General Rules of Mahjong

Objective of the Game
The objective of the game is to collect tiles to form a Mahjong hand. Players take turns picking one tile from the wall and discarding one tile. When a player picks up a tile that gives a valid Mahjong hand, the player wins.

A full Mahjong tile set contains 144 tiles. There are three suits: Bamboo, Characters and Dots. Each suit has tiles numbered one to nine. There is four of each tile. There are also honor tiles: dragons and winds. The dragons are named Red, White and Green. The winds are East, South, West and North. There is four of each dragon type and four of each wind in the tile set.

In many rule sets there are also four season tiles and four flower tiles.

Game Flow
Players start with 13 tiles each. Each player is assigned a wind (East-South-West-North). East starts the game by picking a tile from the wall. Players then take counter-clockwise turns picking a tile from the wall and then discarding one tile from the hand. It is also possible to claim a tile discarded by another player under certain circumstances. In such cases, the player to the right of the claiming player becomes next in turn so some players may lose their turn in a go-around.

Players shall always have a total of 13 tiles in hand and/or declared, until Mahjong is declared. (A Mahjong hand contains 14 tiles.)

In games that consist of several hands, the concept of prevalent wind is used. The game will then consist of one to four rounds, each with a prevalent wind (starting with east). In a round, players switch winds after each hand (with some exceptions in some rule sets), i.e. the player who was east becomes south, south becomes west and so on until all players have played as east. When the round is finished, the prevalent wind is changed (from east to west, west to south, south to north) and a new round starts. The prevalent wind is shown in the middle of the table.

Claiming Tiles

  • A player may claim a discarded tile from the player to his left (i.e. if the claiming player is next in turn) to declare a chow (a three-tile same-suit straight).
  • A player may claim a discarded tile from any other player to declare a kong (four-of-a-kind) or pong (three-of-a-kind).
  • A player may claim a discarded tile from any other player to declare Mahjong.

In case several players want to claim the same discard, the following priority list is used:

  • Mahjong
  • Kong
  • Pong
  • Chow

If two players want to claim a tile for the same reason, the player who is closest to being next in turn gets the tile.

Note that it is not always wise to claim discarded tiles. For example, sets that have not been declared are worth more than declared sets when going Mahjong.

Mahjong Hands
A Mahjong hand normally consists of four sets of three or four tiles and one pair. A set is a same-suit triplet (pong), a same-suit quadruplet (kong) or a same-suit straight (chow). Each rule set also has a number of special hands that allow Mahjong or score better than usual. Also, many rule sets have additional requirements for actually going Mahjong (see below).

The score for a hand is calculated in two steps. First, the sets and the pair give minipoints. Calling Mahjong (or going out/winning) also usually gives minipoints. The amount of points and which sets and pairs that give minipoints vary with the game rules.

Second, the hand is analysed for patterns that depend on the game rules. Fan (also called funs, or yakus) are awarded for the different patterns. Each fan doubles the minipoints once. The resulting score is the hand score.

In some rule sets, the hand score is irrelevant and only the number of fan is counted.

Tournament Scoring
Table points are awarded according to the players’ score after each tournament round. The player with the highest score gets four table points, the runner-up gets two table points and the player that is second to last gets one table point.

When a game is over, the money entered into the game is divided amongst the participants. The settlement type for a specific table is shown in the table information box in the game. The following settlement types are used:

Winner Takes All
In some games, the player with the highest score takes the entire pot. The pot is the sum of the buy-ins from all participants. A feeding penalty may also be present, which means that a player that discards the winning tile pays extra (the feeding penalty) and the players who did not discard the winning tile pays less (the feeding penalty divided by the number of non-feeding players).

Riichi House Rules
In games that use Riichi House Rules, the players split the pot proportionally to the number of hand points they have at the end of the game. So, if the winning player has 70.000 points at the end of the game and the three other players have 10.000 points each, the winner will get 70% of the pot and the other players will get 10% each. In addition, there is a placement bonus, where the player with the least points pays a specific amount of money to the winner, and the player ranked third pays a smaller amount of money to the runner-up.

Hong Kong House Rules
Settlement in Hong Kong games works like in Riichi games using House Rules without the placement bonus.

In tournaments, the pot (and any money added by the game operators) is divided amongst participants according to the table points accumulated by players and the payout structure defined for the tournament. The payout structure is usually dependent on the number of participants and is described in the tournament information box.

The buy-in is composed of a fee and a bet. The fee goes to the house while the bet is put into a pot that is won by the participants of the game. Usually, only tournaments have a fee.

Buy-in to tables is shown as /. The maximum loss is also equal to the greatest possible winnings and is the amount that is reserved from a player’s account when entering the game. In many cases the maximum amount is not lost. In particular, it is very rare to lose the maximum amount in Riichi east only and full games.

In single hand games, the buy-in plus the feeding penalty is reserved from the player’s account when entering a game. Only if the player discards the winning tile will the full reserved amount be lost.

In games using House Settlement Rules, the buy-in plus the maximum placement bonus (if applicable) is reserved. The full reserved sum can only be lost by the player who finishes last in the game and not even that player will always lose the full reserve.

Tournaments have a buy-in equal to the bet plus the fee. Fees are much more common in tournaments than in other game types.


DrawDrawing a tile from the wall.
DiscardDiscarding a tile from ones hand, either the tile just draw or a tile that was already in the hand.
ClaimTo take a tile discarded by somebody else. A player can claim a tile discarded by any other player if it completes a pong or allows the player to go Mahjong. A tile that completes a chow can only be claimed if discarded by the player to the left.
Declare/MeldIf a player claims a tile he/she must declare the resulting meld, i.e. show the tiles face-up on the table. The same applies if the player has a kong in his hand and wants to use it as such.
ConcealedA hand or set that has not been declared.
HandThe tiles that a user has.
Chow/ChiiA three tile straight. All tiles in a chow must be of the same suit (Bamboo, Characters or Dots).
Fan/Fun/YakuA combination (pattern) of tiles that is special in some way. Many rule sets require a winning hand to have at least one such combination. Each fan also doubles the player’s score in many rule sets.
MinipointThe collected point value of all sets and pairs in a hand.
Hand pointThe final point value of a hand, after Fan have been applied.
WallWhere tiles that have yet not been picked are.
FuritenA player is Furiten when he or she has previously discarded the tile that he or she needs to go Mahjong. Applies to Riichi Mahjong only.
RiichiWhen a player is one tile away from declaring Mahjong with a concealed hand, he or she can declare Riichi. Riichi is worth one yaku, so the player declaring Riichi must put 1000 extra points into the pot. The game plays itself for players who have declare Riichi until somebody wins or there is a draw. Applies to Riichi Mahjong only.
TenpaiA player is Tenpai is he is one tile away from having a valid Mahjong hand (four sets and a pair; this must not necessarily be a hand the player can declare Mahjong with). Applies to Riichi Mahjong only.