Tell me more about Mahjong

I am woman enough to admit that my interest in mahjong comes solely from having recently marathoned the anime adaptation of Akagi. Maybe it’s because I am trying to learn using the Japanese rules but holy shit. My brain is full of fuck. This chart I found online is an accurate representation of what is going through my mind right now.

Should I keep trying? Is there a good resource for making any of this make sense?

My mother taught me how to play traditional Mahjong when I was a kid. I’'ll be damned if I remember any of it other than it was really hard to understand.

Edit: Even the wikipedia page makes my head hurt.

This apparently is not the way of playing Mahjong that I am accustomed to. I love playing the two-at-a-time takeaway games, but didn’t know about a more complex rule set. Huh.

All the special combos are a mystery to me. I like the feel of the tiles, though, so much more satisfying to fiddle with than dominoes.

Yeah, they use the same tiles, but really shouldn’t go by the same name.

Looks like a problem you can solve with a tiny perl script.

It’s where ageless asian ladies go when they hit the wall post-menopause.

It’s like the difference between Go Fish and Contract Bridge.

Oh yeah, you’ll be able to play against NPCs in Yakuza 4, I believe, but they will eat you alive unless you learn the full ruleset used in Japan. I couldn’t win a single hand in Yakuza 2 because I didn’t take the trouble to look up the non-American rules.

I recommend playing Hong Kong Mahjonng instead of Japanese-style, which is full of all sorts of real weird exceptions. I mean, weird even for Mah-jong, which is pretty fucking weird to begin with.

To celebrate the diversity that is Mahjjong, I will spell it a different way every time i use it in this post.


  • You’re playing gin rummy with tiles. A winning hand is a bunch of groups of three (runs or matches) and one pair.


  • You’re playing gin rummy but you get extra ‘points’ for certain combinations of tricks. So a hand of all “match 3” (pong) tricks is worth an extra point, and a hand of all “runs” (chow) tricks is worth an extra point, but mixed chows and pongs == no extra point for that.
  • Tricks of dragons are worth a point.
  • Tricks of winds are worth a point IF you are either sitting in that wind’s seat OR if it’s the wind for that round. So if you get the east wind trick while in the east wind seat on the east wind round == 2 points.
  • Flowers have all sorts of fucked up effects that you will never understand and can’t actually control, so ignore them. The basic rule is “no flowers at all = 1 point, certain combinations of flowers = points or no points”. But since you can’t control the flowers in any strategic way (because you can’t play them) treat them like a randomizer. Ignore 'em for now.
  • Declaring muhjungg via a “self-pick” instead of via someone else’s discard is worth a point.


  • When you are just starting to learn to play, ignore them.
  • Thing #1 With The Points: when you get a mahjonng, the more points you have, the more money you collect.
  • Thing #2 With The Points: you can play under a rule where you can’t declare mahhjjongg unless you don’t have a certain number of points. Starting out, you should not play with this rule.


  • Draw a tile, throw a tile. If you make a trick in your hand ‘naturally’, you can keep it secret.
  • If someone throws a tile and you have 2 of them, you can call ‘pong’ and claim it.
  • If someone throws a tile and it would complete a run for you, AND that person is sitting on your left, you can call ‘chow’ and claim it.
  • If someone throws a tile and it would give you mahjongg, you can call ‘mahhjong’ and claim it.
  • Mahjong claims have priority over pong claims, which have priority over chow claims.


  • Fuck if I know. I think mostly it’s a strategic way to claim 4 tiles and thus deprive someone else of a chance to complete a chow.

If I think of any other relevant rules, i’ll edit this post to include them. But that should be enough to get you started.

My favorite Mahjng computer implementation, which I’ve been playing since the Win '95 days, is this: That they have no Mac version is slightly tragic. But what can you do. There are a few OK versions of the Maahjong for iOS as well. The weird thing about computer versions is that, for a beginner, the pace is often way too fast - the computer players typically move instantly and you’re left wondering “What the hell just happened?”. The Nine Dragons game is excellent in this regard for learning, because if I recall correctly it plays at a very “casual human” pace, which gives you time to react to potential chows and pongs.

I guess I wrote an article about this once a few years ago:

EDIT: I removed a “dumbass” because I didn’t want people to think I was talking to them, specifically. It was sort of a generic snarky “dumbass”.

I think a big part of the problem is that the flash game up there that I am trying to use has the fucking furiten rule, and every time I start to get something going I end up in furiten. Fuck.

oh my god, DO WANT:

Yeah, so this is the version I mostly played, because I couldn’t be bothered to learn the crazy exceptions. Mostly I guess it was all of the non-standard tiles, because there are a LOT of non-standard tiles that get tossed into the pile. Flowers? Seasons? WTF?

  • Alan

Oh geeze, that’s adorable.

I think maybe I need to just give up on this and go with something that isn’t Japanese rules, because I swear this flash game is making me see red. I have tsumo but I can’t call it because there’s no multiplier. I have no idea what that means.

YESSSS, I finally get a Ron! I feel like this!

The leucine is strong in this one.

Wait do you mean to tell me its not a game where you try and match two tiles that are stacked in a pyramid?

I love Hong Kong Mahjong and learned it from a group of Filipino folks I used to live near, constantly gambling while playing it two or three evenings a week. It’s really not that complicated.

There used to be a great early windows game that covered learning and some pretty good competition for intermediate players. I’m not sure if it’s the same one peterb mentioned, but it was quite good. I don’t even know if someone makes one now or if you can find one that’s translated into English. The tile-matching game has pretty much tainted the actual name of Mahjong the game to the point that you can’t actually find it anymore.

In the early days of PC games, that was called “Shanghai” or “Solitaire Mahjong”.

Peterb’s linked HK Mahjong is a good one! You know it’s good because true to real life, the old geezers are the ones who will kick your ass and take all your money. Never play with old people.

There’s another rule: If you win with NO exposed tiles (no chows or pongs besides the one you win with) it gives you a point.

Minor nitpick: All “Pongs” hands are worth 3 points, in addition to any bonuses (prevailing wind, dragons, flowers, etc)