What is Mahjong?

Originating in China, Mahjong is a tiles (like dominos) game that consists of three or four players using 136 numbered tiles. The aim of the game is to collect the maximum number of sets to be crowned the winner.

What you Need

136 tiles including 36 characters, 36 bamboos and 36 circles, of which are divided into four sets of numbers 1-9 in each suit. There are also 16 wind tiles and 12 dragon tiles. Some games will include 8 bonus tiles consisting of 4 flowers and 4 seasons, though these are not played in a basic game.

1 pair of dice

The Goal

The goal is to get a “Mahjong”, which means getting all 14 of your tiles into four sets and one pair; pair meaning two identical tiles. A set can consist of a “pung”, which means three identical tiles, or a “chow”, which is a run of three consecutive numbers within the same suit. A single tile cannot be used in two sets at one time.


Pick a starting dealer. The tradition is to shuffle the four wind tiles face down and deal them to the players. Players will then sit according to the tile they have been dealt, and sit clockwise in the order North, West, South East. East will start as the dealer. Some people may prefer to roll the dice to determine who will be dealer.

The tiles are shuffled, and each player will build a wall of face-down tiles in front of them, of which will consist of 17 tiles long and 2 tiles high. The result will be large square wall of tiles. The dealer will roll the dice and count that many tiles from the right edge of their wall. Where they land, they will separate the wall to begin dealing tiles from the left of that spot going clockwise.

Each player will receive 13 tiles, with the dealer starting with an extra 14th tile. Each player will arrange their tiles, so they can see them, and other players cannot. Often in Mahjong, racks will be used to ensure other players cannot see your tiles. The dealer will then discard one tile, and play begins to the left of the dealer.


When playing, it’s important to remember to allow other players a few seconds to claim the most recently discarded tile. Priority will go to any player who can claim the discarded tile to complete a Mahjong. The player who does this must reveal their winning hand of 14 tiles.

If no one can complete a Mahjong, any player can claim the tile to complete a pung. They must say “pung” and reveal the two matching tiles that match the discarded tile. E.g. if the discarded tile was the 7 of bamboo and a player has two other bamboo 7’s on the rack, the player could call pung. When doing so, the player must turn their tiles face-up, discard a different tile and turn passes to their right.

If no one can complete a Mahjong or pung with the discarded tile but it does complete a chow for you, you can claim it at the beginning of your turn by saying “chow”. You will then need to turn your tile face-up, revealing the completed run e.g. bamboo tiles 5, 6 and 7. You then discard a different tile and play continues.

If the discarded tile does not complete a set for you, you must draw the next tile from the wall. Unless this then gives you a Mahjong, you must discard a tile face-up.

The game will end when somebody declares Mahjong and reveals a 14-tile hand of four sets and a pair. If nobody can reveal a Mahjong by the time the wall runs out of tiles, it is considered a draw and the game is redealt.

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