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A great gambling alternative to Poker, mahjong has been around for a very long time. Often played with four players, the objective of Mahjong is similar to that of gin rummy. Like gin rummy, in Mahjong, a player will have to match up tiles and make hands to finish the game. However, unlike gin rummy, Mahjong is much more advanced in that it has many more rules to the game play and style of building hands.

A Mahjong set consists of 144 tiles. These tiles add up to 108 suit tiles, 28 honor tiles, and 8 bonus tiles. At the beginning of a game, a player will have drawn their hand, much like in cards. From there, a player will discard and acquire tiles until they successfully complete a hand. The hands will have to match using suits or a sequence of tiles.

Suit tiles create a similarity between cards and Mahjong based on their suits. The idea is that you will match the suit tiles with one another to create hands. In Mahjong, the suit tiles have three suits, those of dots, those with lines, and those with pictures or symbols. The vast amount of suit tiles is what makes them so easy to create combinations with, so hold on to these if you can match a few in either succession or duplicates.

Honor tiles are tiles that consist of three pictures and four directions. These pictures are that of a red dragon, a green dragon, and a white dragon. Most tiles do not actually have a picture of a dragon, but rather a symbol and then the symbol is of that color. The four direction tiles included in the honor tiles are those of the directions north, south, east, and west. With the honor tiles, most sets will have included a visual aid to non-Chinese players, such as the direction tiles having the letter corresponding to the direction on a corner of the tile.

Bonus tiles in Mahjong are tiles that depict a flower, or some type of tree. These tiles are used to add bonus points to your score and once drawn, enable you to draw another tile when you obtain one. The bonus tiles aren’t used for anything, but rather, they sit aside your hand, complimenting it until the final score is added up.

Now, down to the game play itself. Once you are familiarized with the different tiles within the game, you will need to learn how to setup the combinations and hands involved. This information is borrowed from SoYouWannaLearn’s Mahjong hand descriptions. Keep in mind, a “dead wall” is a wall to the right of where your hand was just played:

Pung: This is a three-of-a-kind of the exact same tile. So this can be 3 white dragon tiles, 3 “five lines” tiles, 3 “eight characters” tiles, or whatever else you like. Pungs made up of honor tiles are worth more than suit tiles pungs. When you get three of the exact same tile with suit tiles, it’s called a suit pung. When you do it with honor tiles, it’s called an honor pung.

Chow: A chow is three consecutive tiles of the same suit, meaning three dots, lines, or characters. 1-2-3 character tiles is a chow, as is 6-7-8 line tiles. Chows are worth zero points at first, but used to complete hands later on in the game.

Kong: A Kong is a four-of-a-kind of the exact same tile. Due to the difficult involved in collecting all four members of a certain tile, they’re worth a lot. If another player discards a tile that you pick up to make a Kong, you must draw an extra tile to replace it.
Pair: Pairs are two-of-a-kind of the exact same tile. Similar to card games, a pair can include a pair of suits or a pair of honors. To complete your hand, you must have one pair of tiles. However, you may not have more than one pair of tiles, so it can get a bit tricky to decide which pair to keep.

To win in Mahjong, you must complete three combinations and a pair. These three combinations can include any combination of Pungs, Chows, or Kongs, such as three chows, one Kong and two Chows, two Kongs and a Chow, etc. These combinations are achieved by drawing tiles from what is called the dead wall, or by collecting discarded tiles from other players, which are then turned upright, so that other players can see them.

Once you gain a firm grasp of the combinations and the rotations between players, you can start to see how you can take the discarded tiles and tiles from the dead wall to build up your hand. While involving a bit of luck, being good at setting up hands and making the correct tile choices will ultimately prevail in the long run, so make sure you practice!

Mahjong Library

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