Mahjong Game Rules: An Easy Player’s Guide

One of the best-known Chinese games, Mahjong is similar to rummy. However, instead of cards, the game is played with tiles.

Traditionally, the game is played between four people. But there are numerous variations of the game, some of which allow three people to play the game.

You must gather tiles to form a pair and four melds – creating mah jong – to win the game. To practice playing Mahjong online, visit

Here’s a look at the rules of the basic version of Mahjong.

Mahjong-Image.png Image: Mahjong-Image.png

Objective of Mahjong

The goal of the game is to form four mends and two pairs of tiles.

To do this, every player must collect sets of tiles – either from the deck or from the tiles that other players discard.

The game has three basic sets:

  • Pung: A set of three of the same tiles.
  • Kong: A set of four of the same tiles.
  • Chow: A set of three consecutive tiles of the same suit.

There is no score for forming a Chow. Its only purpose is to help a player complete Mahjong.

But the overall goal of the game is to earn a higher score than other players in the game. This can be down over a series of rounds without calling Mahjong. For this reason, a game of Mahjong can take a few hours to complete.

Seating and Turns

After the four wind tiles are shuffled and positioned face-down, every player takes one of the tiles. The players then sit according to their draw, in the North, West, South, and East positions.

East is conventionally the prevailing wind position, and the player seated on the East seat scores double in the round. The player also pays double during the round.

But seating positions aren't set in stone – the players must change their seating every subsequent round. Seating can change in two ways:

  • If the East wind goes out in a round, the seating will remain the same in the next round. The seating of the player in the East position also does not change in the next round.
  • If any of the other winds go out in a round, the players must rotate their positions in an anti-clockwise fashion. In other words, the player in the South wind is now the player in the East wind, and the East wind player is in the North wind, and so on.

After every player has become the East wind once, the South wind becomes the prevailing wind in the game. By the same token, once all players have been in the South wind, the West wind becomes the prevailing wind. Finally, when all players have been in the West wind, the North wind becomes the prevailing wind.

The game ends when every player has been in the North wind.

How to Play Mahjong

The first step in the game is to build the wall.

Building Walls

The players seated in the North and the South shuffled the tiles thoroughly. The tiles are faced-down in this process.

After the shuffling is complete, every player draws 34 tiles and makes a wall with them. The wall is 17 tiles long and two tiles high, with the long sides lying flat and all the tiles facing down.

When all players build their walls, the walls are pushed together, forming a square that symbolizes the Great Wall of China.

Breaking the Walls

The player seated on the East rolls the dice. The same player counts the number of players anti-clockwise, starting from the East, and counts up to the number thrown on the dice.

When the count ends, the player it ended at throws the dice again. The number that’s rolled is added to the number that the prevailing East player rolled first.

The player must count the number of tiles from right to left to the sum of the two numbers. When the count ends, the tile where the count ends is where the wall is broken.

The pair of tiles at that point is removed from the wall. The top tile is placed atop the previous tile, and the lower tile is placed two positions further anti-clockwise.

Dealing Tiles

After the wall is broken, four tiles are dealt with the players, starting with the player on the East and in an anti-clockwise manner. Dealing stops when East has 14 tiles and all other players have 13 tiles.

The Game

The first turn is made by the prevailing player – conventionally the player on the East. The player discards one tile, placing it face up in the center of the table.

In the following turns, players take a tile, play a tile combination (if they want), and discard a tile.

Whenever a tile is discarded, the player that has two or three ties that are the same as the discarded tile can take the next turn by calling “Mah Jong,” “Pung,” or “Kong.”

The player can then take the discarded tile. In the event of Mah Jong, the player must take the discarded tile and declare all the tiles in their hand. The game ends with Mahjong.

If there is no Pung, Kong, or Mah Jong, the player to the right of the previous player takes the next turn. If this player has two tiles they can match with the previously discarded tile, they can call a Chow.

If there is no Chow, the player can draw a tile from the open end of the wall, and if they want (and granted it's possible), declare a Pung, Kong, or Chow by placing the combination on the table.

It’s important to note that a turn always ends by discarding a tile and placing it face up inside the walls.

Some more rules of the game include:

  • If a player declares a Kong, the tiles forming the Kong must be set on the table before a tile is taken from the wall.
  • You can make a Kong using a discarded tile only if you have three other tiles in hand.
  • Players are allowed to convert a Pung into a Kong; however, they can only do this if they draw a tile from the wall.
  • Unless a discarded tile is picked up in the next turn, the dead tile is no longer a part of the game.

Origins of Mahjong Solitaire

The game continues until all the are drawn from the wall. When all the tiles are drawn, the game is considered a draw. The players can start the game over again, with the same player prevailing player on the East after the tiles have been shuffled.

If a player only needs one more tile to win, the player must say, “one for Mah Jong.” This ensures that the game is fair since it alerts all the players to be careful with the tiles they discard.

When a player takes a tile from the wall and completes Mahjong, they declare Mahjong and lay down their tiles. On the other hand, if the player is able to finish Mahjong with a discarded tile, they can declare Mah Jong and take the tile, winning the game.

If a player calls Mahjong and another player calls Pung or Kong for a discarded tile, the player declaring mah jong is given precedence. There is also a possibility that two players declare mah jong at the same time.

In this case, the player supposed to play their turn first among the two goes mah jong.