Mah Jong originated in China in the 19th century, and has become one of the most popular games in China and Japan. It is usually played with tiles, though it can also be played with cards of equivalent design.
Sets traditionally consist of 144 cards or tiles as follows:
- Three suits with tiles numbered 1 to 9. The usual English names for the suits are circles, bamboos and characters. There are four identical copies of each suit tile - 108 suit tiles in all.
- The four directions or "winds" (east, north, west, south) - four copies of each (16 tiles)
- Three colours or "dragons" (red, green, white) - again four copies of each, so 12 tiles.
- Bonus tiles: four different "flower" tiles and four different "season" tiles - so 8 bonus tiles in all, though some sets may have more.
In the traditional game, 13 tiles are dealt to each player, and the object is, by a draw and discard mechanism, to form a winning hand of 14 tiles. This normally consists of four sets of three and a pair. A set of three can be three identical tiles or three tiles of the same suit in numerical sequence. Depending on the variation played, the game can also be won with various special hands containing other combinations of tiles. There are numerous extra bonuses for feats such as winning with a single suit, or with a hand consisting entirely of winds and dragons.
There are several versions of the rules. Mah Jong is played differently in China, Taiwan and Japan, and when the game was brought to the USA yet more variations were invented there.
Here are a few other useful links for Mahjong information:
- The International Mah Jong Newspaper
- Alan Kwan's Mah Jong Page
- Wei-Hwa Huang's page on Japanese Mah Jong.
- Steve Willoghby's page on Taiwan 16-tile Mahjong
- Gareth and Jane Sauders' Mah Jong Cards page, including cards you can download and print (PDF format).
- The Free Mahjong Chinese International Rules e-book provided by Mahjonged.com is based on the new Chinese rules published in 1998 and used in official Chinese and international tournaments since 2002.
Readers interested in solitaire tile matching games using Mah Jong or other tiles should visit the Tile Matching page of this web site.
Some places to play Mah Jong on line:
- At MahjongTime.com you can play Mahjong against live opponents, and win money and prizes. Registration is free and no download is required.
- RummyRoyal has a section about Mahjong, and may introduce it as an online game for fun or money if there is sufficent demand.
- Mahjongclub.com offers online "Speed Mahjong" against live opponents. This is based on the Hong Kong Cantonese rule set, playing just one hand for a fixed stake. The first player to get a qualifying Mahjong Hand wins the stake. Note: it has been reported to me that the Mahjong Club site is no longer being supported - any further information welcome.
Where the Winds Blow specialises in selling Mah Jong sets, books and accessories.