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How to Play Mahjong? (Rules & Directions)

Mahjong. It’s likely you’ve heard of it, or maybe you’ve seen it being played, but do you know how to play Mahjong? If not, then we’ve got all you need to know about playing Mahjong and the Mahajong game rules.

Mahjong is a game rumoured to be about 2,500 years old. It is one of the most popular games to be played in China and its popularity has spread across the globe. 

Before we get into how to play Mahjong, you’ll need to be familiar with the game pieces. 

Because there are various versions to play, you might see some variances between sets and even the rules. 

There is the Chinese rules version, British rules version and American rules version, to name just a few. 

We’ll focus on the most common version played, the Chinese version. 

How to Play Mahjong


The Tiles

Typically, you will find Mahjong sets have 144 tiles, which consists of 136 main tiles, plus four Flower tiles, numbered 1 – 4 and four Season tiles also numbered 1 – 4. 

To break this down further, there are 34 different kinds of tiles. Each type of tile has four tile groups within it. 

There are the Cardinal tiles representing the four winds; East, West, South and North

Then you have the Honor tiles, which are Red Dragons, Green Dragons and the White Dragons – the White Dragon is a pure white tile.

After this you have the suits; Circles, Bamboos and Characters. Each suit is numbered one through nine.  

Remember now, 1’s and 9’s are considered the major tiles in each suit and sets of these are twice the point value of the minor tiles of 2 to 8. 

Also, sets of Cardinal and Honor tiles are valued at twice the score value as the minor tile sets. 

Scoring can be complex depending on the suits, sets and pairs involved so it is best to refer to instructions included in your game set for a clear definition. 

There are many combinations and possibilities in the scoring of each hand of Mahjong and it would be difficult to convey those possibilities here adequately.

Don’t have a Mahjong table? Have a look at our recommendations!

Setting Up


Mahjong is played with four players.

Players choose a tile from the Cardinal tiles to determine who will be the East Wind. East Wind goes first and is the dealer. 

Next, the tiles are shuffled face down and each player builds a wall of 34 tiles stacked, also face down in front of them, two tiles high, 17 in each layer.  

These walls are then pushed together in the middle of the table to represent a wall with their four corners touching. 

The East Wind player rolls the dice and counts over from the right-hand edge of their wall and removes the pieces of the wall corresponding to the rolled number.

This is where the wall is “breached” and the game begins. 

Each player (moving clockwise) is then given thirteen tiles with the dealer being given an extra, fourteenth tile.

Players can now look at their tiles and arrange them so only they can see them. The dealer then discards one of their own tiles and play begins from the left. 

Do you want to try a different board game? Check out our guide on how to play Blokus.

Mahjong Rules


Players will play a predetermined number of rounds to a specific number of points, or for 16 rounds, or until all players agree that they are finished playing. 

(The longest Mahjong game ever played was for 33 hours in December 2012.)

Players must always have thirteen tiles in their possession.

When tiles are discarded the player claims a new tile. Only the more recently discarded tile can be claimed by another player.

Players can claim a discarded tile to complete a “Pung” (three of a kind) at any time during play. They then reveal the three matching tiles, turning them over and leaving them visible.  

It is customary to say, “Pung” when you claim it as well as discarding another tile. 

When a tile goes unclaimed when discarded, another player may claim it on their turn if it completes a “Chow “ (three tiles of the same suit) for them. 

They must say “Chow” when claiming it and as with a Pung, the Chow must also be revealed and another tile discarded. 

The same applies to a “Kong”. (Four of a kind).

If a discarded tile does not complete a Pung, a Chow, or a Kong the player would then draw a new tile from the wall and unless that tile completes a Mahjong for them, they must discard another tile, face up. 

The End of a Round or Hand


The Mahjong hand is a 14 tile hand, comprised of four sets and a pair. When a player finds that they have Mahjong, they call it and the hand comes to an end. 

If, however, the tiles run out before Mahjong is declared, the hand is a draw and a new hand begins again with the dealer re-dealing tiles. 

The Objective of Mahjong


The Objective of Mahjong is to get all 14 of your tiles into four sets and one pair. This is called getting a Mahjong. 

Remember, a pair is simply two identical tiles. A set is either three identical tiles, a “Pung” or a “Chow”, which is three consecutive numbers in a suit. 

The Win


The win is straightforward. The player with the most points, or who was able to declare having Mahjong most often through the rounds of hands played, wins. 

Check out our list of best Mahjong tables!

Our Easy to Follow Version

There are a variety of additional rules you can apply to a game of Mahjong to add to the complexities and scoring of the game. These are our easy to follow rules and directions to how to play Mahjong. 

These are official mahjong rules and are of the most common form of playing but we didn’t want you to be taken by surprise if you do come across games of Mahjong with slightly different ways of playing, such as the British or American versions mentioned previously.

One of the reasons Mahjong is so enjoyable and popular is its adaptability and range of playing. For this reason though, we thought it best to introduce you with an easier approach to a much-loved table game.

We hope you enjoy your future games of this extremely fun and competitive game, Mahjong. 

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