How to Play Chinese Mahjong
Chinese Mahjong is a variation of the popular Mahjong game. It is a fun way to spend some leisure time and advance your visual memory. The standard Mahjong setup contains 144 tiles arranged in layers. However, in some variations, there can be 108 or 136 tiles. The number often depends on local traditions.
Note that in a real setting, Chinese Mahjong is a group game, usually requiring four players. In this case, you also need a couple of dice to find out who becomes a dealer. However, there are also a number of online platforms offering the Chinese Mahjong game for solo players.
Types of Tiles in Chinese Mahjong
Just like cards have suits, tiles of the Mahjong Chinese game have different images on them. These are the so-called suits of the Chinese Mahjong tiles:
- Circles. These are 36 pieces also called Dots due to the simple images on them. This group contains 4 sets of tiles, 9 in each, with 1 to 9 dots painted on them.
- Characters. These are 36 cards and each of them has a Chinese character of a number, from 1 to 9.
- Bamboos. These 36 tiles are also divided into 4 same groups. They have 1 to 9 bamboo painted on them, and the details of the designs may vary from one Mahjong set to another.
- Winds. This group of Chinese Mahjong tiles contains 4 tiles for each “wind” representing north, south, east, and west. These create 16 in total.
- Dragons. Here, the system is a bit different. The set has 4 groups of 3 identical tiles, including a white, green, and red dragon.
All these add up to 136 tiles. So, where are the remaining eight that help create the standard 144 number? These are bonus tiles, and you may decide for each particular game whether or not you want to use them. They include four Flowers with unique images and four Seasons, each related to a specific cardinal direction. If you want to play like a true Chinese Mahjong pro, remember how they are interconnected:
- East: plum blossom and spring.
- South: orchid and summer.
- West: chrysanthemum and autumn.
- North: winter and bamboo.
As you would have already noticed, there is close attention to cardinal directions in Chinese Mahjong. So, let’s explore what you should take into account while playing and how to set up Chinese Mahjong in the first place.
Chinese Mahjong Rules: Setting Up a Game
The Chinese game Mahjong is usually played with real tiles. The setup and the images on the tiles in online Chinese Mahjong remain the same as in a real game. Here is how you can organize a tableau when you play in a group:
- Prepare a Chinese Mahjong set and decide on the number of tiles you use. The standard option is 144.
- Use three dice to define who is going to be a dealer or an East Wind. Then, the other winds are distributed based on the players’ locations in an inverted way. So a person on the right of East will be South instead of North.
- Mix and shuffle all the tiles together, all of them should be face-down. According to the rules, every player should participate in it, but the East Wind decides when shuffling ends.
- This final preparation step is simpler in Chinese Mahjong compared to traditional Mahjong. An East Wind simply deals 13 tiles blindly for every player, while all the remaining tiles stay in the center. Note that a dealer has 14 tiles initially.
At this point, you have a complete set-up for your Chinese Mahjong game. You can start playing to create the winning sequences. Below, we explain this process step-by-step, but first, let’s better understand the final objective of the game Chinese Mahjong.
The Needed Results of Chinese Mahjong
Every player of Chinese Mahjong aims to create a set of several identical tile groups. There are three types of such groups:
- Kongs. It is the hardest set to create because it contains all 4 identical tiles.
- Pungs. This set contains 3 identical tiles.
- Chows. This is a group of 3 tiles of the same suit. Note that this one is not considered winning.
Even though at the beginning of the game most players are given 13 tiles, the final number is 14. This 14-tile sequence is considered winnable if it contains 3 Pungs and a pair of identical cards, 2 Kongs and 2 Pungs, or other combinations that follow the above rule.
Special Hands in Chinese Mahjong
Sometimes, luck is completely by your side! It can bring you special hands that result in a better final score. Here are a few of the most amazing ones explained:
- Heavenly hand. This hand represents its name in the best manner: it happens if you get a winning hand of any type right from the dealer at the beginning of the Chinese Mahjong game.
- Thirteen orphans. It is a real mix of all the available tiles, sometimes it appears as the last resort for those drawing tiles separately. This set contains all 4 types of Winds, one of each Dragon (by color), a 1 and a 9 from every basic suit (characters, bamboo, and dots), and one more card that makes a pair with any of the above-mentioned.
- Terminals. This set contains 1s and 9s only.
- Nine gates. This Chinese Mahjong group has all the characters, from 1 to 9. However, there is a trick. To have 14 needed tiles instead of 9, you need to gather three 1s and three 9s.
- Pure green. As it comes from its name, it is a completely green sequence. Most commonly, it is a set of bamboo tiles. However, sometimes, green Dragons can fit this sequence as well.
These are the special hands that are simplest to remember for a novice Chinese Mahjong player. With time, you can learn more about the available sequences and make your gaming process even more exciting by looking for unique combinations.
The Process of Playing Chinese Mahjong
Now you know what’s included in the game, how to set it up from the very beginning, and what you need to achieve as its objective. So, there is only one important piece of information remaining, and we’ll disclose it below. Here is how to play Chinese Mahjong without any hassle:
- When each player of Chinese Mahjong has 13 tiles (14 for the dealer) and all the remaining tiles in the center, South makes the first move. The moves are simple: you get a face-down tile from the center, and if you want to keep it, you should discard another tile from your own set to the center, but face-up.
- The next moves in Chinese Mahjong are made in the next order: West, North, and East. So, the next player also takes any face-down one. But, since we have at least one face-up tile in the tableau, there is an option. If it is your turn and you have an almost completed sequence (such as a Pung or a Chow), you name the sequence and can take a discarded face-up tile instead of the face-down one. Note that you will have to show the set once made to prove your move.
- Continue playing Chinese Mahjong one by one and create groups of tiles, also called melds. Depending on the chosen variation of the game, you may need a total of 12 or 14 tiles arranged in specific sequences to win.
- If you need just one tile to complete the game and get a mahjong, you should say “I’m calling.”
Scoring in Chinese Mahjong
The scoring rules in Chinese Mahjong may vary depending on the version of the game you choose. These are the simplest basic points:
- Completing the whole winning sequence brings 10 points.
- A Pung that has been shown to others because you named it to take a face-up tile brings you 2 points. Remember that you are not required to show your cards, but in this case, you can’t name Pung, and somebody else can take the needed tile. A concealed Pung brings you 4 points.
- A Pung made of Winds or Dragons is worth 4 points if shown and 8 points if concealed.
- The same scheme works for Kong. An exposed one comes with 8 points, while a hidden one is worth 16 points.
- A pair of Winds or Dragons comes with 2 points anyway.
After calculating the main points, those players who got mahjong, meaning they achieved the objective of the game, can continue scoring. These include double points for the following options:
- If there were no Chows.
- If the sequence has one suit and only a few Winds or Dragons.
- If there is a Kong in the sequence.
- If there are all the 4 Winds or all the 3 Dragons, and the number of tile groups is 3 and 2, respectively.
How to Win in Chinese Mahjong
Once you learn the basic rules and try your hand at Chinese Mahjong, it’s time to become more strategic about the overall process. Here, we’ve gathered several tips that can increase your chances to win the game and also get good scores.
- Learn possible melds. If you know what you are looking for according to the tiles at hand, you have more chances to create the winning sets. This knowledge adds up to your strategy and makes it clearer.
- Be flexible. If you can’t get the needed tiles, take a fresh look at your collection. Maybe there is a chance to build an absolutely different set of tiles faster!
- Think twice before taking the first face-up tile. Even though it looks appealing, compare it with your current set and decide whether this move is helpful. There will be more discarded tiles during the games, and usually, those are more suitable ones.
- Keep your pairs. In Chinese Mahjong, pairs of tiles can become the final link or transform into a winning sequence.
- Make your groups clear. Remember that in Chinese Mahjong, one tile cannot be used for two different melds. So, keep your collection clear and arrange the tiles accordingly to not lose track of your opportunities.
- Don’t expose your plans. Almost contrary to the previous point, do not make your potential sequences too obvious for other players, meaning avoiding making gaps between the tiles. Others can take this information to their advantage!
Chinese Mahjong may seem like a complicated and tricky game, but this puzzle can keep your brain toned for sure! Take some time to learn more about all the suits and types of tiles, available melds and special hands, and tiny specifics that can bring you better scores at the end of the game. Try Chinese Mahjong together with your friends or family members or go for an online version of the game to improve your skills in it.
Find answers to all your questions about Chinese Mahjong.
What are the main types of tiles in Chinese Mahjong?
There are seven types of tiles in Chinese Mahjong. The biggest suits containing 36 tiles each are Dots, Bamboos, and Characters. There are also 16 Winds tiles and 12 Dragons. Depending on the variation of Chinese Mahjong you are playing, you may use 8 bonus tiles. They include 4 unique images of flowers and 4 seasons.
How to play Chinese Mahjong?
Usually, Chinese Mahjong requires four players. You use a set of 136 or 144 tiles and try to arrange them into specific groups to win. The process may vary depending on the type of Chinese Mahjong, differences may occur even in the stage of setting up the tableau and distributing the tiles. Sometimes, the stock is initially placed in the center of the table, while in other cases, it first looks like walls made of tiles.
What is the goal of Chinese Mahjong?
To win in Chinese Mahjong, you have to gather a specific set of tiles arranged by suit or color, depending on what sequence you want to build. Most common sets include 4 groups with 3 cards in each accompanied by a pair of tiles of the same suit. However, there are variations in the final sets. Also, sometimes players pay attention to scoring, which makes the result even less predictable.