Mahjong Rules Explained

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Mahjong is a fun tiles game that is popular in China. After this game spread to different regions, many regional variations, including the American Mahjong with special cards, have come up.

In this article, we highlight some of the basic rules of the Mahjong game that every player must know about.

What is the Game Mahjong: American and Chinese Rules

While the Mahjong game originated in China, it soon became popular worldwide. Different regions came with their own rules and variations.

Between the American and Asian versions, the number of tiles differs. Furthermore, there is no single go-to version of the Asian Mahjong game. That’s because multiple variations exist, including Chinese classical Mahjong, Korean Mahjong, and Japanese Mahjong.

The basic American game includes 152 tiles, whereas the Chinese version only has 144 tiles. The Mahjong sets in the market typically have 136, 144, or 152 tiles.

The American Mahjong version includes an additional Joker tile, which is also in some other variations, but the rules are not the same. Instead, the joker in the American Mahjong game is used as a substitute for any tile.

How to Play Mahjong

This game is mainly played with four players, but three plays can also play. During the game, players must create Mahjong with four melds (groups of certain combinations of tiles) and a pair.

Know Your Tiles

  • Bonus Tiles: The Mahjong tiles game includes flowers and season tiles, categorized as bonus tiles. These tiles are not seen in the Japanese or American variations of the game. However, they are included in the Korean and Chinese versions. You get extra points for keeping them till the end, but you can use them during the game if you please.
  • Suit Tiles: Next comes the suit tiles with three cases that work like a deck of card suits.
  • Honor Tiles: These are special tiles in the Mahjong game set, represented by four winds or three dragons.

Setup of The Game

To start the game, players need to pick a dealer. It can be done through an easy process by dealing with four wind tiles. The players must then sit clockwise in the order north, west, south, and east. The person sitting in the east becomes the dealer.

For the modern version of this game, players roll a dice and choose a dealer. Players must create a wall using 34 face-down tiles when the Mahjong dimension game starts. The fence must be two tiles high and 17 miles long.

The dealer then rolls dice, counts, and removes that many tiles from the right edge of the wall. So while the dealer gets 14 tiles, the players get 13 tiles. Before the game begins from the left, players must arrange the tiles in a way so no one can see them.

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Hand End

The hand ends when a player declares Mahjong and reveals a complete 14-tile hand of four. But the game is considered a draw if no player reveals Mahjong until the walls run out of tiles.


A simple scoring system includes allotting one point to the player who claims Mahjong and wins. But the scoring system changes with the region.


During the game, the players can decide whether or not they want to claim the recently discarded tiles. For claiming the title, the player is given priority to complete the Mahjong matching game. When a player wins a hand, they must reveal a winning hand of 14 tiles.

But if the player who has claimed the discarded tile does not reveal the winning hand, another player gets the discarded tile to complete pung. Then, after saying pung, the players show their hands.

Suppose the recently discarded tile is 3 of bamboo. So, if the player has two or more 6s of bamboo, they can claim the discarded tile to call it a pung.

One can also claim the discarded tile if no one claims it but only when the tile completes a chow for you. After saying chow, you can turn the tiles in a face-up manner. But if the discarded tile does not serve the purpose, additional tile can also be removed from the wall.

The Basic Rules for Mahjong Board Game or Online Game

Mahjong board game or online game is played with four players. It includes 144 tiles and two dice to roll. But after gaining international recognition, this game has seen variations.

The players of the game must match the Mahjong tiles. Pairs are the two tiles of the same tile. In contrast, sets are three or four tiles of identical tiles.

Players must form one pair and four sets to win the Mahjong game. However, before revealing the winning hand, players must claim Mahjong.

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Mahjong is a fun board game that you can play to spend some quality time with your friends. But if you do not have a board or want to familiarize yourself before investing in one, you can play the online version of Mahjong game.