Riichi Mahjong Online

Those who like playing Mahjong Solitaire on the Internet may find Riichi Mahjong an exciting alternative. It can be played both online and offline and doesn’t require you to set up the tableau for a long time. Moreover, while Mahjong Solitaire can have unwinnable hands, Riichi Mahjong is more similar to card games, so you will earn a few scores and have fun anyway.

Below, you will find a detailed explanation of the Riichi Mahjong rules. We will discuss the elements of the game, the process, moves, and winning strategies. Read on and learn the basics of Mahjong!

A General Overview of the Riichi Mahjong Game

This game is also called Japanese Mahjong, it is a variation of the renowned Chinese Mahjong game. Riichi Mahjong includes four people playing with 136 tiles of several suits. During the game, players draw and discard tiles to build certain groups of tiles and make winning sequences.

Mahjong Riichi takes its name from one of the elements, riichi, which means a player has almost completed their winning collection of tiles. Note that this game is relatively more difficult compared to other Mahjong variations, so it may take time to learn all the specifics. However, we are here to help you, so let’s start with the main elements—the tiles and their types in Riichi Mahjong.

How to Play Riichi Mahjong

Riichi Mahjong provides two options for the gaming experience. The first one is playing it together with three friends, family members, or just Mahjong fans offline. If you want to play alone to kill some time, you can also play Riichi Mahjong online. The rules remain the same for both settings, so we will review them below without distribution between online and real-life games.

A Variety of Tiles in Riichi Mahjong

There are five types of tiles in Riichi Mahjong. Some suits are more extensive, others contain fewer tiles. These are the following:

  • Pinzu (called Dots or circles in Chinese Mahjong). These are 4 sets of 9 tiles each with a different number of dots on them. The range starts from 1 and proceeds to 9.
  • Manzu or characters goes for hieroglyph.
  • Sozu, also called bamboo in other Mahjong variations, has images of bamboo with a different number of sticks on each tile (from 1 to 9, respectively).
  • Winds are 16 tiles, 4 for each cardinal direction.
  • Dragons are 12 remaining tiles of three colors. There are white, red, and green dragons in Riichi Mahjong.

What is the Goal of Riichi Mahjong?

The initial goal of every Riichi Mahjong player is to create a specific collection that contains groups of identical or sequential tiles, which are called melds. Out of the final 14 tiles, there are usually 4 groups of 3 tiles and a pair. There are a variety of melds and a number of the final hands that are considered winning. Below, let’s review the most basic options.

What is Riichi?

Riichi is one element of Riichi Mahjong used in specific situations. To call Riichi, a player has to have a winning hand and also fulfill other requirements. For example, the player didn’t call any tiles from other players or needed just one tile to complete a collection. It is important that once you call Riichi in the second scenario, you can’t select from a variety of tiles or wait for the perfect tile to appear during several moves — you only have one chance.

Riichi is a valuable move in Riichi Mahjong as it brings many points. However, if the move appears unsuccessful, the same amount of points are lost, so you have to be careful about that. During non-beginner games with complex strategies, other players may also make moves to prevent you from getting the needed tile, so calling Riichi is a serious strategic decision that should be balanced.

Calling Tiles: How It Works

Aside from drawing tiles from the wall, you can call a tile another player discards. You can do it only before the next tile is drawn during the game. In Riichi Mahjong, if you call for a tile, you also have to open the sequence it completes in your hand. Note that it is advisable for beginner players to keep their hands concealed. When calling a tile, you can also call ron, which means you need just one tile to complete a winning hand. 

Types of Melds in Riichi Mahjong

The most important thing to learn about Riichi Mahjong is the variety of melds you can compile. There are three main types, based on which you can create a winning hand:

  • Chii, or sequences. These are three tiles of the same suit in ascending order.
  • Pon, or triplets. If you are lucky to find three identical tiles during the Riichi Mahjong game, keep them as a group.
  • Kan, or four identical tiles. Remember that you should declare your kan to other players before completing the winning hand.

Note that in Riichi Mahjong, unlike many other variations, your completed group of tiles can only be considered winning if you have yaku — a zest of your collection. Yaku is a specific group of tiles that make your hand unique or a specific way of arranging your tiles. For example, you have a yaku if:

  • You have three identical tiles of Winds or Dragons corresponding to your position in the game, namely East, West, and others.
  • You’ve gathered your hand with only self-drawn tiles, not discarded by other players.
  • If all the tiles in your collection, aside from the pair, are identical triplet tiles.

There are many other yaku rules you can follow, you can learn them while playing Riichi Mahjong and gaining experience. Each yaku comes with its own scoring value, so you can focus on more profitable ones when establishing your strategy.

Rules of Riichi Mahjong

The whole process of playing Riichi Mahjong can be divided into three parts: setting up the tableau correctly, making sequences of tiles, and calculating the final scores. Each of these stages has peculiarities. But with due attention and some practice, you will grasp the idea. 

Setting Up Riichi Mahjong

The Riichi Mahjong game starts with building 4 walls and dividing 136 tiles into equal groups. Each wall has two layers, 17 tiles in each. All the tiles in the walls are placed face-down. The walls form a square with space in the middle. Once the wall is built, each player draws 13 tiles, starting from the corner.

The Gameplay

Once everyone has their 13 tiles concealed from others, the Riichi Mahjong game begins. Typically, the beginning is similar to the Chinese Mahjong. Every player gets a name for the game based on cardinal directions. First, it is important for the order, meaning the first move is made by a person recognized as South, sitting on the right of East, and then the round goes counterclockwise. Second, these names are important for scoring. If you have the Winds corresponding with your cardinal direction, you get more points at the end of the Riichi Mahjong game.

Here is how the process itself goes on:

  1. The first player takes a corner tile from the wall. If it fits the player’s strategy of building the hand, they can keep it. But in exchange, they have to discard one of their tiles to the empty area within the walls face-up. If the taken tile is not suitable and a player doesn’t want to keep it, they can place it within the walls as well.
  2. Starting from the second move, every player has a choice. They can draw a face-down tile from the wall or take any already discarded tile. The second option is possible only if a player uses this tile to complete a sequence or a triplet. So, a player should also call the group of tiles he or she is completing. In this case, a player should also reveal the sequence to others, which impacts scoring negatively. If you create sequences using self-drawn tiles, you can do it silently, and your tiles remain concealed.
  3. The game continues, everyone tries to create the most valuable hand faster than others. Note that once you make any valuable meld, you cannot discard the tiles it contains. 
  4. The game can end in one of the three scenarios. The first one is when one player creates a winning hand. Then, everyone starts calculating scores. The second option is to play until all the tiles from the walls are used. In this case, there may be more than one winning hand, and scoring matters even more. The third option is when a dealer has a hand of 13 tiles that can become winning with the next move. So, let’s learn how it works!

Scoring System in Riichi Mahjong

Scoring in Riichi Mahjong is the most tricky and complicated part of the game. Those who play Riichi Mahjong online have a huge advantage since a computer will calculate their scores automatically. However, if you play with real tiles, you have to know the basic things about the final calculations.

Scoring in Riichi Mahjong is based on the so-called han. You get a specific number of han depending on the elements of your hand and a few other aspects. These include the following rules:

  • 1 han if you draw a winning tile and call tsumo when doing it.
  • 1 han if you don’t have any 1s and 9s in your hand, and all the other tiles are characters from 2 to 8.
  • 2 han if, aside from the pair of tiles, you have triplets of any kind.
  • 2 han if you have an open hand composed with a single suit and honor tiles. The same situation with a concealed hand brings 3 han.
  • 5 han if you have a single suit without honor tiles, and it is opened. If it is closed, you get 6 han.

Based on the number of han, you get a certain amount of points. For example:

  • 1000 for 1 han,
  • 2000 for 2 han,
  • 4000 for 3 han,
  • 8000 for 4 and 5 han,
  • 12000 for 6 and 7 han, and so on.

In Riichi Mahjong, a dealer always gets about 1,5 times more points than other players.

Winning Tips for Riichi Mahjong 

Riichi Mahjong is definitely not the simplest game to grasp, even though it has many similar alternatives you might already know. It has specific rules for making a winning hand, different scoring rules, and a variety of other features. Still, you will master it through practice, and this is where our simple tips will help you.

Try to Not Separate Your Tiles

Even if you are a beginner, get used to keeping all your tiles together. Professional Riichi Mahjong players even have specific strategies of attacks and defense, and the tendency to reveal your plans is the worst habit you can develop in this case. Once drawing or taking a suitable tile, place it exactly where it belongs in your tiles’ sequence. Also, don’t make gaps between the groups of tiles.

Focus on Simpler Groups First

You don’t have to remember all the winning combinations from the very beginning of your Riichi Mahjong journey. Start with learning the main types of collections, such as chii, pon, and kan, and focus on gathering them. Of course, during the first several games, you will miss unique sequences due to lacking information, but you will strengthen your overall understanding of Riichi Mahjong. Once you learn to create simple collections, you will be calmer and more focused on trying to compile more difficult ones and look for yaku, unique elements of Riichi Mahjong.

Discard Single Honors

This tip is closely linked with the previous one. The simplest melds in Riichi Mahjong are the ones created with tiles from bigger suits, such as Pinzu, Manzu, and Sozu. While there are only 16 Winds and 12 Dragons, each of the above-mentioned suits has 36 tiles. So, you have more chances to create winning groups using them.

Due to this feature of Riichi Mahjong, it’s recommended for novice players to focus on bigger suits. If you get a single Wind or a Dragon, it would be wiser to discard them shortly and focus on simpler sequences. However, with time and practice, you can build more complex combinations.

Keep a Dora Tile

Here, let’s first explain what dora tile is in Riichi Mahjong. When the game starts, players can flip a tile on the third side of the wall, and that tile becomes a dora indicator. Consequently, the next-ranking tile is considered dora. For example, with a dora indicator of four Pinzu, five Pinzu will be a dora. The purpose of dore is to bring you extra points.

In the case of dragons, on the other hand, there is a particular order, where the green dragon follows the white one, then it is a red dragon, and the white dragon follows the red one again. Moreover, there might be several dora during the game. With the Wind tiles, their order is the same as the players of the game have.

Focus on Middle-Ranked Tiles

If you draw tiles ranking in the middle of the suit, such as 4s, 5s, or 7s, they give you bigger flexibility in making sequences than 1s or 9s. Take this to your advantage and prioritize these tiles, especially when learning Riichi Mahjong.


Find answers to all your questions about Riichi Mahjong.

Is Riichi Mahjong the same as Chinese Mahjong?

Even though they have similarities, being the games of the same group, they also have important differences. The main one lies in the final objective of the game. In Chinese Mahjong, a player should simply get the winning hand. In Riichi Mahjong, it is not enough. The winning hand should also contain yaku, which is a unique sequence, a specific collection of tiles, or anything else that makes your hand special. In addition, there are differences in melds, their names, and their scoring. However, if you know how to play Chinese Mahjong, learning Riichi Mahjong won’t be that difficult.

Can I play with a Chinese Mahjong set?

Yes, you can use the same set for Riichi Mahjong. Still, note that this Japanese version requires fewer tiles: 136 instead of 144. You should remove the bonus tiles with Flowers and Seasons to play Riichi Mahjong according to the rules.

How many players do I need to gather to play Riichi Mahjong?

Traditionally, Riichi Mahjong requires four participants. However, even two or three players can have a good time playing it. You will follow the same rules, but the game may take less time.

Is it difficult to learn the rules of Riichi Mahjong?

Riichi Mahjong requires much time to learn tiny specifics, but the basics can be simpler to understand. You can start by learning the types of tiles, the most common combinations, and the most important scoring rules. With time, after playing dozens of games, you will become more skilled, establish a basic understanding, and will be ready to dig deeper.

What if No One Wins?

If no one wins Riichi Mahjong, the game is considered to be an exhaustive draw. When it happens, everyone reveals their tiles and calculates the available scoring. Sometimes, there might be a decision to share the points equally among players or divide the sum of scores into respective parts. For example, 3000 points for those having better hands and 1500 for those who struggled to combine good sequences. However, it is not the end of the game since you can go for the second round!