Mahjong is a traditional Chinese game, played with a set of tiles, and is popular in many countries around the world, especially in Asia countries like China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Singapore. The origin of mahjong can be traced back to the mid or late 1800s. Today, the game has spread to many countries and developed into many variations.
A standard mahjong game requires 4 players, making it a great social game if you play it in person. However, mahjong is also considered a popular gambling gaming in the gaming industry and it can be easily found in both online and offline environments.
There are thousands of websites and applications that provide various variations of mahjong online games. Players can choose to play mahjong online for free or with real money.
How to Play Mahjong
Before playing mahjong online with real money, it is always recommended to learn the basics and rules of the mahjong games. At first glance, mahjong can seem very complicated due to its many tile patterns, combinations, and scoring methods. However, basic mahjong rules are quite simple.
In short, all you need to know is how the tiles are classified, how to form melds or combinations, and how the scoring system works. Then you’ll understand the essential mahjong game rules.
Mahjong is played with tiles instead of cards. There are a total of 144 tiles in a standard mahjong game and they can be divided into different categories which are similar to the suits of cards:
- 36 Circle tiles in 4 sets of 9 tiles numbered 1- 9
- 36 Character tiles in 4 sets of 9 tiles numbered 1- 9
- 36 Bamboo tiles in 4 sets of 9 tiles numbered 1- 9.
- 16 Wind tiles – 4 tiles for each of the 4 winds.
- 12 Dragon tiles – 4 Red dragons, 4 Green dragons, and 4 White dragons.
- 4 Flower tiles – The Four Flowers (Plum blossom, Orchid, Chrysanthemum, and Bamboo) are numbered 1 – 4 and are optional – when drawn, they provide bonus points.
- 4 Season tiles – The Four Seasons are numbered 1 – 4 and are optional – when drawn, they provide bonus points.
Circles, Characters, and Bamboos are the “Suits” in the mahjong game. The “minor” tiles are the suit tiles numbered 2 through 8. The two remaining suit tiles, 1 and 9, are referred to as the “major” tiles. Wind and Dragon tiles are known as the “honor” tiles. In addition to the tiles, two dice are also required to play the game.
One of each of the four wind tiles is placed face down, shuffled, and distributed to each player. The players take their seats in the following clockwise order: N – W – S – E. A standard session of Mahjong consists of three rounds: East, South, West, and North, and each player takes turns being the dealer for each round; thus, a complete session requires at least 16 rounds to finish, which might take around two hours.
Building & Breaking the Walls
All the tiles are placed face-down on the table and shuffled before the walls can be built. Each player will then choose 36 tiles at random to construct an 18-tiles length and 2-tiles height wall.
Then, to break the walls, East Wind will have to roll the dice to decide who will make the break, counting anti-clockwise from the East Wind:
- A score of 5 or 9 — East Wind
- A score of 2, 6, or 10 — South Wind
- A score of 3, 7, or 11 — West Wind
- A score of 4, 8, or 12 — North Wind
The player who will break the wall throws the dice once again. The total of the two throws is counted from right to left along the wall in front of him/her, and he/she breaks the wall where the count finishes.
After the break, four tiles are dealt to each player in turn, beginning with East and going anti-clockwise until each player has 12 tiles.
The first and third tiles on the top row are dealt to East, the first on the bottom row to South, the next tile on the top row to West, and the following lower tile to North, continuing in the same direction around the wall. That completes the dealing process where East has fourteen tiles, while the other players each have thirteen tiles.
Mahjong Melds or Combinations
The general objective of Mahjong is to collect sets of tiles — mahjong melds. If you have collected the right number of melds, you win the game. The three basic mahjong melds are as follows:
- A Pung – a set of 3 identical tiles e.g. 3 x Red Dragons
- A Kong – a set of 4 identical tiles. e.g. 4 x North Winds.
- A Chow – a run of 3 tiles in the same suit. A Chow does not score and is therefore only useful if it contributes to a hand that allows a player to call Mahjong.
The main goal of the game is to collect enough tiles to call “Mah Jong” and go outside. To do so, a player must do one of the following:
- A pair, and 4 Pungs, Kongs, or Chows
- A special hand
Basic Mahjong Gameplay
After each player is dealt with 13 tiles, you will draw a tile when it is your turn. Then, you discard a tile to end your turn. You may also pick up another player’s discarded tile to complete your meld. However, any time you have picked up a discarded tile, you must also discard another tile. Play resumes with the person to their right after the discard — some players may miss a turn.
In standard mahjong rules, there are two ways to end a round:
- The tiles have run out, yet no one has called mahjong. The game is considered a draw.
- When a player gets mahjong, he announces it and wins the round.
There are various ways to score the game and the scoring methods can vary in different variations of mahjong. Basically, if you achieved the last set for a “Hu” or called mahjong from your own hand but not from the abandoned tile, you will receive one point. Plus, you will receive extra points if you have any of the following on your “Hu”:
- Having a triplet of any Dragon Tile scores 1 point.
- Having a triplet of the seat wind or the prevailing wind scores 1 point.
- Each animal tile obtained scores of 1 point. One extra point (for a total of 5) is awarded if all 4 animals are collected.
- If all your tiles in your “Hu” are the same suit, you get 4 points
- If all your tiles in your “Hu” are the same suit and include Winds or/and Dragons, you will get 2 points
- If all your tiles in your “Hu” consists tiles of entirely of 3 sets of the same tiles and a pair, you get 2 points
- If all your hidden tiles in your “Hu” consists entirely of 3 sets of consecutive numbers and a pair, you get 4 points
- if you “Chow” some of your tiles to get your “Hu”, which consists entirely of 3 sets of consecutive numbers and a pair, you get 1 point
These are the most straightforward and common mahjong scoring rules, and there are more complicated ones if a player calls on a special hand.
Tips on How to Win Mahjong?
1. Have a clear plan
Always be clear with your goal and have a fairly good idea to build your combinations. Think carefully about the tiles you choose to pick up and which you do not need to include in your hand — obviously, you can’t play it randomly!
2. Be versatile and have patience
As you play, always be prepared to abandon your plan and search for other opportunities to build your hand differently. This is because you can still obtain many good tiles from the wall in the early stages of the game.
3. Observe your opponents
You should realize that your opponents are observing your moves and predicting your plan. Likewise, to further increase your chances of winning, you should pay attention to your opponents and find out what they are doing too!
4. Avoid picking up the first discard
Grabbing the first discard might reveal your entire planning as experienced players can use it to predict your hand, narrowing your opportunities for the hands you are building.
5. Keep a pair
When you only have one tile, it is more difficult to build a pair than it is to make a Pung. So, if you have a pair, don’t rush to claim a matching tile to complete a Pung.
Mahjong in Singapore
There are many variations of mahjong games, such as Hong Kong Mahjong, Japanese Mahjong, Malaysia Mahjong, etc, but Singapore Mahjong is considered the most popular variation in Singapore.
Singapore Mahjong rules are slightly different from the standard mahjong set as it consists of 148 tiles. The four extra tiles are animal bonus tiles: the cat, mouse, chicken, and centipede. They come in two predator-prey pairs: the cat and the rat, as well as the chicken and the centipede. In addition, unlike the flower tiles (the other group of bonus tiles), the animal tiles are not numbered.
This is the unique rule in Singapore Mahjong: When a player wins a hand, a complete set of animal tiles scores one double in addition to the double won for each animal individually, for a startling total of five doubles!
Next, the most important feature in Singapore Mahjong scoring would be the elimination of calculating fundamental points from the possession of specific tile combinations in favor of a fixed base stake. In Singapore Mahjong, you can score points against your opponents by:
- Winning a hand with one or more scoring elements; or
- Obtaining specific tile combinations
The many tile combinations, patterns, and winning circumstances that can add value to a winning hand, expressed in the form of doubles, are referred to as scoring elements. Due to the fact that many of the scoring elements can be combined, the overall value of a winning hand can be quite significant!
1. Can I play mahjong with real money?
Yes, mahjong can be played for free or with real money.
2. How can I win at mahjong?
Just keep practicing. The more you play, the more experience you will have to be a better mahjong player.
3. What is a winning hand in mahjong?
It depends on the mahjong variation you play, if you are playing in the Singapore version, make sure to learn about the Singapore mahjong rules!
4. Where can I play mahjong?
Mahjong is a game that can be played anywhere. You can visit a mahjong parlor, play with family and friends at home, or go virtual by playing mahjong online.
5. Can I play Singapore mahjong online?
Yes, there are various websites and apps available that allow you to play Singapore Mahjong and other mahjong variations online.