Mah Jong
The Ancient Chinese Tile Game
Mah Jong originated in China many many many, many years ago.  It is played by four people, no more, no less.
These instructions and rules for the game have been passed down through four generations of the Ming Family.  I suspect that they are very simplified rules and are ideal for the beginner.  I have been told by someone considered an expert that they are 'Mainland China' rules.  These rules also allow for very high scores to be obtained and a certain sense of fairness and while still allowing for vigorous competition.  Other rules that I have viewed on the internet allow for "stealing" of opponents cards and do get quite complicated.  I don't like the scoring of the other methods of playing that I have seen.  I think that you will enjoy the game thoroughly with the rules and instructions that I have described below.  Please feel free to print this page for your own personal use, just send me an e-mail if you do.
The Tiles (or Cards!)
Mah Jong has 144 tiles made up of three suits plus three groups.  The three suits are: Bamboo; Characters; and Circles.  The three groups are: Flowers; Winds; and Dragons.  Each suit numbers from 1 to 9 and has four of each kind of card (36 cards per suit).  There are four types of wind, East, South, West, North; and there are four of each Wind.  There are three types of Dragon: Red, Green, and White; and there are four of each type of Dragon.  There are four Flowers numbering from 1 to 4, and there are only two of each number Flower (one red and one green).
Flowers - There are eight (8) flowers in total.  There are two groups and are numbered 1 through 4.  Half have a green number with a red character and the other half have a red number with a green character.  They all have "flowers" on them, some sets may have birds or butterflies or rocks or vases with them, they are quite pretty and colorful.
Dragons - There are twelve (12) dragons in total.  There are three sets and have no numbers or letters.  There are the Green, Red, and White Dragons, and there are four of each color.  The White Dragon is all white and usually looks like a "blank" tile.  Some White Dragons have a "picture frame" or border around them, and some sets may even have the letter "B" or "P" on them.  It all depends on who made the set.  The Green Dragon has a large green Chinese character in the center, nothing else.  Some people say it looks like a Chinaman's face with a hat, some say it looks like a green dragon with feet, a head, and a tail.     The Red Dragon has a large red Chinese character in the center.  Everyone agrees, it looks like a red "dagger" with a hand guard.
Winds - There are sixteen (16) winds in total.  There are four of each of four groups.  There are: 4 East Winds; 4 South Winds; 4 West Winds; and 4 North Winds.  The winds all have a black Chinese character in the center, a different character for each wind (or season).  The East Wind has an "E" at the top; the South Wind has an "S"; the West Wind has a "W"; and the North Wind has an "N".
Suits - The Bamboo, Circles, and Characters are "suits" like hearts, spades.. in a regular deck of cards, except that there are four (4) of each card.  The tiles are numbered from 1 through 9 in each suit.  This give us a total of thirty six (36) tiles in each suit (4 times 9).  To avoid confusion, all the numbers are" at the top" of the tiles, the only exception is the 8 of Bamboo.
Bamboo - These tiles have green bamboo sticks on them.  Each stick looks kind of like two small green rectangles stuck end to end.  They all have a number at the top (or center.. the 8!) of the tile, so you don't have to try and count the sticks.  The big exception is the 1 of Bamboo which is quite decorative and pretty: some sets have a "duck" and some sets have a "peacock" to represent the 1 of bamboo.  There are 4 of each tile numbered 1 through 9, totalling 36 tiles.
Circles - These tiles have circles on them.  The 1 is decorated quite elaborately as a huge circle with spokes like a large wagon wheel.  Again, there are 4 of each tile numbered 1 through 9, totalling 36 tiles.
Characters - These tiles have two Chinese characters on them.  The top character is the actual number character for that tile's number and is usually green.  The bottom character is the same on all the character tiles and is the Chinese character for 1,000 (or 10,000 depending on the set) and is red.
Everyone starts the game with 2,010 points (at a penny a point, this is $20.10).  The denominations should be distributed as: two 500's; nine 100's; nine 10's; and ten 2's (1's are not needed since an odd score is impossible).  If your set isn't equipped with bone money, poker chips or Monopoly money is good too.
All the tiles are placed face down on the table and thoroughly mixed up.  Each player must build his/her "wall" by placing 18 tiles side by side and then stacking a second row of 18 tiles on top of the first row.  Each wall is moved toward the center of the playing surface until a Box is formed with the ends of each wall touching the end of the adjacent walls.  This represents the Great Wall of China.
The Jong
Each player then rolls the dice inside the wall.  If either die lands outside or on the wall, the dice must be rolled again, superstition and fate.  The person who rolls the highest number becomes: the Jong; the number one Flower; and the East Wind.  Players to the right of the dealer then become (in order): the number two, three, and four Flowers; and the South, West, and North Winds.  Everyone will stay whatever Wind and Flower they are for the rest of the game.
The Jong is in the unique position of being in "double jeopardy".  If he wins a hand while being Jong, he wins double his point score from every player.  However, if he loses the hand while being Jong, he must pay the winner double his/her point score.
Breaking the Wall
The Jong rolls the dice to determine who will be the dealer and break the wall.  The Jong then, starting with him/her self counts to the right the number rolled.  That person who ends the count of the dice is the dealer for this hand and then rolls the dice and adds that number to the number rolled by the Jong.  The dealer then counts out that number starting from the Left end of his/her wall and going to the right until that number is counted.  The two tiles (stacked up) are removed from the wall thus creating a hole.  These two tiles are then placed side by side on top of the wall just to the left of the hole with the bottom tile (of the two tiles removed) nearest to the hole.
The Deal
The Dealer must now deal out 13 tiles to each player.  Starting with him/her self and going to the right and taking tiles from the right of the hole: 1) deal three rounds of 4 tiles each (two stacked sets = 4 tiles); 2) deal one round of 1 tile each; and 3) take 1 extra tile for his/her self.
Everyone looks at their own tiles by either standing them up on end or placing them in a rack so only they can see them.  All Flowers must be placed face up in front of them so that all players can see them.  All Flowers merit and extra card.  Extra cards are taken from the "stacked end" of the wall by taking the tile farthest from the end (the tile that used to be on the top before "stacking").  The dealer takes his extra cards first (if he/she got any flowers!).  If another flower is drawn, it is placed face up with the others and another "extra" tile is drawn.  Then players to the right of the dealer may take their extra cards in turn.  When there are no more tiles stacked on that end of the wall, the dealer must take the two tiles from that end of the wall and "stack the wall" again (bottom tile nearest the end).
The Play
The dealer has an extra card and must discard first.  Discards are placed face up in the center of the area formed by the four walls and call out the card he/she has just discarded.  Play progresses to the right (counter clockwise!) with each player drawing and then discarding.   Each player, when it is their turn, may either pick up the card that was just discarded or draw a fresh card from the wall.  The draw is made from the end of the wall that is not stacked (the right end of the break in the wall).
The Object of the Game is to match up your cards to collect three's and four's of a kind (similar to gin or canasta).
The last seven stacks of tiles on the "extra tile" end of the wall are not played.  These seven stacks will progress toward the "drawing" end of the wall as play progresses.  If no one has won the hand by the time these tiles are reached, the hand ends, everyone settles their scores, and the Jong passes to the right starting a new hand.
Pung'ing - Now, if the person across from you, or to your right discards a card you want, you may take it out of turn IF you have a pair or three of them.  To take the card, you must yell "PUNG" before the next player draws a tile.  That player loses his/her turn, and everyone to that players right loses their turn as well.  If the next player looks at a fresh tile before you yell"PUNG", you are too late, it is so sad (you snooze, you lose!).  Now, I know I wouldn't trust you to be honest in a game, so you must show everyone your pair (or three of a kind) by placing them face up in front of you.  Then you may add the punged tile.  Note that even though you may have three cards face up in front of you, they are not dead.  When the fourth card (remember that there are four of each card) is discarded, you may still "PUNG" it to make a four of a kind.
Woo'ing - In order to win a hand, you must have matched up all your cards so that you have only one pair and no singletons.  Everything else must be flowers and three' and four's of a kind.  If you have not made any mistakes, you will not be able to discard!  This is correct and you immediately yell "WOO"!  Since your Woo card is the most important card of the game, your "WOO" has priority over any "PUNG".  Also, you don't need a pair to go "WOO"!  This condition occurs when everything else is matched up as three's and four's of a kind and the only thing not matched is a singleton.  Because of this, be forewarned!, two people can go WOO at the same time.  Whomever yells "WOO" first gets it.  The winner must display all of their tiles face up in front of them.  The three's of a kind are "stacked" up like a pyramid, including the "woo cards" (separate pyramids please!).  The "only pair" is shown as well.
4 of a kind - If/when a player gets a "four of a kind", he/she must place it in front of theirself face up and take an extra, or "fourth" card from the stacked end of the wall.  If you don't do this, you either won't have enough cards to "WOO", or you will have an extra card to discard (see problems?).  If none of the "four of a kind" was Punged, was natural (or concealed) with no tiles taken out of turn, the middle two tiles are turned face down to signify this (it means more points!).
Flowers - All flowers drawn throughout the play of the game must be placed face up in front of the player and an extra card taken from the stacked end of the wall.
Passing the Jong - If the Jong wins the hand, he/she retains the Jong for the next hand.  If the Jong does not win the hand, then the Jong is passed to the next person on the right who becomes Jong for the next hand.  This way the Jong moves around the table.
Prevailing Wind - For the first round of the Jong, the East wind is "prevailing".  After the Jong makes its' way back to the person who is East wind, the prevailing wind changes to South.  This is also called the changing of the four seasons.  After the Jong completes its second trip around the table, the prevailing wind changes to the West.  The third trip around and then the North wind becomes prevailing.  When the Jong completes four trips around the table, the game is over (unless someone loses all their money in which case the game will end sooner!!).  This allows every player the opportunity to have their wind be prevailing for a full round.  Therefore, there will be a minimum of 16 hands played if no one goes broke (remember that if a player who is Jong wins, the Jong does not get passed to the right, therefore increasing the number of hands that can be played).
Counting the Points - The tiles are divided into two value groups, low counters and high counters.
The low counters are the 2's through 8's of the three suits (Bamboo, Circles, and Characters).
The high counters are the: 1's & 9's of the three suits; the winds; and the dragons.  The high counters are worth twice as much as the low counters.
All flowers are worth one point each.
All pairs are worth nothing!  But you need one to win and to prove if you have saved all of one suit! (see doubles)
Three's of a Kind:
The lowest value count is a three of a kind of a low counter group that was pong'd, it has a count of 1/2.  Therefore, a ponged high counter has a value of 1 (twice as much!).  If the three of a kind was natural and wasn't punged, it is worth twice as much.
Four's of a Kind:
Having a four of a kind is worth four times as much as having just a three of a kind.  Also, if the four of a kind is natural and not pung'd, it is worth four twice as much again!
                                                                                                                                                     Pung'd    Natural                 Pung'd    Natural     
Low Counters  (2's - 8's of suits)                                                                        3 of a kind     1/2             1                            1              2
High Counters (winds, dragons, & 1's & 9's of suits)                                     4 of a kind      2               4                            4              8            Flowers                                                                                                                                                               1                                            1
Example #2:
Example #1:
Let's say that you have the following tiles:
                          These are the points you would have...
           2 - Flowers, #2 green & #4 red       2   points
           3 - 5 of Bamboo, pung'd                1/2  point
           3 - North Winds, pung'd                   1   point
           4 - 2 of Circles, pung'd                     2   points
           A pair of Red Dragons                     0   points
           A pair of 8 of Bamboo                       0   points
                               Total points = 5 1/2
Let's say that you have the following tiles:
                                  These are the points you would have... 
           4 - flowers, #1 #2 #3 & #4 all red     4   points
           3 - 7 of Circles, pung'd                     1/2  point
           3 - 9 of Circles, woo'd                         1   point
           4 - Red Dragons, pung'd                   4   points
           4 - East Wind, natural                         8   points
           A pair of West Winds                          0   points                                                       Total points = 17 1/2
Now that you have completed your preliminary count, you multiply your score by 4 to get your basic score.  So, if you have 5 1/2 like the example above, you have 22 points as your basic score.
Multiply this by 4 and you get 70 points as your basic score.
You may have noticed that the above scores weren't very impressive.  How could they have outlawed gambling with Mah Jong in the States?  ( I have been told that Mah Jong really hasn't been outlawed, it is just that the game isn't as popular as it was in the 1920's)  Very simple, we haven't finished determining your score yet.  There are many ways to increase your score with "doubles".  All you have to do is get lucky enough to collect the right tiles.
Here are the sources of doubles:
a.   Your own Flower, if you get both, you get two doubles!
b.   All four Flowers of the same color, if you get all 8 Flowers you get a double for each color!
c.   Three Dragons (or four) of the same color.
d.   Three of "your own" Wind (or four).
e.   Three of "the prevailing" Wind (or four).
Additional doubles can be obtained IF you go "WOO!", these doubles can only be used if you win the hand...
a.   Being Jong.
b.   Collect only one suit (Bamboo, Circles, or Characters).  Remember that Flowers, Dragons, and Winds are not suits.  This is why that lonely pair is all important!!!
c.   Saving all high counters (no 2's through 8's of the suits).  Again, that pair is very important!
d.   "Capturing the Moon Through The Eye of The Needle" which is going "WOO" on the extra card drawn from the stacked end of the wall.
e.   Having a concealed hand (going "WOO" without ever "Punging").  This is why the woo'd three of a kind is considered concealed (after all, nobody knew you had those tiles until it was too late!).
Now you may apply any doubles you may have acquired to your basic score.  Look at the examples above and let's see what doubles apply and what your new scores will be.
Example #1 Doubles:
Let us say you are sitting in the South position and #2 Flower.
0 dbl.-   You obviously didn't win this hand since you have a pair and a singleton.
1 dbl.-   The #2 Flowers is yours, so you get a double there.
0 dbl.-   The North Wind is not yours, so nothing there.
0 dbl.-   You only have two Red Dragons, you need three to get a double, so nothing there either.
So... with only one double, you score of 22 points gets doubled and now your final score is 44 points.
Example #2 Doubles:
Let's say that your are sitting in the East position, which makes you the #1 Flower, and that you are Jong, and that East Wind is prevailing (This must be the first hand of the game!!).  And, that you paired up the West Wind when you drew your extra (fourth) card for the fourth East Wind.
1 dbl.-   You have the #1 Flower which is yours, so you get a double there.  [2 times 70 = 140 points]
1 dbl.-   You have all four Flowers of the same color, so you get a double there.  [2 times 140 = 280 points]
1 dbl.-   You have collected "all one suit", namely Circles, so you get a double there.  [2 times 280 = 560 points]
0 dbl.-   You didn't collect all high counters, you have the 7 of Circles (although the 9's are high counters!), no double there.
1 dbl.-   You collected 3 (or 4) Red Dragons, so you get a double there. [2 times 560 = 1,120 points]
1 dbl.-   You collected 3 (or 4) of "your own wind", namely the East Wind, so you get a double there.  [2 times 1,120 = 2,240 points]
1 dbl.-   And, the East Wind is also "prevailing",  so you get another double there.  [2 times 2,240 = 4,480 points]
1 dbl.-   You are the Jong, so you get a double there.  [2 times 4,480 = 8,960 points]
1 dbl.-   You "captured the moon through the eye of the needle" when you went WOO on the West Wind, so you get a double there.  [2 times 8,960 = 17,920 points]
As you can see, doubles are very important.  If this was your hand, the game just ended and you collected a lot of IOU's.
Most scores are under a hundred with an occasional score of a few hundred.  Scores in the thousands are quite rare and our family records these with the players name and the date.  We even have one score of Zero, Zip, Nada, (0), because we've seen it only once!
Everyone pays the winner (wooer) what his/her score is, except for the Jong, who pays the winner double.  All other players then pay each other the differences between their respective scores.
Next Hand
All the tiles are turned face down on the table.  The walls are broken down and all the tiles are mixed around on the table.  For luck, all the players should contribute to the mixing of the tiles.  When everyone is satisfied that all the tiles are mixed up and they feel lucky, everyone builds their walls.  The Jong (in this case, the dice) is passed to the next person on the previous Jong's right (unless the Jong won the last hand, in which case the Jong is not passed).  The Jong rolls the dice to determine who breaks the wall, and then that person rolls the dice again to determine where in his/her wall the break should occur.  The "wall breaker" then adds the Jong's roll to his/her roll and counts that number of tile stacks to the right, starting at the left end of his/her wall.  The stack of the last count is then removed and then unstacked to the left of the break in the wall and on top of the wall.  Go back to The Deal.
Some House Rules
1) Whomever breaks the wall is responsible for seeing to it that the wall is always stacked.  After a few glasses of spirits, people tend to draw from any end of the wall if it isn't stacked up...
2) We always allow beginners to make one, and only one, PUNG too late, they are after all learning a new game, make it enjoyable for them.
3) There is no such thing as a misdeal, even if people have already looked at the tiles dealt to them.  It must have meant to have been, FATE!  Do whatever you can to straighten out the mess.  Remember that everyone must have 13 tiles (a luck number!) dealt to them, except the dealer who must have 14.
4) Don't forget that a WOO gets the tile over a PUNG.
5) If someone draws out of turn, they must put it back!
6) Everyone MUST call out, clearly and of firm voice, the tile they are discarding.  This prevents confusion as to which was the last tile discarded and permits PONG'ing with enough time before the next player draws.  It is also very important in the case where two people can go WOO on the same tile!!!
7) No trading of tiles is permitted under any circumstances.  This is cheating.
8) When rolling the dice, both die must remain inside the walls.  If either one lands outside or on the wall, they both must be rolled again.  Sometimes the fates require a second chance.
The most common problem comes when someone forgets to take their "fourth card" when they get a Flower or the fourth tile of a 3 of a kind.  You can check to see if someone has the right number of tiles by counting them.  When you count them, don't count Flowers or the fourth card of a 4 of a kind.  If they have drawn but not discarded, they should have 14 tiles, otherwise they should have 13.  If they have too many tiles, have them discard without drawing on successive turns until they get back down to 13.  The exception we make here is to allow them to PUNG tiles they need.  If they have too few, forgetting to draw a fourth tile, or just forgetting to draw, give them the extra tiles they need from the "stacked" end of the wall.  These rules for playing Mah Jong have been passed down for four generations of the Ming Family.  You will encounter many variations in the rules, how to play, scoring, and doubles.  Don't be afraid to try them out and experience the differences.  These are usually an attempt to modernize the game and can be culturally and ethnically driven.  Our rules came from Canton, China in 1876.
Larry Ming
Original Writing: 1997
Writing #5: December 2002
Comments or Questions?  E-Mail me...

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