How to Play With Mahjong Tiles

By Sharin Griffin
Mahjong tiles, Chinese symbols
Hemera Technologies/ Images

Mahjong is a game that is similar to the game of rummy. Instead of using a deck of cards, mahjong uses printed or etched tiles. Each tile is numbered and counts towards a final score once suited with its corresponding tiles. Mahjong can be played by up to four players. The goal is to score the most points by using higher scoring tiles and suits than your opponent.

Step 1

Agree upon the rules of the game before beginning, including the number of points necessary to win the game.

Step 2

Roll the dice to determine the number of plays each hand per person. For example, if you have four players and you roll a five on the dice, then the plays will continue around the table, stopping with the person to the left of the fourth player when going counter-clockwise. This determines the number of plays before each hand ends.

Step 3

Pick up a wind tile, prompting each player to do the same. Place the wind tile face down in front of you. Choose two more tiles, one odd numbered and one even numbered. Place these tiles face up with the odd-numbered to the right of the wind tile and the even-numbered to the left. This determines your wind position within the game. Each of the four players belongs to one of the four winds, East, West, North or South.

Step 4

Roll the dice to determine the head seat. The player with the highest number is the head seat and will change places with the person at the head of the table. The head will be identified by the wind tile chosen at the beginning. For example, the east wind as head will form the directional play, likewise if the head of the table has the north wind tile, then the north wind will form the directional play.

Step 5

Remove flower and season tiles and shuffle the remaining 136 tiles in the middle of your table. Each player then picks 34 tiles and arranges them into a row containing 17 stacks of two tiles each. These rows are placed in front of each player to form a square wall.

Step 6

Roll the dice to determine how many tiles from your right side a break is required. This is known as the "dead wall." Count the number of tile stacks, starting from the right, and move them slightly away from the rest of the wall, or "live wall," to form a break in the wall.

Step 7

Pick tiles from the live wall. The player who is East wind begins. Each player takes two stacks of tiles in turn until all players have selected 12 tiles. Each player then draws one additional tile, with East drawing an extra tile, for a total of 14 tiles. East begins the game.

Step 8

Discard one tile face up in the middle of the square. The player to your right will then take that tile or draw another from the live wall. The game is played in this manner until a player has won the hand by producing four sets of three identical tiles or suited, three-tile runs and a pair of tiles, for a total of 14 tiles. If a player acquires too many tiles, he must continue play, discarding one tile each turn before picking another. He cannot claim Mahjong.

Step 9

Tally your scores at the end of each hand. Once all hands have been played or maximum score reached, the winner is declared.

About the Author

Sharin Griffin has been a freelance writer since 2009, specializing in health-related articles. She has worked in the health-care industry as a certified nursing assistant and medical technician. Griffin's medical expertise encompasses bariatrics and geriatric care, with an emphasis on general medicine. She is completing an associate degree in health-care administration from Axia University.