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Monday, February 8, 2016

Learn How to Play Mahjong - A Beginner's Guide from an Expert

An informative article written by Bulldozer, an expert Mahjong player:

Chinese people love to play Mah-Jong. Although everyone can learn to play, in order to win at this game, you need good memory, skills, and of course, what everyone needs when gambling, luck.

Mahjong consists of 144 tiles: 108 of them are suited tiles, 28 are honor tiles (Winds and Dragons) and 8 are bonus tiles or what most people call flower tiles. There are 3 different types of suits: Circles (Dots), Bamboo (Sticks) and Chinese Characters (Ten Thousands - "Maan"). Each suit consists of numbers 1 through 9 repeated FOUR times (so 3 suits x 9 numbers x 4 tiles = 108 suited tiles). For the circles and bamboos, the number is determined simply by counting the number of dots or sticks that are on the tile. For the Chinese characters, it is necessary to learn and memorize the Chinese numbers from 1 through 9, although some "Americanized" Mahjong sets have the numbers written in the corner.

The honor tiles consist of dragons and different wind tiles:
  • There are 3 types of dragons, four tiles each: Red, Green, and White. The red dragon is actually the Chinese character for middle ("joong" in Cantonese) and the green dragon is the Chinese character for good fortune ("faat" in Cantonese). The white dragon is just a clear rectangle (you can't miss it). If you don't want to memorize these characters, you can just go by color. If you get three of the same dragon it counts as 1 point.
  • There are 4 different types of wind tiles: East, South, West, and North (each consisting of four tiles). Each person is assigned a wind depending on the number decided by the dice throw and each round is also assigned a wind. If you get 3 of a kind of your assigned wind or the wind of the round, 1 point is awarded. It is possible that both your assign wind and the wind of the round is the same in which case, 3 of a kind of that wind will count as 2 points.
When the game starts, everyone receives 13 tiles, unless you’re the dealer who starts with 14 tiles because the dealer has to discard one tile to get the game started. Out of these 13 tiles you have to make combinations of either 3 of a kind (Pung) or a 3 tile straight (Chow). In Mahjong, you can either make these combinations by drawing or by taking from others (you need to have at least 2 tiles of a combination to take from others). In order to make a straight combination, you can only take from the person going directly before you. For making 3 of a kind combination, you are free to take from anyone on the table. In order to take another player's discarded tile, you must declare Chow or Pung at the moment the tile is discarded or else no one can take the card. Those who Pung have priority over those who Chow. Also if you make four of a kind (Kong), you need to pick up an extra tile in order to preserve 13 tiles in your hand. Kong is when you already have 3 of a kind and you need it to make 4 of a kind. Mah-Jong is very similar to Gin Rummy, you can not make a combination if the suits are different. For example: 1 circle, 2 circle, and 3 sticks is not a legal combination. In order to win, one can either draw the winning tile from someone else ("serng" in Cantonese) or by themselves ("ji maw" in Cantonese). Each player has 13 tiles but in order to win, you need 14 tiles. So most winning hands consists of 4 combinations and a pair (also known as the eyes - "ahn" in Cantonese). When the winning tile is drawn, those Cantonese ("serng" or "ji maw") sayings must be declared. False declarations of winning lead to automatic loss and heavy penalties. Points mentioned throughout this article are only awarded if a person declares a win. Those who do not win, do not get points, regardless of their hand. One final note on winning- each winning hand must also have two matching tiles (the eyes). For example, if you have four sets of three of a kind, there will be one tile left over (your 13th tile). In order to win, you must either self pick a matching tile to complete your eye or if that is the only tile you need to declare a win, you can take from any one else that discards it.

The bonus tiles consist of pictures of flowers with Chinese and Arabic characters counting from 1 through 4 in two different colors, usually red and blue. Similar to wind tiles, each player is assigned a certain number flower. If you get your assigned flower, 1 point is awarded. If you do not get any flowers, some people also reward that with one point. If you get all the flowers (1 through 4) of the same color, it is 2 points. When you have seven flowers it’s usually an automatic win or 3 points depending on the house rules. If you can get all eight flowers it is usually awarded the maximum number of points you decide to play with.

In addition to winning the "traditional" way there are also special hands that is usually awarded maximum points. Here are some of the hands:

“The 13 Wonders”
A concealed hand with #’s 1 and 9 of each suit. One of each dragon and one of each directional wind. And to win with this hand just match it up with any of the above tiles. So you’re calling on 13 different tiles.

“9 United Sons”

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. For this hand you’re calling 9 tiles.

“All Kong’s (18 temples?)"

Four sets of four-of-a-kind and a pair of any sort.

“4 Large Blessings”

Sets of either 3 or 4 of a kind of all 4 winds with a pair of any suit or honor.

“3 Great Scholars”

Sets of either 3 or 4 of a kind of all 3 dragons with another any kind of set and a pair.

“Hidden Treasure”

A concealed hand of 4 sets of 3of a kind and to win with any pair. Everything must be drawn from the wall and you need to draw the winning tile yourself also.

“Heavenly Peace”

When East's original fourteen tiles (or after flowers and Kongs have been grounded) form a complete hand. Extremely Rare.

“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.
These rules to Mahjong are very basic and definitely many intricacies have not been mentioned. Also, look for future articles concerning basic and advanced strategies for Mahjong. If you have anything you would like to add, feel free to do so in the comments section below.

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