Published on October 11th, 2022 | by Bibhuranjan


The Basics of Playing Mahjong

American Mahjong is a version of the ancient game Mah Jongg invented in China in 1880. While the game involves strategy and skill, players also need luck to win.

When Mahjong is set up, it’s typically set up for four players. But it can be enjoyed with two or three players. There are several online versions of Mahjong available as well.

If you’re curious to learn how to play American Mahjong, here’s a breakdown of the Mahjongg rules laid down by the National Mah Jongg League.

What You Need to Play Mahjong

Players find Mahjong exciting because of its continuously engaging decision-making process. To play, you will need:

  • Mahjong tiles
  • Two dice (optional)
  • Four racks and pushers
  • Four National Mah Jongg League Cards
  • A Mahjong mat (optional)

Setting Up the Game

First, lay the mat out on the table. Place the rack with the pusher away from the players. All the tiles are spread at the center of the table. All the tiles must face downwards before you begin shuffling them.

Now, all the players must build a wall against their pusher to create a row of two tiles. The tiles must be facing downward as before and stacked.


Selecting a dealer is as simple as rolling the dice. The highest roller assumes the role of the dealer. According to the Mahjong game rules, the dealer is referred to as the “East.”

To distribute the tiles, the dealer rolls the dice. The number on the dice is how many tiles must remain on the dealer’s wall. Next, the dealer counts the stacks on the wall from the right, counting the number rolled.

Next, the pusher is slid left past the last counted tile. The dealer then breaks the wall. The dealer takes the first two stacks from the curtsied wall and places two stacks in from of every player until all of them have six stacks. The dealer breaks the wall to the left when there aren’t any tiles left on the wall.

When all players’ hands have twelve tiles, the dealer takes the first and the third tiles from the top of the wall. Every player is handed one tile each, and this happens counterclockwise.

At the end of this process, the dealer will have fourteen tiles, and the other players will have thirteen.


The game begins with the dealer discarding their extra tile, facing upwards, and calling out the name of the tile for the players to hear.

The player to the right takes a tile from the wall, and this continues counterclockwise. The idea here is that the players try to improve their hands. When a player draws a tile, they discard an unwanted one, calling its name out loud.

The game continues counterclockwise. When there are no more tiles in a wall, the players curtsy their wall clockwise and let the players draw from it.


When players discard a tile, their opponents can pause the game and pick up the tile. But the players that want to pause must announce it out loud before the next player draws a tile.

Players can only pick a discarded tile if it completes a pung, kong, or quint. When picking up a discarded tile, a player must show the meld on the top of the rack to all players. Therefore, picking up discarded tiles is not a good idea for a concealed hand since it reveals the tiles you have.

It’s also important to note that a player isn’t allowed to take a discarded tile for a single or a pair. The exception here is if picking up the tile will finish the game.

If multiple players pause the game, the closest player can take the discard. But if another player has begun exposing their hand, the closest player loses their chance to pick it up.

One of the more interesting things about how to play Mahjong is that players can retract a pause if they decide not to pick up a discarded tile.

The Joker

If you want to learn how to play Mahjong online, you must learn about the Mahjong game rules about the joker. Players cannot use a joker for a single pair. It can only act as a substitute for tiles in a pung, kong, or quint.

Players also cannot use a joker for “NEWS” or the year since these are groups of singles. But players can swap a tile for an exposed joker. When a joker is discarded, other players cannot pick it up from the table.

Getting Your Mahjong

When a player completes their hand, they can call out “Mahjong” to win the game. After calling out “Mahjong,” the player must expose their hand. They also need to share the specifics from the NMJL card to confirm their win.


The NMJL card has set values, and the winner gets points as indicated on it. But if advanced scoring rules apply:

  • A player who discards a tile from which another player declares Mahjong pays double the value noted on the card.
  • All opponents pay double if the winner gets their last tile from the wall.
  • If the winning hand has no jokers, all opponents pay double.


To keep up with the newest rules for Mahjong board game, look out for the playing card that the NMJL publishes annually. All the rules you need to know will be on the back of the card.

Cover Image by Freepik

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Editorial Officer, I'm an avid tech enthusiast at heart. I like to mug up on new and exciting developments on science and tech and have a deep love for PC gaming. Other hobbies include writing blog posts, music and DIY projects.

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