Mahjong Guide

Introduction – What is Mahjong?

Like normal card games, Mahjong is also a four player game. Your goal as the Mahjong player is to set your hand to winning combination before all opponents do so. You must be vigilant about the activities and attitudes of your opponents. You must also build up well planned strategies to get success in the game. Your strategies should be balanced mixtures of defense and offense. The unique feature of Mahjong is that there are no pre-set rules for the game. You will only gasp at the countless variations of the game available.

The game is mostly played using sets of beautifully engraved tiles. You can however use the cards in place of the tiles as well. In the very popular online computer game, Mahjongg you might have come across the tiles already. However the Mahjong is a different game compared to this computer game.

Historical background

It is widely accepted theorem that Mahjong originated in China. Till date however there is no detail information on its antiquity. The only safe conclusion is that in the modern form it made its appearance in the 19th Century. Of course you cannot deny that its simpler forms were available much prior to that. It was the Harvard University professors that imported this game in early 20th century in private form China. That was its first appearance in the Western World.

Perhaps the first documentation of the game was compiled by Joseph Park Babcock who was then residing in China in the year 1920. The compilation was based on the old Chinese Rules. However, Babcock also included in his compilation the games he wished to take over to America. Instead of Chinese, he engraved Arabic numerals on the tiles. This way they were easier for the western people to comprehend. In fact he was the pioneer for the game of Mahjong and its popularity in the Western world. Gradually the game was introduced in many Western homes.

Mahjong Rules

There are numerous rules in existence regulating the games of Mahjong. For instance there were the classical Chinese rules, the official international rules, Japanese rules in both classical and modern forms and many others. Perhaps for each of the eastern countries there was a new set of rules. Internationally however, the Chinese Rules for competition that were put in place in 1998 were adopted for competitions world over. Not only the rules widely very in their structures but also their dependence on skill and luck varies considerably.

Meaning of Mahjong in Chinese

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If you look at the meaning of the Chinese terminology “Mahjong” you will find that the first part “Ma” means hemp fibers under a shed. Again the shed combines half of the large room and the wall to the left. The left wall is also called the cliff. The two terms half of a large room and the cliff together refers to “shed”. Hemp fiber is represented by “two trees”. The last character in Chinese language is que. It means little bird. Once again the character is a combination of two parts, “small” and “bird”. Bird is represented with a pictogram. The bird is sparrow according to the Chinese version.

Type of Mahjong Games

Mahjong is known by divergent names. The names vary with geographical change of locations. In America it is mah-jongg, Pinyin in traditional and simplified Chinese, and Mat Trouc in Vietnamese. You need skill, good strategies, and accurate calculations to get success in the game. Originally the game of Mahjong was played as gambling game. However after coming up of the communist regime in China gambling in any form was banned. Thereafter rules were framed to dissociate gambling from the game of Mahjong. However in the western countries Mahjong is still played as a gambling game. There is a trend towards immunizing the game from the gambling influences. Several national and international level tournaments are now organized with this end. You have regular European championships held annually and you have many other international tournaments as well. Even in some of the Western Countries and states of America gambling online is prohibited. Thus the game of Mahjong is gradually assuming the texture of a popular sport instead of the gambling game of the past.

Playing the game

Each of the players is provided with 13 or 16 cards or tiles depending on the variation of the game. The goal will be to make 4/5 melds. This also depends on the variation. In addition you have to make one pair. Every time on your turn you will draw tile and discard one. You can draw from the pile or the discards. You win “on the draw” when you complete your hand by drawing either a new or discard tile completing your hand. Thus when you ultimately win, your hand will have 14 or 17 cards or tiles.


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