Board Games

What is Mahjong and How is it Played?

What is Mahjong: A Comprehensive Guide for Beginners to Experts

Mahjong, a game that originated in China during the Qing dynasty, has not only stood the test of time but has also gained worldwide popularity. Known for its strategic depth, cultural significance, and social aspect, Mahjong is played by people of all ages. This guide will walk you through everything you need to know about Mahjong, from its basic rules to the nuances that make it fascinating.

At its core, Mahjong is a tile-based game that combines skill, strategy, and a bit of luck. It’s traditionally played by four players, with the goal of making a legal hand using a set of 144 tiles based on Chinese characters and symbols. The game’s beauty lies in its complexity and the various strategies players can employ.

Understanding Mahjong’s Components


Mahjong tiles are categorized into three main suits (Bamboos, Characters, and Dots), two honor categories (Winds and Dragons), and bonus tiles (Flowers and Seasons), making up a total of 144 tiles. Each category plays a crucial role in forming a winning hand.

The Mahjong Set

A standard Mahjong set includes:

  • 108 suit tiles
  • 28 honor tiles
  • 8 bonus tiles
  • Dice (for determining seating and order of play)
  • Marker (for indicating the prevailing wind)

How is Mahjong Played?

Setting Up

  • Seating and Dealing: Players draw tiles to determine their seats and the dealer. The dealer then shuffles all 144 tiles and builds a wall of tiles from which players will draw.
  • The Deal: Each player starts with 13 tiles, with the dealer drawing an extra tile to begin the game.


The primary goal in of the game is to form a legal hand consisting of four sets (a combination of three tiles either in a sequence or of the same kind) and one pair, making a total of 14 tiles.

Playing the Game

  1. The Draw: Players take turns drawing a tile from the wall to begin their turn.
  2. Forming a Hand: As play proceeds, players discard tiles that are not needed, while keeping an eye out for tiles that can be used to complete their hand.
  3. Declaring Mahjong: When a player has completed a legal hand, they declare “Mahjong” and reveal their hand. The game ends, and points are calculated based on the hand’s composition and the ruleset being used.

Advanced Gameplay and Strategy

  • Chows, Pungs, and Kongs: These are specific sets of tiles that players form during the game. A Chow is a sequence of three tiles in the same suit, a Pung is three identical tiles, and a Kong is four identical tiles.
  • Stealing Tiles: Players can steal a discarded tile to complete a Pung, Kong, or, in some variations, a Chow.
  • Defensive Play: Paying attention to opponents’ discards can give clues about their hands, allowing for strategic discarding to prevent them from winning.

Variations and House Rules

Mahjong has numerous variations across different cultures, including Chinese, Japanese (Riichi Mahjong), American, and others. Each variation has its unique rules, scoring system, and gameplay nuances.

Tips for Players


  • Learn the Tiles: Familiarize yourself with the different tiles and their roles in the game.
  • Start with Basic Strategies: Focus on forming Pungs and Chows before moving on to more complex strategies.

Advanced Players

  • Adapt Your Strategy: Be flexible in your strategy based on your initial hand and the game’s progress.
  • Observe Opponents: Learn to read opponents’ potential hands based on their actions and discards.


Mahjong is a game that beautifully blends skill, strategy, and luck, offering endless entertainment and challenge. Whether you’re a beginner learning the ropes or an experienced player honing your strategy, Mahjong provides a rich, engaging experience that has captivated players for centuries.

For more detailed strategies, variations, and community discussions, consider visiting online Mahjong forums, websites, and local clubs to immerse yourself further in the world of Mahjong.

Where to buy: Find classing Mahjong Sets on Amazon (Starting at $35.99)

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