How to play mahjong

Use these helpful tips for Mahjong beginners into your game play strategy

Mahjong is played by millions of people around the world, often in Mahjong parlours or on park benches where the game is particularly popular. Even the best players were once novices, and would have been given many tips for Mahjong beginners that started them their journey to becoming very good players. While Mahjong is a game based on chance, making the most of the tiles you’re dealt, using carefully planned strategies can increase your chances of success.

Object of the Game

Often Mahjong can seem quite intimidating and complex for beginners, but nothing could be further from the truth. With every round played you’ll learn new tips and tricks to become a better player. Soon you’ll be playing off for the $400 cash prize on offer at Mahjong Night every Friday at Lantern Club with confidence!

The aim of the game is to collect Chows (3 consecutive tiles of the same suit), Pungs (3 identical tiles of the same suit) and Kongs (4 identical tiles of the same suit) in order to ‘Go Mahjong’ from your set of tiles.

This can be done with any mixture of these combinations or one of a number of other Special hands. You can find a great resource to learn the rules of Mahjong at Mahjong Wiki.

Mahjong tips to become a better player

With just a few adjustments and improvements you can improve your game out of sight in a short space of time, dramatically increasing your chances of ‘Going Mahjong’. Often beginners will dive head first into collecting as many sets of Chows, Pungs and Kongs as they can right from the start, but this is a strategy fraught with danger and can lead to problems as the game progresses. The next time you play, consider incorporating these helpful tips for Mahjong beginners into your game play strategy.

  1. Resist the urge to separate your tiles – If you want to let your opponents know how close you are to compiling a complete hand, rearrange and group your tiles into Chows, Pungs and Kongs. Alternatively, this could be a great strategy to send your opponents the wrong signals!
  2. Concentrate on the free tiles – Most of the 144 tiles in a Mahjong game are blocked anyway, so don’t worry about them. Focus on the free tiles available to match and remove, and make a play when the opportunity arises. You can only match a tile when there is a space on one side of the tile, so look to make matches with tiles at the top of the stack first. You’ll have a better chance of matching tiles while avoiding the problem of a tile you want being trapped.
  3. Ignore tip number two…sort of – In most board games you must plan ahead, and Mahjong is no different. As such you need to consider the consequences of your actions, such as how removing certain tiles will affect the rest of the game. You need to continually ask yourself “will removing this tile be better or worse for me in the long run?” Often the easiest option is not the best option.
  4. Don’t reveal too much of your Hand – You can only pick up discarded tiles when you can complete a Chow, Pung or Kong, so whenever you do this you’re giving away information about the tiles you’re holding. Experienced players will soon be able to predict which tiles you’ll pick up and discard, and tailor their decisions based on your moves.
  5. Have a clear plan of attack – Think about the direction you want to take your hand and stick with it, while also remaining flexible. Picking up tiles for the sake of it won’t work, and patience will always win out in the end. If your strategy isn’t working, change tactics and look for other winning possibilities.
  6. It gets interesting near the end – As the game nears its conclusion, keep an eye on the tiles other players are discarding, along with the tiles left in the wall. You also need to be careful which tiles you discard, and the best strategy is to discard tiles that have already been discarded by others if possible.
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Practice makes perfect

Mahjong is a great game of strategy because you’ve got to plan ahead, and often you need to show a little self-control to pass on the obvious move in order to position yourself better for a later assault.

These tips for Mahjong beginners are designed to get you thinking more clearly about the choices you have during any particular game, thus improving your chances of winning.

But the best tip for improving your Mahjong game is simply to play it regularly. You’ll soon get an understanding of the rules, natural flow and varying tactics of Mahjong, and be able to predict the moves of other players while disguising your own intentions.

Put your new Mahjong skills to the test

Every Friday night Lantern Club holds a Mahjong night, with $400 cash going to the winner. Registration starts from 6.30pm, with games commencing at 7.30pm.

These nights are proving very popular, so it’s a good idea to register early using your membership card. If you’re not yet a Lantern Club member, join now and experience the fun and excitement of Mahjong Night.

© Lantern Club, Roselands

What is Mahjong?

Mahjong is similar to rummy but with tiles instead of cards. Four players try to match tiles into pairs or one of three types of “melds”—the pong (3 identical tiles), kong (4 identical tiles), or chow (3 suited tiles in sequence). These groupings are similar to three of a kind, four of a kind, or a straight in poker. To win a hand, players must complete a Mahjong—four melds and a pair.

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There are 144 tiles in Mahjong: Suits: Most tiles are divided into 3 suits—bamboos (sticks), dots (wheels), and characters (cracks), with tiles numbered 1–9 for each suit. There are 4 copies of each tile, totaling 108 tiles. Honors: Honors tiles are divided into Winds (east, south, west, north) and Dragons (red, green, and white). There are four copies of each tile, totaling 28 tiles. Bonus: Bonus tiles are divided into Flowers and Seasons. There are eight total bonus tiles: four Flowers and four Seasons. Bonus tiles are used for scoring and are not part of regular gameplay.

How to play Mahjong

Mahjong is easiest to learn as you play it—not by reading paragraphs of text! Still, the outline below covers the core aspects of gameplay and should help you jump into your first game with a basic understanding of the process. (Like any internationally popular game with a long history, there are variations to Mahjong rules.)

Each Mahjong match consists of four rounds, and there are four hands per round. A match starts with each player rolling two dice. The highest roller is the dealer. The dealer shuffles all the tiles face down in the middle of the table, then deals 13 tiles to each player. The remaining tiles are left in the middle as the draw pile.

The person to the right of the dealer starts a hand by drawing a tile and discarding one of their own face-up in the middle of the table. (Throughout the game, all players hold 13 tiles in their hand; this does not include tiles they’ve made into pairs or melds.) Other players may pick-up a discarded tile or draw an unknown tile from the middle. Melds formed with discarded tiles must be announced to the group; those formed by drawing tiles may be kept hidden.

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The process of drawing and discarding tiles continues in a counter-clockwise direction until a player completes a Mahjong (four melds and a pair). After each hand, the score of the winning hand—which varies based on the tiles—is recorded. Some winning hands are worth more than others, and skilled players succeed not just at winning hands but at winning them with high-scoring tiles.

This video includes more detailed instructions on how to play Mahjong:

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