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Everything You Need to Know About Mahjong

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Mahjong is one of those games almost everybody has come across at least once, but not many know to play. You may be surprised to learn that the game is centuries old and has a rich background in Chinese history.

In this post, we detail everything you need to know about Mahjong.

What is Mahjong?

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Mahjong is a Chinese strategy tile game involving 144 tiles. The objective is to gather four sets (or “melds”) and a pair of tiles to make a “Mahjong.”

Conventionally, players take turns drawing and discarding tiles until one of the players creates the winning “Mahjong” hand.

While the game originated in China, it has spread worldwide, with different regions implementing different rules and making the game their own.

Mahjong History

There are several theories concerning the origins of Mahjong, but most attribute the creation of the game to the Chinese philosopher Confucius.

Confucius is remembered for his love for birds, and the name “Mah Jong” includes the Chinese word for “sparrow” in it. This is one of the reasons why most Chinese people today associate the game with Confucius.

The game dates back 2500 years and has evolved much from its original form. The Mahjong game that most are familiar with today is traced back to 1880s Shanghai.

It didn’t take long for the game to become popular in the region, and with millions enjoying the game by the early 1900s, there was a need for a standard set of rules.

The shuffling rules, wall construction convention, tile dealing convention, and the “kong” set were all introduced to the game during this period.

While introducing these rules and conventions complicated the game, it ensured that no one could cheat since the game was especially popular amongst gamblers.

The American Mahjong craze in the 1920s cemented Chinese culture in the United States and became a staple in Chinese American households.

The game also spread to Europe, with the region implementing some unique rules to make the game more appealing to the European masses.

After the Second World War, Jewish communities enjoyed playing Mahjong en masse. The migrating families in both the crowded urban regions and quiet suburban areas had isolated Jewish women of the time. The game became a fun way for these women to connect with each other.

Rules of Mahjong

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Mahjong conventionally involves four players, but in some Southeast Asian countries, the game is played between three players.

Mahjong Set-Up

Before the players begin playing, one of them shuffles the tiles and deals them out. Players seat themselves according to the wind placement they get. While players do not need to sit facing their cardinal directions, the seating arrangement determines the dealer.

In Mahjong, the dealer always sits in the East, scoring double and paying double. The dealer is typically determined by a simple roll of the dice, with the player rolling the highest number becoming the dealer.

After the tiles are distributed and the players arrange them in a wall, the players push the walls together to form a square of tiles.

The dealer rolls the dice and must separate the number of tiles indicated on the dice from the right side of the wall.

Thirteen tiles are dealt with every player, with the dealer taking 14 tiles themselves to start the game.

Mahjong Gameplay

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First, the dealer discards one of the tiles from their hand, placing it in the center of the table facing upwards and drawing a tile from the wall.

The other players can take the discarded tile to complete a set or a Mahjong if they come across the right tile.

When picking up a discarded tile, players must show the other players the tiles in their hand that they will make a set with and call out the set’s name.

If the discarded tile is not helpful for a player, they can pick up a tile from their wall.

After a player picks up a tile, they must discard another tile from their hand.

The game continues counter-clockwise until one of the players assembles a winning hand, or all the tiles are used up from the wall – in which case it’s considered a draw.

If one of the players gets Mahjong, they win the round, and the deal rotates to the right. The game ends after every player has had the chance to deal with the tiles twice.

The player with the most points wins Mahjong.


One of the best things about Mahjong is that you don’t always need to get together with friends to play it. You can play Mahjong online for free at https://playmahjong-online.com/