How To Play Mahjong: 18 Helpful Tips to Win in Mahjong Game

how to play mahjong?
October 26, 2020

A Comprehensive Guide For Newbies And Experts

Mahjong is a popular tile-based game that originated in China during the Qing dynasty. Although the game originated in China, it has become popular in many countries of the world, and many people want to learn how to play Mahjong.

Typically, four people often play Mahjong; however, some variations of the game played by three people.

Mahjong is indeed a game of strategy, so you might need to task your brain a little bit. If you don’t know how to play Mahjong, don’t fret as it is easy to learn, and once you get the hang of it, there is no stopping you.

If you want to learn how to play Mahjong and wish to become a whiz at it, then pay close attention as you read through the following pages.

Things you would learn in this article include but are not limited to the following:

  • What is Mahjong?
  • Important terms in Mahjong
  • How do you play Mahjong
  • Mahjong rules
  • Important tips to help you play Mahjong

What Is Mahjong?

As explained in the introductory section, Mahjong is a board game like rummy; however, “Mahjong” is played with tiles instead of cards. Usually, you play Mahjong with four people, but you can play with three people in other Mahjong variants. 

The main aim of the game is to create Mahjong by forming four melds and a pair. You’ll find there are many variations of Mahjong. Hence Mahjong rules aren’t definitive.

Mahjong Terms You Should Know Before Getting Started.

  • Chow: a set of three consecutive numbers in the same suit.
  • Racks: players use racks to hold their hands of cards; however, it is not mandatory to use it as players can quickly line their cards up on the table in front of them.
  • Pushers: pushers are attached to each player’s rack; it prevents you from accidentally exposing your hand while bringing your wall forward.
  • Pair: a pair is a set of two identical tiles.
  • Pung: a Pung is a set of three identical tiles.
  • Kong: A Kong is a set of four identical tiles.
  • Quint: Five identical tiles with the use of Jokers.
  • Sextet: Six identical tiles with the help of Jokers.
  • Hand end: A hand is said to end when one of the players declares ‘Mahjong’ and shows a complete 14 tile hand of 4 sets and a pair.

What Will You Need To Play Mahjong?

  1.     A pack of tiles
  2.     2 Dice
  3.     4 Scoring cards 
  4.     Scoring sticks 
  5.     1 Wind indicator 
  6.     4 Racks
  7.     4 Pushers

How to Play Mahjong Game

Learn how to play Mahjong: as a newbie, you can get to that stage where you win every time you play Mahjong. But the first step to becoming a pro at Mahjong is to learn how to play a Mahjong game.

  • Get familiar with the tiles: what is Mahjong without the tiles?  It would be practically impossible to learn how to play Mahjong without knowing every tile. Ensure you get a set of Mahjong tiles and learn to identify the tiles. A set of Mahjong tiles contains 144 tiles; however, some variants have 136 tiles.
  • There are four groups of tiles in a pack of tiles: Suits, Honors, Flowers and seasons, and Jokers or wild tiles.
  • Learn the suit tiles first: just like a card game, Mahjong uses suits for the most of gameplay; 75% of the tiles are suit tiles. There are three suits; the dot/circles, Chinese characters, and Bamboo.
  • Each of the suits contains four identical sets of 9 tiles, and they are numbered 1-9 like playing cards totaling 108 tiles.
  • Learn  the honor tiles: There are three kinds of honors:

Understand Winds:

these include north, east, south, and west winds. There are a total of 16 Mahjong winds, four of each kind.

An image showing the wind tiles

mahjong wind tiles

Understand the Dragons:

these include white, green, and red dragons. The white dragons are also known as soap and can be used as zeroes when putting some hands together. There are a total of 12 Dragon tiles, four of each kind.

 An image showing the dragon tiles

mahjong dragon tiles

The Flowers and Seasons:

these are a total of 8 tiles, 1 of each.

An image showing the flower tiles

mahjong flowers and seasons tiles

The Jokers or Wild tiles:

There are a total of 8 tiles, all identical.

An image showing the joker tiles

jokers or wild tiles

Use the Honor tiles like Suit Tiles. And it would help if you decided whether you will use the bonus tiles or not.

Now that you are familiar with all the tiles, the next step is to set up the game.

Setting up the game – how do you play Mahjong with your peers? 

Place all the tiles on the table face down; then, players wash or shuffle them by placing their palms on the tiles and moving them around the table.

Next, each player builds a wall in front of their playing space.

Taking turns, each player rolls the three dice. The player with the highest total is the dealer. The directional die is placed in front of the dealer.

The directional die helps the players keep track of the player game wind. The ‘dealer’ begins with the die East Wind face up. After four rounds of serving as a dealer, the player to the dealer’s left places the South Wind face up. The third player is the West Wind, and the last player is the North Wind. Each player serves as the ‘dealer’ for four rounds.

Using the total number the dealer rolled with the three dice, the host counts the tiles along the wall in front of him. For example, if the dealer rolls a 12, start with tile number one on the top row to the right. 

Moving clockwise, count the tiles, and stop at number 12. Make a space between the 12th and 13th tiles, the same way you would cut a deck of cards in a card game.

The dealer takes a chunk of the Mahjong wall equal to four tiles, two from the top row, and two from the bottom row. Then, the person to the dealer’s left takes the next four tiles and so on. Each player takes his or her turn in a clockwise motion grabbing four tiles each until the dealer has 12 tiles.

Then, the dealer takes four tiles again, but not in the same method. This time, the dealer takes a chunk of two tiles—one from the top row, one from the second row—skips the next two tile chunks, and takes the subsequent two tile chunks. This dealing move is called “jump jump.” 

Then, like before, the person to the dealer’s left takes the next four tiles, and so on until each player has 16 tiles. All tiles remain face down and hidden from other players.

Playing Mahjong for beginners and experts

When you play Mahjong, you must focus your attention on the game, especially if you are playing against experts who know how to play Mahjong quite well. Once gameplay has started, each player looks at their tiles and places them on the rack or their sides. The tiles should remain hidden from other players.

Any tile combinations automatically drawn, such as straights or three-of-a-kind, should be placed face up in a set order in front of the player. For example, if there is a straight using two, three, and four, then place the tiles in numerical order: two, three, and four.

The dealer draws one tile from the wall. The dealer can then choose to keep the new tile to help create a set or discard it. If the dealer decides to hold on to the drawn tile, they must discard one of their original tiles. While 17 tiles are needed to win, only 16 are kept at each turn unless the player is declaring victory.

The player to the dealer’s left can either draw the next tile from the wall or take the discarded tile that the dealer discarded. Regardless of which option the player takes, the player can choose to keep the new tile to help create a set or discard it. 

As players continue to create straights and three-of-a-kinds, they call out the set’s name and place it in front of their play area.

Players who opt to take the last tile discarded (the tile discarded by the player to his right) can only take the tile if it completes a set.

When drawing a tile either from the wall or within the walls, if it creates a four-of-a-kind, say “gàng!” Just as with chī and pong, players can grab a tile out of turn if it gives them a four-of-a-kind.

After placing the four-of-a-kind in from the player’s game area, the player takes an additional tile from the wall. However, the tile is taken from the opposite end of the wall.

The game ends when all wall tiles are taken, or a player declares victory with either five sets of three tiles and one pair or four groups of three, one four-of-a-kind, and one pair. If a player declares Mahjong but is not the winner, the false winner must pay all the other players.

At the end of each round, payment to the winner may be made if the game is being played for money, and points for each player’s hands are tabulated.

18 Helpful Tips on how to play Mahjong game

  1. Before your turn, you must give other players a few seconds to claim the most recently discarded tile.
  2. The priority goes to any player who can claim the discarded tile to complete Mahjong. A player who can do this claims the tile, then reveals the winning hand of 14 tiles. Hence, you can claim the discarded tile to complete a Pung. Once you have a Pung, say “Pung,” then reveal the two matching tiles that match the discarded tile. 
  3. If nobody claims the discarded tile, but it completes a chow for you, you may claim it at the beginning of your turn by saying “chow” and then turning your chow face-up, showing the completed run, then discard a different tile and continue the game.
  4. If the discard does not complete a set for you, then on your turn, you draw the next tile from the wall (going left). Unless this gives you Mahjong, you then discard a tile face-up.
  5. Pass tiles using the “Charleston rule” in American Mahjong.* 
  6. Let the south wind draw and discard a tile to start the round. 
  7. Allow the south wind to discard the tile and say the name.
  8. Claim a tile the moment a player discards it if it fits one of your melds.
  9. Pick up a tile from the draw pile if you do not want a discarded tile. 
  10. The moment a player claims a discarded tile, the game continues to the right of that player. 
  11. If someone plays a joker after picking and raking a tile, replace the joker with a tile from your hand, then claim the joker.
  12. Your primary aim is to form melds.
  13. Work towards making a” Mahjong, i.e., four melds and a pair.
  14. Remember to say the phrase “I’m calling” when you are a tile away from “Mahjong.”
  15. When you have your set complete with four melds and a pair, then go ahead to say “Mahjong.” But ensure you have your set complete before you say “Mahjong” because you will be disqualified from the game if you don’t.
  16. Score only the winning hand.
  17. Apply points based on the tile in the winning hand.
  18. Play four rounds of four hands each.

Get familiar with the Charleston in Mahjong

The Charleston is a ritual unique to American Mahjong with roots to its beginnings in the early 1920s. Charleston has become one of the most popular Mahjong rules. It is an exchange of tiles that gives each player a chance to improve her hand, bypassing unwanted tiles face down to other players.

Each player passes three unwanted tiles to the player to her left, known as ‘first left.’ The player is allowed to ‘blind pass.’ A blind pass is taking the tiles received and passing up to three without looking at them. If the number of tiles passed blindly is less than three, then you will add three unwanted tiles from your hand.

The Charleston may proceed a second time if all the players agree. The second Charleston proceeds in the following sequence:

At the end of the second Charleston, a player may make an optional ‘courtesy pass.’ The player may agree with the player across from her to exchange up to three tiles.

Note that you cannot pass jokers during the Charleston and courtesy pass.

You may want to change your proposed hand during the Charleston as you may realize that a different hand might be ideal than the original one you had in mind.


Mahjong is an extremely engaging game with a heightened level of socialization. It integrates people, helping them to bond well among themselves. Typically, four people often play Mahjong, although there are several variations of the game, including the one played by three people.

As you learn to play Mahjong, a tiles-based board game, never forget to have fun and remember that learning how to play Mahjong game expertly is a continuous process. Hence, keep playing the game until you become the best at the table.

If you want to play Mahjong online feel free to try Mahjong Solitaire or Free Mahjong game.

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