Mahjong is a very popular game in China, especially amongst the older generation. Essentially, Mahjong is a game where you try to get a series of sets of three (matching tiles) or series of three (sequential numbers), similar to Gin Rummy, but you are aiming to have 14 tiles at the end, with 4 sets or series and a pair or three sets of four and a pair. The game is typically fast-paced among experienced players, and the strategies evolve as more tiles are played. The endless combinations make it a very interesting game, and there is also sometimes gambling, but I suggest avoiding that unless you’re looking to lose your money. Also, gambling is illegal in China.
The game is typically played with 4 players and 144 tiles, divided into 4 walls. Players take turns drawing one tile from the wall, in order, starting in a location determined by a dice roll. Players draw until they have 13 tiles, except for the first person who will draw 14 and commence the round.
Each turn you pull the next tile from the wall and decide whether to keep or discard the tile. If you choose to keep it, you must discard another tile face up to the center of the table. In Shaanxi Mahjong, you may also pull the tile that the previous player discarded in order to complete a set or series, but then you must reveal the completed set.
The game is over when one player completes their set of 14, then the tiles are shuffled and you begin again.
Tiles have different patterns, including:
Circles (饼 bǐng) – tiles with 1-9 circles – 4 sets of 9 tiles
Sticks (根 gēn or 竹 zhú) – tiles with 1-9 sticks (the one typically has a bird 麻雀) – 4 sets of 9 tiles
Wan/Ten Thousand (万 wàn) – tiles with Chinese numbers 1-9 and the traditional character for 万 – 4 sets of 9 tiles
Winds (风 fēng) – tiles with the cardinal directions 南 nán, 北 běi, 东 dōng, 西 xī– 4 sets of 4 tiles
Dragons (龙 lóng) – in Shaanxi Mahjong these are not dragons but 红中 hóngzhōng, 白板 báibǎn, and 发财/绿菜 fācái/lvcài – 3 sets of 4 tiles
Seasons and Flowers (春 chūn, 夏 xià, 秋 qīu, 冬dōng) – tiles with each of the season, must collect all 4 seasons for a series or can use them as a pair – 2 sets of 4 tiles (sometimes these are not included in a game, as they have their own special scoring)
Call these out if you steal a discarded tile to complete a set
“Peng” – A set of three of the same tile
“Chi” – A series of three tiles in a row
“Gang” – A set of four of the same kind of tile
If you manage to complete three sets or series and a pair, or you have 3 sets of 4 and a pair, then you say “ CHINESE hule”
These are the basics for getting started with Mahjong. Rules differ from place to place, so you won’t be able to take your Shaanxi Mahjong skills on the road, as Shaanxi Mahjong is probably the simplest form (outside of that weird tile matching game), but it is a fun and engaging way to pass the time with friends.