How to Make Friends and Play Mahjong

In China, at least, one of the easiest ways to make friends is to play Mahjong! Mahjong is a game that’s deeply rooted in Chinese culture. You can play Mahjong almost anywhere in China and find fast friends. To beginners it might seem complicated with all the different tile types, and ways to win but it is actually quite simple.

Here are the basic rules about how to play Mahjong. If you still don’t understand the basic rules after reading this guide, GoEast is having a Mahjong competition where we will be competing and teaching people how to play. A link to all the times and a signup is at the bottom of this post

The Tiles

Circles, Sticks, and Numbers

Circle, stick, and number tiles are the main tiles of the game. They have a number value attached to them (count the circles or sticks or read the numbers) and can be used to eat or make Pèngs or Gàngs.

 Sticks

Sticks

 Number

Number

 Circle

Circle

Flower Tiles

 Flower

Flower

Flower tiles have (surprise!) pictures of flowers on them. They aren’t required to play the game and are usually used just for score keeping purposes. If you pick a flower tile you can set it aside and pick another tile.

Honour Tiles

 The White Tile

The White Tile

Anything that isn’t a flower or a circle/stick/number tile is an honour tile. These tiles don’t have any number value and can’t be used to eat, however they can play a big part in “Big wins”. The white tile is special in that it is used to represent whatever tile is used as the joker during play.

The Setup

If you have an automatic table, this is easy. Just let the table shuffle and stack the tiles for you. All you have to do (along with the other players) is push the tiles together to form a square.

If you don’t have an automatic table everyone piles all the tiles in the middle of the table and vigorously stirs them all with their hands. Each player than forms a wall 18 tiles long and 2 tiles high in front of them. When all the walls are complete you can simply push the tile walls together to form a square.

Dealing Tiles

  1. Every takes turns to be the dealer. Use dice to decide who is the first dealer.
  2. The dealer rolls three dice. Add the numbers on the dice. Starting from the dealer count the players counter clockwise until you reach the number on the dice.
  3. On the wall in front of that player count the same number of stacks starting from the right. You will start dealing the tiles out from that stack of tiles. Starting with the dealer each player takes 4 tiles at a time going clockwise.
  4. When you reach 12 tiles each. Each player then takes one last tile to get a total of 13 tiles.
  5. If any player has a flower tile they must replace the flower tile using one of the last tile from the wall.
  6. Someone must pick one last tile. That tile will be the Joker tile. Put the joker tile where everyone can see it easily since the joker could represent any tile. This can (obviously) be very useful.
  7. The dealer will start the play.
 Setting the Joker

Setting the Joker

How to Play

How to Win

You can claim victory when you have at least one pair and all your remaining tiles are either runs, trios or quartets (more  on those later). You can also win by having a trio of jokers or collecting all seven of the wind tiles (more on those victories in the Big Impressive Victories section).

Playing the Game

  1. Each player must never have more than 13 tiles.
  2. Starting with the dealer, each player takes turns picking a tile from the tile walls. If you can use the tile to make one of the moves, take it and dispose of your other other tiles.

Moves

Eat: If the player to your left throws away a tile, and you can make a run (have three tiles with successive numbers ie. 123 or 567), you can eat that tile. Put the three aside where people can see them. You can then throw away one tile from yourremaining tiles.

Pèng (to make a trio): When someone throws away a tile, if you have a pair of that tile, you can claim Pèng. You do this by saying Pèng and taking the tile that the other player threw away. Put the Pèng aside where people can see and throw away one tile from your remaining tiles. In a situation where one person wants to Eat and another wants to Pèng, Pèng has priority

Gàng (to make aquartet): There are two situations where you can make a Gàng

  1. If anyone throws away a tile, and you already have three of that tile, you can claim Gàng. Take the tile, and say Gàng to claim the tile. Put the Gàng aside where people can see. Take another tile and throw away one tile from your remaining tiles. In a situation where one person wants to Eat and another wants to Gàng, Gàng has priority
  2. If you get four same tiles on your own, you can also claim Gàng. If you have Gàng right from the beginning, you don’t have to take any action. If you pick up the tile to make a Gàng, simply discard one of your remaining tiles. You don’t have to claim Gàng out loud in this case.

Big Impressive Wins

Big impressive wins are ways to win for bigger points. Some of the win types don't even require you to use all of your tiles!

1. Collections with Only One Category: A win where you complete a win with only numbers, sticks, or circles.

2. Trio of  Jokers: If you get a trio of jokers, no matter what the others have, you win!

3. Collection with No Runs: Win with a collection that only has trios or quartets

4. Seven Pairs: If you're having trouble getting pèngs and gàngs why not win big with pairs!

5. All 7 Wind Tiles: Since wind tiles can't be used to eat, collecting all 7 wind tiles is considered a big victory. It doesn't even matter what your other 6 tiles are.

6. Win with the Extra Tile After you Claim a Gàng

Scoring

  • For every round, everyone has a basic point (could be just 1)
  • When the dealer claims a victory, he gets one more point from the other three. When the dealer loses, he gives the winner his point.
  • If you throw away a tile that leads to a victory for someone else, the winner claims a point from you.
  • For any big victory, the winner takes 5 points from each player. This means that a big winner gets 15 points for the round!

Maria writes columns for the GoEast Blog on studying Chinese and Chinese language. She completed her MA atBeijing Foreign Studies University and has over 6 years experience teaching Mandarin. She founded GoEast together with Wang Rong in 2010.