Traditional Mahjong

Description of the Pieces

The game is played with a set of 136 pieces, similar to dominoes, of bamboo and ivory engraved in color. There are 34 distinct, different kinds of pieces and four of each kind make up the set.

The thirty-four different kinds of pieces are made up as follows: First, there are the three suits, designated by “Bamboo,” “Dots,” and “Characters,” and called by Chinese, respectively, “tiao,” “tung,” and “wan” (see figures 1, 2 and 3).

Each of these three suits runs from one to nine. Thus, the various pieces are referred to as “one tiao,” “four tung,” “seven wan,” etc. In the three suits there are twenty-seven different kinds of pieces, four alike of each kind; making a total of 108.

In addition there are the four winds, known as the East, South, West, and North winds (see figure 4) and also the┬áspecial honor pieces called “Red Dragon,” “Green Dragon,” and the “White Dragon,” or more simply “Red,” “Green,” and “White.” (See figure 5.)

Formalities of Opening the Game

MAHJONG is played by four players who play as individuals and not as partners.

Seats are chosen and each man throws the two dice in turn, the high throw becoming the “EAST WIND,” or “Dealer.”

Fig. 6. Unbroken Wall

The 136 pieces are then placed face down on the table and thoroughly mixed or shuffled. Each player selects 34 pieces at random and arranges them in front of him face down in a row seventeen pieces long and two high. These four rows are then shoved forward to form a hollow square in the middle of the table to represent a Chinese city wall (see figure 6). The dealer’s side of the wall is always “East,” the wall opposite is “West,” to his right is “South,” and to his left “North.”

Opening the Wall

This is decided by the dice. The dealer throws the two dice and the total number of spots on both dice indicates the wall in which the opening is to be made, starting with the dealer as one and counting in a counter-clockwise direction up to twelve, the highest number that can be thrown with the two dice. Thus, if the two dice total 2, 6, or 10 “South,” takes the dice; 3, 7, 11, “West,” takes the dice; 4, 8, or 12, “North,” takes the dice; and 5 or 9 the “Dealer” continues with the dice.

Fig. 7. After All Players Have Drawn Hands

The second throw determines the exact spot at which the wall is to be opened. The player getting the second throw of the dice adds the total to total previously shaken and then counts off from the right end of his row clockwise the number of pieces indicated by the total of the two throws and opens the wall at this point. He takes out the two pieces, called the “loose tiles,” and lays them to the right of opening. They then mark the “end of the wall” (see figure 7).

The Draw

The dealer then takes the first four pieces to the left of the opening, followed by South, West, and North, each drawing four in turn, going in a clockwise direction around the wall until each man has twelve pieces. On the fourth draw each player draws one piece from the wall, making thirteen in each hand. The dealer then draws an extra piece, making fourteen in the dealer’s hand. (The table will the appear as in Figure 7, which shows the four hands drawn, with remainder of wall. Note the two “loose tiles” on the “end of the wall.”)

The pieces are then arranged in order of suits in the hand with each player’s hand concealed from the other three as in dominoes.

The Play

The dealer (East) starts the game by discarding one piece face up in the center of the table, South then draws and discards, and so on until one player completes his hand and wins.

The object of the game is to obtain a complete hand made up of four sets of threes (each set may be either three of a kind of the same suit or a sequence in the same suit called a “Run”), and an extra pair, fourteen pieces in all.

To “Chow”

After one player discards, the man on his right, who has the next turn, has the option of taking the piece discarded to make the third of a run or the third to a pair or of drawing the next piece from the “wall.” If he takes the last discard from the board in this way, to make a sequence, this is called “Chowing,” and he must lay the three pieces face up on the table in front of him, and then discard one piece from his own hand.

Only the man to the right of the discarder has the right to “Chow” for a run or sequence in this way.

A player who wishes to “Chow” a piece must give way to another player, who can “pung” (see below) that piece, except when that piece completes his hand for game.

To “Pung”

“Pung” (pronounced to rhyme with “sung”): Should a player discard a piece and any other player have a pair (or three) of this same piece, even though out of his own turn, he may say “Pung” and place this discarded piece with the pair (or 3) from his own hand face up in front of him on the table, making 3 (or 4) of a kind. He then discards from his hand to keep the number of his pieces correct (13 in number). Then the play carries on to the right of the one who “Punged” and the other player or players lose their turn to draw.

A “Pung” can only be made for three of a kind (or four of a kind) and not for a run or a pair, except only at the end of the game, when the one who “Pungs” requires only this one tile to fill a run or sequence or to make a final pair to complete his hand for game. A “Pung” which completes a hand takes precedence over any other “Pung.” In case the same discarded piece is required to complete hands for two or three players, the player has the right to “Pung” it who sits nearest the player who discarded the piece, counting in order of play, counter-clockwise.

All pieces discarded and lying face up in the middle of the table, except the last one discarded, are “dead” and cannot be used.

To “Kong” (Four of a kind)

Should a player have three of a kind concealed in his hand and “Pung” a fourth of the same kind, the four pieces must be laid face up on the table in front of him and he must draw one of the two “loose tiles” (the second from the end) to make up the correct number of pieces in his hand. The player then discards. But he cannot “Pung” a 4th discarded by another player, to add to his 3 on Table to make 4 of a kind.

Should a player draw from the wall to make four of a kind in his hand he should usually place these four on the table in front of him and draw the next to the last “loose tile” to make the correct number in his hand, then discard one piece. In this case two of the pieces are placed on the table face up and the two end pieces face down to show that this set of four still counts as though held in the hand, though laid on table and not “Punged,” as there is a difference in the score. (See score table, and “Suggestions”). If a player has 3 of a kind on Table and draws the 4th from wall, he places it with the 3, making 4 of a kind on Table.

Mah-Jongg (Winning)

When a player succeeds in completing his hand either by drawing the final necessary piece or by “Punging” a discard from the table, he lays down his hand and the score is counted both for those pieces he had previously completed by “Punging” and has laid face up and also for any concealed combinations now disclosed in his hand. This is called “Punging” or Drawing “for Mah-Jongg.”

Where one player completes his hand, all hands are laid down and each man scores his hand, beginning with the winner. Each score includes combinations concealed in the hand and combinations already on the table, according to the score sheet.

The game is usually scored with chips, the players settling in chips at the end of each hand. Score may, however, be kept on paper.

Paying the Winner

When a player wins by completing his hand the other 3 players pay him his entire score regardless of their scores. Each of the 3 losers then settles with the other 2, each one of the 3 losing players paying each one that has a larger hand the difference between their scores.

When “East” Wins: If the dealer “East” wins a hand, each of the others pays him double his score. If “East” does not win, he pays the winner double his (the winner’s) hand. “East” then pays each other loser who has a larger score than he double the difference between their scores. From each loser who has a lower score than he “East” collects double the difference of their scores. As long as “East” wins, he retains the deal and remains “East” until he fails to win a hand when the deal passes to next player on his right, who thereby becomes “East.”

The Limit: There are numerous possibilities in the score and it is possible to score over 25,000 points in one hand. A scoring limit of 300 points on any one hand is usually fixed upon at the start of the game and each losing player pays in chips only 300 points when the winner’s score is 300 or more, except in the case of “East,” who when a loser, pays double (or 600 points) and when a winner collects double (or 600 points), when the winning score is 300 or more.

Draw: Should the game proceed with no hand completed for game until there are only fourteen pieces (seven twos) left in the wall, none of these last fourteen pieces can be drawn, but the game is declared a “draw” and no scores count. In counting the fourteen pieces, the one or two “loose tiles” on the end of the wall, are included in the fourteen.

Should both “loose tiles” be used, by drawing for two or more sets of fours, then the two last pieces are placed on top of end of wall as new “loose tiles.”

Any number of hands may be played, but it is usually decided beforehand to complete a certain number of rounds. The above is merely an outline of the rules of play, the niceties of the game become apparent as it is played. It has stood the test of over twenty centuries in China and is still the most popular game there today. During this time the Chinese have developed the fine points of the game to an extent not reached in any European or American game. Volumes are published in Chinese by experts in the game similar to the books on bridge so popular in America and England.

Mahjong With the Seasons

This is a variation of Mah-Jongg played with eight extra tiles of special design, known as the Seasons. They are also called Flowers, Gardens, Goofs, etc., and the names are interchangeable (see fig. 12).

There are two series of four each, one series marked 1, 2, 3, and 4, in one color, and the other series marked likewise but in another color. Usually the two colors are green and red.

When the Season tiles are used they are mixed among the other tiles before the wall is built. Each wall consists of eighteen pairs of tiles instead of seventeen.

If East Wind, in his original draw, obtains either of the No. 1 Seasons, he is said to have drawn his own Season; similarly the No. 2 Seasons are South Wind’s own Seasons, the No. 3 Seasons are West Wind’s own Seasons and the No. 4 Seasons are North Wind’s own Seasons.

After the original draw and prior to East’s first discard, East declares any Season, or Seasons, that he may have in his hand by exposing them on the table. He then draws a loose tile for each Season so declared so that he will have seventeen tiles remaining in his hand after so declaring all Seasons, South, West, and North, in turn declare the Seasons in their hands and draw loose tiles in the same manner in order that each may have sixteen tiles remaining in his hand.

All Seasons obtained in the original draw are thus declared before East makes his first discard, including any Seasons which may be drawn as “loose tiles.” East then makes his first discard as described under The Play. If a player in the course of the game draws in his turn a Season from the wall, he immediately exposes it and draws a loose tile before discarding.

The Seasons score as follows:

  • Each Season scores – 4 points
  • One of a player’s own Seasons – Double the total score
  • Both of a player’s own Seasons – Double the total score twice
  • All four Seasons of one color – Double the total score three times

These doubles for the Seasons are in addition to any other doubling combinations the hand may contain. The scores and doubles apply to all hands whether winning or not.

There are additional special tiles that may be included in some sets, these can be the Man and the Bag/Pot of Gold, the Cat and the Mouse, or, the Fisherman, the Fish, the Cock or Rooster, and the Worm (see fig. 13). If a set includes these tiles they will normally only include one set or the other.

These special tiles are used in lieu of one set of Seasons or Flowers. During the play of the game these tiles are treated just like Seasons with the normal exposing of the tile and replacement with a loose tile, but with the following exceptions. If a player exposes the Fish tile prior to the Fisherman being exposed, then any player holding the Fisherman in their hand has the right to claim the Fish tile for their own and includes both tiles as exposed tiles within their hand. This also holds true for the Mouse and Cat tiles, the Bag/Pot of Gold and Man tiles, the Worm and Cock/Rooster tiles. One catch to this is that if any player goes Mah Jong while one of these tiles are being held in your hand and not been exposed, then your hand is counted as scoreless. You then pay and receive points as if your hand is worth 0 points regardless of what your actual hand is.

The Special tiles score as follows:

  • Each Special tile scores – 4 points
  • A Matched pair of Special tiles – Double the total score
  • Both pairs of Special tiles – Double the total score twice

Special Limit Hands

These are examples of special limit hands that when achived pay the limit of the game, some are quite rare and a player may never see one.

  1. The Hidden Treasure (Group by Group Peace): Four concealed sets of three-of-a-kind and a pair, all drawn from the wall even the last tile, concealed kongs are allowed.
  2. All Honors: Four sets (threes or fours) and a pair of Winds and Dragons exclusively.
  3. All Terminals: Four sets (threes or fours) and a pair of 1’s and 9’s exclusively.
  4. All Green (Imperial Jade): Four sets (threes or fours) and a pair composed of any of the following wholly green tiles; Green Dragons, 2, 3, 4, 6, & 8 Bamboo, 1, 5, 7, & 9’s can not be used. A 2, 3, 4 straight is allowed.
  5. Three Great Scholars (Large Three Honors): Three sets (threes or fours) of each of the three dragons, Red, Green and White, the remaining set and pair which complete the hand may be of any kind.
  6. Four Large Blessings (Four Large Lucks): Sets (threes or fours) of all four Winds and a pair of any kind.
  7. All Kongs (Four by Four Peace): Four sets of four-of-a-kind and a pair of any sort.
  8. Nine United Sons (Calling Nine Cards): A concealed hand of all one suit in the following formation 1,1,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,9,9 when completed by any tile of the suit, either drawn or discarded.
  9. Thirteen Unique Wonders (The Thirteen Odds): A hand consisting of one of each Wind, one of each Dragon, and one of each One and Nine of the three suits. The fourteenth tile must pair with any one of the thirteen tiles enumerated.
  10. Heavenly Peace: When East’s original fourteen tiles (or after flowers and kongs have been grounded) form a complete hand. “Extremely Rare”.
  11. Earthly Peace: When a player’s other than East, completes his hand with East’s first discard (and after flowers and kongs have been grounded). “Extremely Rare”.
  12. Moon from the Bottom of the Sea: When a hand is completed by drawing the last tile in the wall (last live tile), and this tile is the One of Circles/Dots.
  13. Plum Blossom on the Roof: When a hand is completed by a loose-tile draw (after a kong), and the tile is the Five of Circles/Dots. The loose-tile draw must be made after completing a kong and not after grounding a flower.
  14. Scratching a Carrying Pole: When a hand is completed by robbing a kong, and the tile taken is the Two of Bamboo’s.
  15. Kong on Kong: When a player completing a kong, draws a loose-tile which completes a second kong, he must draw another loose tile. If this second loose-tile completes his hand he scores the limit.
  16. The Heavenly Twins: Seven different pairs of Honors (one pair of each Wind and each Dragon); or any seven different pairs of one suit. The final tile may be drawn or claimed on a discard. NOTE: This hand is in the American Code but is NOT recognized by the Chinese.