbing the Kong 1 Winning on the last tile from the wall or its subsequent discard 1
Bonus points from flowers and seasons
Bonus Points Table from Flowers and Seasons (not counted towards the minimum points needed Item Points No flowers or seasons tiles in hand 1 Having Own flower (seat flower)
East-1 South-2 West-3 North-4
1 Having Own season (seat season)
East-1 South-2 West-3 North-4
1 All four flowers or all four seasons 4 points extra All 8 flowers and seasons (exceedingly rare) Automatic win with maximum points
Having a flower or season that is not a players seat flower or seat season scores no bonus points (unless a player achieves all four seasons or all four flowers).
Limit Hands (winner receives agreed maximum payment from each player) Item Explanation Thirteen Orphans Player has 1 and 9 of each simple suit, one of each wind, one of each dragon and in addition one extra piece of any of those thirteen elements Heavenly Gates Player has 1112345678999 of any simple suit and one extra piece of numbers 1 to 9. This hand always has four melds and the eyes. Pong Hand Four concealed pongs and or kongs Kong Hand Player has four Kongs Honours Hand Player has all honours in the hand (winds and dragons) Pearl Dragon All circles and a pong of the white dragon Ruby Dragon All characters and a pong of the red dragon Jade Dragon All bamboo and a pong of the green dragon Great Dragons Three pongs of all three dragons Great Winds Four pongs of all four winds
There are more variations of Mahjong than there are variations of poker. Although the basic mechanics stay the same, most variations include some particular rules, while some of them cut out a rule or two. Those variations may have far more complicated scoring systems, add or remove tiles, and include far more scoring elements and limit hands.
There are variations that feature specific use of tiles. Some three player versions remove the North Wind and one Chinese provincial version has no honors. Korean mahjong removes the bamboo suit or at least its numbers 2–8 so that terminals can be used. Japanese mahjong rarely uses flowers or seasons. The seasons are removed in Korean mahjong, while Singapore/Malaysian mahjong has a third set of bonus tiles called animals and even a fourth called vehicles. Joker tiles are used in some versions. Some variations use counting sticks while others use chips, and some use pencils and paper for score keeping.
Japanese and Korean mahjong have some special rules. A player cannot win by a discard if that player had already discarded that piece, where players' discards are kept in neat rows in front of them. Players may declare ready, meaning that they need one tile to win, cannot change their hand and win extra points if they win. Some rules may replace some of the number 5 tiles with red tiles, as they can earn more points. Korean mahjong does not allow melded (stolen) chows. Taiwanese mahjong adds three tiles to a hand requiring a 5th set to be formed, making a clean hand or all pong hand very difficult to procure. American mahjong has distinctive game mechanics and the article on American mahjong details these. Some differences include many special patterns, a different scoring system and the use of jokers and 5 of a kind.
Description of variations
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 from the Chinese Classical variety. It does not allow multiple players to win from a single discard.
- Sichuan mahjong is a growing variety, particularly in southern China, disallowing chi melds, and using only the suited tiles. It can be played very quickly.
- Taiwanese mahjong is the variety prevalent in Taiwan and involves hands of 16 tiles (as opposed to the 13-tile hands in other versions), features bonuses for dealers and recurring dealerships, and allows multiple players to win from a single discard.
- Japanese mahjong is a standardized form of mahjong in Japan and is also found prevalently in video games. In addition to scoring changes, the rules of rīchi (ready hand) and dora (bonus tiles) are unique highlights of this variant. Besides, there is a variation called sanma (三麻) based on this sort, which is modified for playing by three players, and its main differences from the standard one are that chī (Chow) is disallowed and the simple tiles (numbers two through eight) of one suit (usually characters) are removed. Some rules replace some of number 5 tiles with red tiles so that they can eventually get more value.
- 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. 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).
- Three player mahjong (or three-ka) is a simplified three-person mahjong that involves hands of 13 tiles (with a total of 84 tiles on the table) and may use jokers depending on the variation. Any rule set can be adapted for three players, however this is far more common and accepted in Japan, Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines. It usually eliminates one suit entirely or tiles 2-8 in one suit leaving only the terminals. It needs fewer people to start a game and the turnaround time of a game is short—hence, it is considered a fast game. In some versions there is a jackpot for winning in which whoever accumulates a point of 10 is considered to hit the jackpot or whoever scores three hidden hands first. The Malaysian and Korean versions drop one wind and may include a seat dragon. Korean Japanese three player variant.
- Singaporean/Malaysian mahjong is a variant similar to the Cantonese mahjong played in Malaysia. Unique elements of Singaporean/Malaysian mahjong are the four animal tiles (cat, mouse, cockerel, and centipede) as well as certain alternatives in the scoring rules, which allow payouts midway through the game if certain conditions (such as a kang) are met.
- Fujian mahjong, with a Dàidì joker 帶弟百搭.
- Vietnamese mạt chược, with 16 different kinds of jokers.
- Thai mahjong, includes the Vietnamese tiles with another eight for a total of 168 tiles.
- Filipino mahjong, with the Window Joker.
- Korean mahjong is unique in many ways and is an excellent version for beginners and three players. One suit is omitted completely (usually the Bamboo set or 2-8 of bamboo) as well as the seasons. The scoring is simpler and the play is faster. No melded chows are allowed and concealed hands are common. Riichi (much like its Japanese cousin) is an integral part of the game as well.Korean Rules
- 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.
- Mahjong Solitaire involves stacking the Mahjong tiles in various configurations and then through an act of elimination the discovery of tile pairs and the removal of those pairs from the stack. The computer game was originally created by Brodie Lockard in 1981 on the PLATO system. Microsoft Corporation released a computerized Mahjong solitaire game called "Mahjong Titans" originally bundled with Windows Vista and later also with Windows 7. Previously Activision in 1986 released a computerized Mahjong solitaire game for the Amiga, Macintosh and Apple IIgs computers and also the Sega Master System entitled Shanghai.
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 rules are more or less the same throughout mahjong, the greatest divergence between variations lies in the scoring systems. Like the rules, 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 general 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 the other rules, 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. In many variations the dealer receives no scoring bonus and does not maintain his/her turn by winning or a dead hand.
Scoring in variations
In classical mahjong all players score points. Points are given for sets and hand composition and winning bonuses, doubled and redoubled for basic patterns. Sometimes a loser may score more points than a winner. Japanese mahjong has a complex scoring system with several stages of scoring, rules and exceptions, evening out scores and bonus points at the end of a match. Korean mahjong has a simple scoring system where only winner scores without any form of doubling. Some variations give points for concealed hands, in which case no melds are made except by winning on a discard.
Selected variations compared
Mahjong Variations Variation Hong Kong HK New Classical Japanese Korean Taiwan Malaysia/Singapore Three player mahjong J/K American Flowers Yes Yes Yes Optional Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Seasons Yes Yes Yes Uncommon Yes No Yes No Yes Bamboo Yes Yes Yes Yes No or only terminals Yes Yes No or only Terminals Yes Animals No No No No No No Yes No Yes Jokers No No No No No No Yes No Yes Scoring Base Faan Faan Multipliers Multipliers Simple Simple Simple Simple American Scoring Winner Winner All Winner Winner Winner Winner Winner Winner East Doubles Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes No Yes Sacred Discard No No No Yes Yes No No Yes No Melded Chows Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes No Yes Riichi No No No Yes Yes Yes No Yes No Minimum Points (in variations units) 3f 5f 3f 1y 2p 7/10t 2u 3+ Varies
Elements in variations
Many variations have specific hands, some of which are common while some are optional depending on regions and players. One example is the Pure Green hand made of chows or pongs using 2, 3, 4, 6, 8 of bamboo and green dragon.
Japanese rule sets discourage the use of flowers and seasons. Korean rules and three player mahjong in the Korean/Japanese tradition use only flowers. In Singapore and Malaysia an extra set of bonus tiles of four animals are used. The rule set includes a unique function in that players who get two specific animals get a one time immediate payout from all players. In Taiwanese mahjong, getting all eight flowers and seasons constitutes an automatic win of the hand and specific payout from all players.
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