Mahjong Rules

Mahjong is a game that is played with 4 people. The game is played with tiles and the goal is to achieve a complete combination with the tiles in your hand.

Mahjong board game

Contents and Goal of the Game

First of all, a small clarification. Mahjong is not the small solitaire game that you find on your devices and which asks you to match pairs of tiles. That’s just a twisted version. REAL Mahjong is played on a table with 4 players and has very specific rules.

To play Mahjong, you will need: 

  • 1 playingmat
  • 2 dice
  • The 144 character tiles of Mahjong

You will find some Mahjong cases containing additional blank tiles. These are used to replace lost tiles. 

The goal is to collect tiles in order to make combinations and, in the end, achieve a “Mahjong”. It’s all about collecting matching pairs and sets.

Mahjong Tiles

A beginner might be intimidated by the sheer amount of tiles in Mahjong. However, Mahjong tiles take up the principle of your classic card games: there are different suits.

First, just like Clubs, Diamonds, Spades and Hearts in classic card games, in Mahjong there are 3 suits: dots, bamboos and characters.

Mahjong Tiles
(French) Les cercles = (English) Dots
Les bambous = Bamboos
Les caractères = Characters

Each tile suit is numbered from 1 to 9. Thus, the tile with the bird is the 1 of Bamboos, the one with the round dot is the 1 of Dots. 
There are four copies of each tile of these three suits.
After the suit tiles, we have the honor tiles:

  • 4 tiles representing the 4 cardinal directions: East (东), South (南), West (西) and North (北). Each is present in 4 copies.
  • 3 dragon tiles: one red, one green and one white; also present in 4 copies.
  • 8 supreme honor tiles: 4 representing the 4 seasons, and 4 flower tiles. This is the only group of tiles that are present in only 1 copy! Note that these tiles are optional to play, especially if you are just starting out.
Tiles meaning in Mahjong


  • A pair: two identical tiles.
  • Chow: three consecutive numbers in a row (for example 5-6-7 of bamboo)
  • Pong: 3 identical tiles
  • Kong: 4 identical tiles
  • Mahjong: the winning hand: All the tiles in your hand are melds. You can have several types of melds to achieve your Mahjong.

Before You Start: Building the Wall

Put all the tiles face down on the mat (except the flowers and the seasons, we’ll learn without those first 😊) then shuffle them. Then you will have to decide who will be the first player. It’s very simple, roll the dice: the one with the highest score will be the first player.

Once this is done, each player forms a row of 17 tiles by selecting the tiles at random, without turning them over. Once the row is finished, players will have to make a second row on top of the first, still with 17 tiles face down. In the end, each player will have in front of them a row of 2 levels of 17 tiles per level. 

It will then be necessary to bring them closer together in order to form a well-closed square.
Once the wall is complete, you will be able to start playing the game. 
Players take turns in a clockwise direction.
You can play the following variation if you’re looking to mix things up a little: 

  • Put all the tiles in an opaque bag.
  • Take randomly and without looking 14 tiles from the bag to form the hill.
  • Each player randomly draws 13 tiles from the bag to form their hand.
  • The rest of the tiles from the bag form the wall.

It’s a simpler way to chain games together.

Dealing the Tiles

  • The first player rolls the dice, and counts the walls, starting from the one in front of themselves, and in a clockwise direction. For example, if they roll an 8 on the dice, they count from their wall, then the wall to their left, then the one in front of them, then the one to their right, then their wall, etc. until you land on the eighth wall. This wall will be the wall where the split will be made.
  • By retaining the result of the throw to choose the wall (8 in our example), the player of a wall is chosen and makes a second throw, and adds to it the result of the throw of the previous player (the 8 of the first player). Then, they count from the far left of their wall after adding the results of the two throws, and create a breach in their wall at the final location. For example, if they throw a 5, they count 13 tiles (8 + 5) from the left of their wall, then, on the 13th tile, they take the 2 tiles there and remove them. The first tile goes on the next tile (14th tile in our example) and the second tile goes 2 tiles further (on the 16th tile in our example).
  • Then the player whose wall is chosen counts 3 tiles after placing the 2nd breach tile, then makes a split. This will cause them to create a small wall that’s 6 tiles long. This wall constitutes the hill. 
  • Once the hill has been built, the first player deals the tiles of the remaining wall starting from the location of the breach, in batches of 4 tiles to all the players starting with themselves. They do this until each player has 12 tiles.
  • Then, they take 1 tile from the top of the wall, skip the next tile, and take the tile after that, then add them to their hand. That gives them 14 tiles. They then give a tile from the wall to the other players, while skipping a tile each time. The other players therefore end up with 13 tiles.

Players can then flip and align their tiles. The game can begin.

The Game Begins

Don’t forget the object of the game: to make matching sets and pairs of the tiles.
The first player starts the game. Remember that the dealer is the only one to have received 14 tiles against 13 tiles for the others. 
The different stages of a player’s turn are: 

  • Draw a tile from the wall starting with the top tile, then the bottom one for the next player
  • Get rid of a tile from their hand and put it in the center of the game
  • Make combinations and possibly finish the game.

When a player gets rid of a tile, the next player can decide to recover this tile, on the sole condition that it serves them to make a Chow, a Pong or a Kong. If they don’t want it, the next player can claim it, but not for a Chow. they can only claim it for either a Pong or a Kong. If no one wants the tile, it is permanently out of play and cannot be picked up later

It is forbidden to claim a tile to make a pair, except if this eventually makes it possible to perform a Mahjong (therefore ending the game).

If two players want to claim the tile that was discarded, the player who wants to make the highest combination takes priority! (for example if a player wants the tile for a Chow, but another player wants it for a Kong, the latter has priority and takes the tile).

When a player decides to collect the tile, they “cut” the turn of the player who is supposed to play after the one who got rid of the tile. It is then up to the player who has collected the tile to play, then it will be up to the player who follows them according to the direction of play (clockwise). When you recover a tile discarded by a player, you must then get rid of a tile from your hand (rather than drawing, because the center tile has just been drawn).

Once a player collects a tile discarded by another in order to perform a combination, they will have to prove to the other players that they have the combination. To do this, they must show the entire suit (along with the tile they drew) and keep it face up on the table. This only counts for combinations from which they had to take a tile that was just discarded. they are not obliged to show the combinations of their hand as long as it is not this case. 

The Kong: A Special Case

You have recovered a discarded tile and made a Pong, which you have therefore made visible to everyone. As the game progresses, you get the last tile in the series, which will allow you to make a Kong.

  • If it is a tile that has been discarded by someone, you are not allowed to recover it to transform your set into a Kong!
  • If it is a tile that you drew on the wall, you can add it to your Pong and turn it into a Kong.
  • If your Pong was not visible (hidden in your hand) and you complete it with a discarded tile, you must show it by placing two tiles from the Kong face up in front of the other 2 tiles from the Kong, upright and face down. Then you draw a tile from the right side of the hill, then you discard a tile from your hand. 

End of the Game

The game ends when a player succeeds in making a Mahjong, or when the last tile of the wall is drawn. 

If a player achieves a Mahjong, they will have to show their hand. The combinations that were hidden must be shown by turning the tiles sideways. This is to differentiate them from the visible combinations that the player will have made. 

Then you have to calculate the points.

Counting the Points

Know first that there is a difference if your combinations are “hidden” or “visible”. Hidden combinations are worth double their visible points. Thus: 

  • the pairs do not earn any points (meaning 0 points)
  • the hidden pairs of Dragons earn 2 points; the pairs of visible Dragons do not earn any points
  • the suits do not earn any points either 
  • the Pong of 1 and 9 (Pong of 1 of bamboo for example) earns you 4 points if visible, 8 points if hidden. Pongs from 2 to 8 are worth 2 points if visible, 4 if hidden.  
  • Wind Pongs are worth 4 points if visible, 8 points if hidden.
  • Visible Dragon Pongs are worth 8 points, 16 points if hidden. 
  • The visible Kong of normal numbers (2 to 8) are worth 8 points, 16 points if hidden.
  • Kongs of 1 and 9 are worth 16 points if visible, 32 points if hidden
  • Wind Kongs are worth the same as Kongs of 1 and 9
  • Dragon Kongs are worth 32 points if visible, 64 points if hidden.
  • The player who performs a Mahjong earns 20 bonus points.