How to Play Filipino Mahjong

By Contributing Writer

Playing Mahjong is an enjoyable pastime for aficionados, so that overnight, two-day and multiple-day Mahjong sessions are quite common in many areas where the Chinese have a presence (and often not even), that it stops being a pastime and turns into a sort of personal vice. In the many places where it was adopted, variations of the game evolved so that one has to thoroughly learn the local version to play it adequately. Here are rules for the Filipino version of the game.

Know that at least two players are needed, although four is standard. Each player is designated a compass direction--east, south, west and north--and the progress of play is counterclockwise, meaning, the next player is to the right of the present player in the turn. A turn consists of a player drawing a tile from the wall and discarding it or another in his pile to maintain his number of dice, 13 or 16. The total number of tiles in the play is usually 144, although 138, 148 and 152 tiles are allowed in certain variations.

All tiles are placed face down on the table and mixed together by the players. Then everyone arranges the tiles in 18 stacks of face down tiles, a wall or two in front of himself, each wall connected to the others in a square. Each player then takes 13 or 16 tiles (per the particular game variant) from his stack and arranges them in front of him, similar suits together. The rest of the tiles are left in center as a source tiles wall. The players throw a die in turn and the one who gets the highest gets to open the game round. A round completes when the east--or the opening--player becomes the dealer again, and four rounds is a game.

Remember that the player's objective is to create four sets plus a pair; three consecutive tiles of the same suit; three identical tiles, or four of a kind. However, some variants differ from this system depending on the locale. Monetary values are agreed upon beforehand for each of the points, so that payments are made immediately after each win. If the source wall is emptied and no winner emerges, the game is declared a draw.

This variant is one of the only two (the other is Taiwanese version) that uses 16 tiles per player, although the two variants have little similarities. Here the signs seasons, dragons, flowers and winds are all lumped under 'Flowers' and normally left in the source wall. If one is picked, it is usually discarded, except when a player totals 13, which gets paid a quarter of the agreed payments. The quarter is also paid to a player who makes a melded Kong, which must be displayed face up. But if the Kong is a converted Pong, and the final tile was obtained from the source wall, the payment is half the agreed bet.

Know that the usual ratio of payment is 1:2, meaning the basic bet is counted as one amount (for example, one peso) but under certain circumstances, the winner gets double from one or all players. In addition to the winning, the winner may be paid double if: the winning hand is made from a thrown tile; the thrower pays the winner double; the winning hand is created from a pick from the source tile; or everyone pays double.