Rules overview

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Japanese mahjong is quite complex with its many rules and special cases. This article is a brief and quick layout to the most basic rules of the game, just to get new players started. For more detailed documentation on the rules, see Japanese mahjong, as well as other articles covering various game topics.

Tiles and suits

  • Mahjong is played by four players
  • These tiles work similar to playing cards
  • All in all, there are 34 tile types
  • There are 4 copies each
  • In total, there are 136 tiles
  • The following are the three main suits, plus a class of "honor" tiles:
Tile-1m.pngTile-2m.pngTile-3m.pngTile-4m.pngTile-5m.pngTile-6m.pngTile-7m.pngTile-8m.pngTile-9m.png 36 tiles in the man suit
Tile-1p.pngTile-2p.pngTile-3p.pngTile-4p.pngTile-5p.pngTile-6p.pngTile-7p.pngTile-8p.pngTile-9p.png 36 tiles in the pin suit
Tile-1s.pngTile-2s.pngTile-3s.pngTile-4s.pngTile-5s.pngTile-6s.pngTile-7s.pngTile-8s.pngTile-9s.png 36 tiles in the sou suit
Tile-1z.pngTile-2z.pngTile-3z.pngTile-4z.pngTile-5z.pngTile-6z.pngTile-7z.png 28 honor tiles


Mahjong tiles at the initial setup before tiles are dealt.
  • After tiles are shuffled, the players build walls of face-down tiles
  • Each wall is 17 tiles long, double stacked
  • The four walls serve as a stockpile to draw tiles from
  • Each player starts with 25000 points
  • Point sticks are used to keep score, when playing with real tiles

Starting the deal

  • At the start of each hand after the walls are built, players are dealt 13 tiles each
  • One player throughout the game is designated as the dealer, marked by an indicator
  • The dealer is begins by rolling the dice, to determine the wall break

Seating positions

  • The dealer is always seated East
  • Player to the right of the dealer is South
  • Player across the dealer is West
  • Player to left of the dealer is North
  • Regular turn order: East, South, West, North
  • Per the turn order, each player gets 4 tiles per turn, until each has 12 tiles
  • Finish the deal process by drawing one tile each, for 13 tiles in the hand
  • Dealer always gets first draw and discard


  • Ron: Players who win by tile discard scores points off the discarder
  • Tsumo: Players who win by tile draw scores points off of the other three players

Hands and yaku

  • Winning hands of 14 tiles contain four melds, plus a pair
  • Melds are specific groups of 3 tiles:
  • The pair consists of any two identical tiles
  • Melds and pairs cannot be of mixed suits

A complete hand example:

  • Tile-2m.pngTile-3m.pngTile-4m.png Tile-5s.pngTile-5s.pngTile-5s.png Tile-3p.pngTile-4p.pngTile-5p.png Tile-1z.pngTile-1z.pngTile-1z.png Tile-7z.pngTile-7z.png


  • A winning hand must have at least one yaku (see the list for pattern examples)
  • A yaku is a special condition under which the win occurs, or a distinguished pattern within the hand's tiles
  • These patterns may be viewed like poker hands
  • Hands may have a combination of different yaku
  • Hand value is primarily based on your yaku patterns
  • Not all yaku are pattern-based, and it is not required to have a pattern-based yaku to win (e.g., you may win with riichi alone)


  • A wide variety of strategies are employed, regarding building winning hands and avoiding other player's hands
  • Memorization of the yaku is key
  • Yet, players may continue to play the game simply building hands, without or with limited knowledge of the yaku

See also

External links

Play sites

Select choice for English speakers ( rules)
Flash version of the game

Sources and guides