How to Play Mah-jongg

Mah-jongg is a centuries-old version of rummy played with tiles instead of cards. The playing pieces may be foreign, but the game is simple to learn.

You will need

  • A standard mah-jongg playing set
  • Four players
  • A table to play on
  • A pencil and paper for scoring

Step 1 Count the pieces Count your pieces to ensure you have them all. A typical mah-jongg set has 144 tiles in total, divided among suit tiles, honor tiles, and bonus tiles.

Step 2 Know the suits Understand the suit tiles. There are three suits in total: dots, also called circles, bamboos, or bams, and characters, or cracks. Each suit contains four sets of numbered tiles, one through nine, for 36 of each suit, or 108 total suit tiles.

Step 3 Understand the honor Understand the honor tiles. There are two types of honor tiles: dragon and wind. There are four sets of three dragon tiles, and four sets of four wind tiles, for a total of 28 honor tiles.

Step 4 Examine the bonus Understand the bonus tiles. There are two sets of bonus tiles, depicting four flowers and four seasons. Each set is numbered one through four, for a total of eight bonus tiles.

Step 5 Shuffle and deal the tiles To determine who goes first, players roll a die. The person with the highest roll deals, and the person to the dealer’s right goes first. The dealer places the tiles facedown in the middle of the table and shuffling them around, then dealing 13, leaving the rest in the middle as the draw pile. Just like in most card games, players hide their hand.

Step 6 Types of melds Understand the three types of “melds,” or sets you can create: A pong is a set of three identical tiles, a kong is a set of four identical tiles, and a chow is three suited tiles in sequence.

Step 7 Begin play The starting player draws a single tile from the draw pile and discards a tile face-up from their hand into the draw pile, to maintain a constant 13 tiles.

Step 8 Pick up a discarded tile When a player discards a tile, any other player can announce they are picking it up to form a pong, kong, or to win the game with a mah-jongg, with mah-jongg trumping pong and kong. Players can only pick up a tile for the chow meld if the person sitting to their left was the one who discarded it.

Step 9 Play continues After the player that picked up the tile discards another tile, the player to their right goes next.

Step 10 Win a hand A player wins when they make a mah-jongg hand – three melds plus a pair. A tile is never discarded on a winning hand.

Step 11 Score the game There are many varying scoring systems. One simple method is to only score the winning hand: A chow equals one point; a pair of suits two points; a pair of honors three points; a pong of suits four points; a kong of suits five points; a pong of honors six points; and a kong of honors equals 10 points.

Step 12 Continuing the game After a hand is won, if the dealer has won, they deal again. Otherwise, the deal rotates to the right. The game continues until everyone has had a chance to deal, or until a predetermined number of points has been reached.

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