Mahjongg: Rules of Play

The Tileset

  1. Suits: Three suits numbered 1 through 9: Characters, Circles, and Bamboo. Note that the 1 of Bamboo looks different from the others in its suit, it is often called the "Rice Bird" and is not an honor tile.
  2. Honors: Seven tiles consiting of 4 Winds: East, South, West, North; and 3 Dragons: Red, Green, White
  3. Bonus: Eight bonus tiles consiting of 4 Flowers and 4 Seasons.

There are four identical copies of each tile, except for bonus tiles. In other words, there are 4 Red Dragons, 4 3-of-Circles, 4 East Winds, 4 1-of-Bamboo, etc. In total, there are 144 tiles in the set.

Object of the Game

To win, a player must complete a hand of 4 combinations plus one pair. A combination may consist of:

  1. Pung: three identical tiles (three of a kind, or "set" of three)
  2. Kong: four identical tiles (four of a kind, or "set" of four)
  3. Chow: a sequence (or "run") of exactly three tiles in one of the above three suits

A pair is simply two identical tiles. Here are some examples of winning hands:

  Combination#1 Combination#2 Combination#3 Combination#4 Pair
Hand#1: 1,2,3 Characters 9,9,9 Characters 4,5,6 Circles 7,7,7 Bamboo two East Winds
Hand#2: 1,1,1 Circles 4,5,6 Bamboo 4 North Winds 3 Red Dragons two 9 Circles
Hand#3: 3,3,3 Characters 6,7,8 Characters 2,3,4 Characters 3 South Winds two White Dragons

Note that bonus tiles are not used to make up any of the combinations or pair in the winning hand.

Common Mistakes Involving Chows

New players often do not understand exactly what a "Chow" is and the following errors are often made:

Starting The Round

Seating: 4 players sit on four sides of a table (seats do not change from round to round). Players are labeled according to the direction of their seat: East, South, West, and North. On the first round the East player is the prevailing wind.

Shuffling the Tiles and Building the Wall: Shuffle all the tiles face down on the table. Following the shuffle, each player builds one wall consisting of 2 rows of 18 tiles, stacked one on top of the other. The walls are all arranged neatly in a square with corners touching.

Breaking the Wall and Building the Kong Box: The prevailing wind rolls the dice and counts each wall (clockwise), starting with his own wall, per the number he rolled. The player whose wall is last counted rolls the dice again, adds that number to the previous roll and counts tiles (clockwise) in his wall per the sum of the rolls. The stack of two tiles he lands on are placed atop the 14 tiles to the right (anti-clockwise) making the Kong Box (16 tiles total). The Kong Box is then seperated from the living wall by moving it slightly to the left.

Deal: The person closest to the break deals 13 tiles to each player around the table, starting with the tiles to the left (clockwise) of the Kong Box. Tiles are dealt 4 at a time, except for the 13th tile which is dealt one at a time.

Normal Course of Play

On every turn, each player will draw a tile and discard a tile (except for the winning turn when the winning player will draw but not discard). The prevailing wind starts the round by drawing a tile from the wall, adding it to his hand, and then discarding a tile from his hand. Play proceeds clockwise around the table. On each turn after the start of play, a player may draw a tile either from the wall or the discard made by the neighbor to his right and add it to his hand. Only the most recent discard can ever be picked up, all the others are considered "dead".

Etiquette: As a courtesy, a player should anounce his discard so other players know which one is "live". The next player should pause briefly before drawing so that others have a chance to claim the tile out of turn (see below).

Bonus Tiles: If you are dealt or draw a bonus tile, simply lay it face-up on the same row as your exposed combinations and draw a replacement tile from the Kong Box.

Claiming a Tile out of Turn

Following a discard made by any player, any other player may claim the tile out of turn if he can form a combination from the discard. The combination must be exposed by laying it down face up, then the claiming player discards and play proceeds with the player to the claimer's left. Other players may be skipped and lose a turn when a tile is claimed out of turn by someone.

Resolving conflicts: More than one player may wish to claim a tile out of turn. If a conflict arises, use the following rules to resolve it:

Note that a pair may never be claimed out of turn unless it is claimed for Mahjongg (completes a winning hand).

Special Rules Regarding Kongs

Laying down a concealed Kong: If a player is dealt or draws 4 identical tiles, he may lay them down with one tile face down to indicate that no tiles were claimed out of turn to make it. Such a Kong is considered concealed and is worth more points.

Drawing an extra tile from the Kong Box: Whenever a player lays down a Kong (either concealed or exposed), an extra tile must be drawn from the Kong Box to ensure that the player can make a winning hand.

Making a Kong from an exposed Pung: If a player has an exposed Pung and draws the fourth identical tile from the wall, he may add it to his Pung to make a Kong. The fourth tile must be added face up because the Pung was already exposed. A discard made by any other player (including the one to the right) may not be used to make a Kong from and exposed Pung.

Robbing a Kong: If a player is making a Kong from an exposed Pung and another player can claim the tile for Mahjongg, the winning player may "steal" the tile for the win. (Robbing a Kong is worth a double.)

Keeping a Kong in-hand: If a player keeps 4 identical tiles in his hand (possibly because he is thinking of using them to form other combinations) and another player wins, the Kong in-hand only counts as a concealed Pung for purposes of scoring.

End of Round, End of Play

Winning: The first person to complete "Mahjongg" by forming 4 combinations and a pair wins the round. Scores are calculated for each player and added to the respective players' running totals. The winner of the round becomes the prevailing wind for the next round.

No Winner: If all the tiles in the living wall (i.e. all the tiles except the ones that comprise the Kong Box) are exhausted and no one wins, the entire round is considered a "wash" and no scores are recorded. The prevailing wind remains the same.

End of Play: Any number of rounds can be played. Players may agree beforehand to play for a certain number of rounds, until one player earns a certain number of points, or until someone has to leave or decides that they've had enough.


Dead Hand Rule: If a player violates the rules, his hand is declared "dead", meaning he must keep playing, but his hand will not be scored for this round. Rule violations may consist of anything from erroneously claiming a tile out of turn when you can't use it, to accidentally overturning a tile when shuffling or dealing. More experienced players may wish to play with this variant, but this kind of strictness might make the game less enjoyable for beginners.

Must be able to use a discard you pick up: If you pick up the last discarded tile, you must use it to make a combination and then expose the combination. This is a slightly more "standard" way to play.

Can't claim chow out of turn: You can only claim the last discard for a Chow if it is your turn (i.e. the person who goes before you just discarded it). This too is a slightly more "standard" way to play.