Mah Jong Rules

Traditional Chinese Style

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Before You Begin

Set a limit to the maximum number of points that one player may have to pay to another on any given round, typically 1000, though 500 and 1500 are also common. Designate one player as the East, who will be the first dealer. Everyone else around the table is assigned a corresponding cardinal direction. The prevailing wind is initially set to East as well.


Building the Wall

Place all the tiles face-down on the table and shuffle them. Then, build them into a square structure known as the Wall. If you have Flowers and Seasons (for a total of 144 tiles), then each side will be eighteen tiles long; if you don't (for a total of 136 tiles), then each side will be seventeen tiles long. In either case, it is two tiles high and one tile deep. Place the tiles face-down with the long axis of the tile prependicular to the long axis of the section of wall it's in.

Breaking the Wall

The current East rolls the dice, and counts around the table to determine a player, who then rolls the dice again and counts that many tiles from the end of his or her section of wall. Staring with East, each player in turn takes four tiles at a time from the wall (a section two tiles wide and two tall), repeating until everyone has twelve tiles. East then takes the next tile from the edge of the wall, and the tile two over. Each other player then takes one tile, leaving the tile under the last tile East took as the next tile to be drawn when the game actually begins. The seventh pair of tiles from the other end of the wall is taken up, and a tile is placed on top of the last and third-to-last pairs in the wall. These fourteen tiles separated from the rest of the Wall form the Dead Wall.


Object of the Game

The object is to collect a set of fourteen tiles grouped into four melds of three tiles each and a matched pair. The melds can be either three identical tiles, known as a Pung, or a straight of three tiles of one suit marked with consecutive numbers, known as a Chow. (Actually, sets of four identical tiles, known as a Kong, can also be used to make up the melds, but they're described in more detail below, as they're more complicated.)

Standard Order of Play

The player whose turn it currently is will have fourteen tiles in his or her hand (actually, they may have more, due to Kongs, as explained below), while all others will have thirteen. East has fourteen to start with, and goes first. If they somehow have four melds and a pair, this termed a "Hand from Heaven", and East instantly wins the round, scoring the maximum number of points possible. Normally, however, East must simply continue as with a normal turn.

On a player's turn, he or she will have fourteen tiles, and must choose one tile and discard it face up into the courtyard in the center of the wall. If the next player could form a Chow using that tile and two from his hand, then he may call it, and place it and the other two tiles face up in front of his hand. It is then his turn. Alternately, if any player has two tiles identical to the one discarded, he may call it for a Pung, and place the three tiles face up in front of his hand, and it is then that player's turn, regardless whose turn it would normally have been next. Additionally, if another player has the other three of the discarded tile, he may claim it for a Kong, and place all four tiles face up in front of his hand. He then draws a loose tile from the top of the dead wall, and will have one more tile in his hand for the rest of the round. If this was the last loose tile, he takes up the last two tiles from the regular wall and places them on top of the dead wall as was done during setup. A claim for a Pung or a Kong takes precedence over a claim for a Chow. (Multiple claims for a Pungs or Kongs cannot happen, as there are only four of any given tile.) If no one wants the discarded tile, then it is out of play for the rest of the round, and the next player simply draws a tile (without showing it to the other players) from the front of the wall, and then takes his or her turn.

If a player forms a Chow or a Pung using only tiles drawn from the wall, he should keep it hidden in his hand until he can win. Not only is it worth more points this way, but other players don't know how close to victory he is, and he can still arrange those tiles into other melds if it becomes convenient, unlike exposed melds on the table. If a player gets four of a kind in his hand, he must reveal it if he wants to claim it as a Kong (otherwise, he wouldn't have enough tiles to be able to win). He shows the Kong to the other players, then places it on the table with the two outer tiles face up and the two inner tiles face down, to indicate that he completed it entirely from the wall, thus earning more points. Also, if a player previously formed an exposed Pung from another player's discard, and he later draws from the wall the fourth of that tile, he may add it to the Pung, turning it into an exposed Kong. This is not without some risk, as detailed below.

If a player needs only one tile to win, then he may claim that tile from any discard, even if it is to complete a Chow or the pair. This is referred to as "fishing", and a claim to win the game takes precedence over any other claim. If two players could win with the same discard, then the one whose turn would come next in the normal turn order gets to take it and win the hand. Also, a player who is fishing may claim a tile added to a Pung to turn it to a Kong, and thus win (and gets bonus points for doing so).

If a player draws a flower or a season, the tile is revealed and immediately set to the side of the player's hand. It does not count towards the number of tiles in the hand, and will provide bonus points at the end of the round. It is immediately replaced by drawing a loose tile, as described in the section on Kongs above.

When a player has a complete hand of melds and a pair, he may declare it and show it to the other players. This ends the hand. The player that went out calculates his score using the following table:

Tile Combinations Points
Chow 0
Pung or Kong (These multipliers apply only to it.1) 2
Major Tiles x 2
Concealed x 2
Kong x 4
Pair of Colors or of Own Wind or of Prevailing Wind
(Each player may count only one pair.2)
Each Flower or Season 4
Bonus Points for Winner:
Winning 20
Drawing the winning tile oneself 2
Winning with the only tile possible 2
No Scoring Combinations 10
1 - The notation for scoring a Pung or a Kong is compact, but fairly simple once you understand it. For example, an exposed Pung of Winds is worth 2 (base) x 2 (Major Tiles) = 4 points. A concealed Kong of the Three of Bamboos is worth 2 (base) x 2 (concealed) x 4 (a Kong) = 16 points.
2 - However, the same pair can count as both your wind and the prevailing wind, if they're the same this round, for four points.
Doubles Multiplier
Pung or Kong of Colors x 2
Pung or Kong of Own Wind x 2
Pung or Kong of Prevailing Wind x 2
All but last tile concealed x 2
Fully concealed x 4
No Chows x 2
Only One Suit and Honors x 2
Only One Suit or Only Honors or Only Terminals x 8
Only Major Tiles (Not Cumulative with Previous) x 2
Only Minor Tiles x 2
Own Flower or Season x 2
Prevailing Flower or Season x 2
All Four Flowers or Seasons
(Not Cumulative with Previous Two)
x 16
Going Out on a Loose Tile x 2
Going Out on the last tile before the Dead Wall
(May be either drawn or claimed.)
x 2
Going Out by Robbing a Kong x 2

The winner scores points as per the first part of the table, then finds every double for which he is eligible, and multiplies his score by all of these. The other players also calculate their scores, though they never get any doubles, and pay the difference to the one who went out. The current East player always pays and receives twice the appropriate amount. If East won the current round, then he is East again next round. If not, then all the wind assignments rotate one person around the table. When the original East player becomes East again, the prevailing wind is changed to the next wind. When the prevailing wind is East again, the game is over. (Thus, a game will have at least 16 hands.)

Additionally, aside from the normal way of winning, there are certain special hands, known as limit hands, that automatically earn the maximum, or limit, number of points. These vary from place to place and playing circle to playing circle, and are often hard to remember, though they follow general trends. In my playing circle, however, we've created a standardized formula for limit hands. Any hand that totals 14 tiles and is made up entirely of non-overlapping groups from the following table can be used to win a round and is awarded the limit number of points (except as noted) if any part is exposed, and twice that if fully concealed.

Group Number of Tiles
At least one of the following:
Seven Pairs (Half Limit) 14
Seven Major Pairs or Seven Minor Pairs 14
Four Identical Chows 12
1, 1-9, 9 One Suit 11
Three Chows, same sequence each Suit* 9 / 10
Three Chows, 1-3, 4-6, 7-9 in different Suits* 9 / 10
1-9 One Suit* 9 / 10
Pair of each Wind* 8 / 9
2-8 One Suit* 7 / 8
One of each Wind & Dragon* 7 / 8
Any number of the following, including none:
One of each Terminal (1 & 9 each Suit)* 6 / 7
One of each Wind* 4 / 5
One of each Dragon* 3 / 4
Pung of Major Tiles 3
The 1 from each Suit, or the 9 from each Suit 3
At most one of the following:
Pair of Major Tiles 2
*May also have one additional tile that is a repeat of any in that group.

For example, if the limit is 1000, then a hand of one of each wind and color with an extra west wind, and the one and nine of every suit, would be worth 1000 points, or 2000 if completed fully concealed.

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