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Modern History

Mahjong has grown in popularity and spawned countless different versions and methods of play, including the well known "American Mahjong", which even today continues to be played at tournaments around America.

Different versions of Mahjong have different rules as well as a difference in the number of tiles and designs as the original game.

Mahjong entered everyone's homes when Microsoft included a Mahjong Solitaire game in its Windows Entertainment Pack in 1990, under the name Taipie. This solitaire version differs from traditional Mahjong and follows the Chinese "Turtle" game principles.

The game became so popular that it is still included in Entertainment Packs on Microsoft Windows editions.

How to play Mahjong

The game is played with four players around a table. A game is played with 144 tiles, three categories, and various subcategories, with a specific number of tiles in each category:

Suits

  • Bamboo – 36 tiles
  • Dots – 36 tiles
  • Characters – 36 tiles

Honors

  • Winds – 16 tiles
  • Dragon – 12 tiles

Bonus

  • Flowers – 4 tiles
  • Seasons – 4 tiles

First, a dealer is chosen by throwing dice. Whichever player throws the highest value is the dealer. The dealer sits in the East position and the person right to the dealer is South, across West and left North. The game then moves from the dealer in a clockwise direction.

Tiles are shuffled on the table face down and are then stacked in diagonal walls in front of each player, forming a square. Traditionally, each player is allocated a position on a wall side based on their corresponding dice value. However, modern games tend to deal tiles.

Each player will have thirteen tiles on their wall. On their turn, they will draw a tile from the center pile of remaining and either keep or discard that tile or a tile already in their wall. The players then need to form sets of tiles based on the designs as follows:

  • Three identical tiles (Melds or Pungs)
  • Four identical tiles (Kongs)
  • Three tiles in a sequence (Chows)

Rules of Mahjong

Players can only add tiles to unmatched or free tiles.

In order to win, and call Mahjong, a player needs to have a certain number of combinations of tilesets, namely a pair, 4 Melds/Pungs, Kongs or Chows. An alternative is a special hand, but this is a complicated and controversial part of the game, normally avoided in general play.

Scoring

After a player has one a hand by declaring Mahjong, each player will add their points for their hand based on the combination of Melds, Kongs and Chows, and bonus tiles. The winner is awarded extra points for calling Mahjong.

Because scoring is completed irrespective of who won a round, players should aim to maintain as high a score as possible in each round.

Some examples of basic scoring are as follows:

  • 4 Melds / Pungs - 6 points
  • 4 Chows in a hand - 2 points
  • 1 Kong - 2 points
  • Flowers and seasons tiles - 1 point each

Players can pay out after every round, alternatively, a record can be kept (for example using chips) until all rounds are completed and all scoring is equated.

If no players have revealed Mahjong by the time tiles have run out, then the game closes as a draw.

Strategy

Practice

Regular practice will be the best way for a player to increase their skill level and perfect the game of Mahjong.

Counting tiles

Players should formulate game plans at the commencement of a hand based on the tiles before them, and work towards achieving that plan.

Players should assess their dealt set and count how many tiles they are away from a winning set. The more tiles needed for a win, the harder a win will be.

Be careful of rearranging tiles

Experienced opponents will be able to read a player who is rearranging their tiles into sets of Pungs, Chows, and Kongs. Rearranging tiles could tip off opponents on a player's strategy.

Plan ahead

When deciding whether to discard a tile, players need to consider whether that tile may be useful for a set later in the game. Accordingly, players must not only focus on the tiles as they lay before them in that hand.

Look at free tiles

Players are only able to move free tiles, and so they should make sure to assess those free tiles and utilize them in their game plan.

Look at discarded tiles

Players should monitor what tiles opponents are discarding. This will give players an overarching idea, especially through regular play, as to what potential sets opponents are formulating.

Playing for free

In addition to the "Turtle" version available on Microsoft Windows, there are countless online platforms that allow players to partake in free Mahjong games. However, a majority of these follow the Turtle version. Players looking for the traditional game online may need to do some searching online for the appropriate game.

Playing for free is a perfect opportunity for players to learn the game before investing money into a real game, learn a different version of the game, or simply play for fun. Players can choose to play against computer-simulated opponents, while some live casinos offer play against other real players.

Playing for money

Mahjong can be a complex and difficult game. It is for that reason that players should take every opportunity to play on free games and make sure that they understand the intricacies of the game, and the particular version of the game, prior to betting real money in an online game.

Live casinos are available on numerous casino websites in various jurisdictions. Mahjong is a game not as commonly offered in online live casinos as other traditional casino games such as poker, blackjack, and roulette, but those looking to play online from around the world will be able to find live casinos where they can bet real money.

Early History

Mahjong is a tile game that originated in China. The name "Mahjong" roughly translates to "sparrow", and it is believed the game was created by Confucius who had a love of birds. The sound of shuffling tiles is fondly known as "twittering of the sparrows". The first formal record of the game is the 1880s.

The game quickly grew in popularity throughout China, and was eventually brought to the attention of Westerners by a Western importer, Joseph Park Babcock, who is credited with simplifying the game to the version we play today. Tiles were traditionally made from ivory, bone, and bamboo, with intricate and beautiful designs.

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