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Updated on February 3, 2010

Mahjong is a four-handed game of Chinese origin. The name is also spelled Mah Jongg. The game is a form of rummy played with tiles or blocks. The object is to obtain a hand containing valuable combinations of tiles.

The United States began to import sets from China about 1920, and, shortly after, American sets were made. Mahjong, under various names, became a "fad." But it lacked generally accepted laws, and attempts at standardization from 1922 to 1925 and again in 1937 were not successful. The trend was away from the scientific Chinese viewpoint and toward big scores. The popularity of the game faded late in 1926, and while sets have continued to be sold, efforts at a large-scale revival have failed.

A Mahjong set contains 144 tiles, usually wood blocks with bone facing. There are 3 suits- bamboos, circles, and characters. Each with 4 tiles numbered 1-9, making 36 tiles per suit. There are 28 honors, 4 each marked Red Dragon, White Dragon, Green Dragon, East Wind, North Wind, West Wind, and South Wind. The set is completed with 4 Seasons and 4 Flowers. Each set also contains tile racks, dice, "sticks" or markers for scoring, and a set of rules.

A game is started by shuffling the tiles and building them into a hollow square, each side 2 tiles high and 18 long. The "wall" is broken according to the roll of the dice, and each player draws 13 tiles, with East (who plays first) getting 14 and discarding one. The turn to play rotates and consists of the draw of one tile and then a discard.

Players strive for combinations or "sets". A "chow" is 3 tiles of the same unit in numerical sequence. A "pung" is 3 tiles of the same suit and denomination, or 3 similar honors. A "complete hand" consists of four sets of 3 plus a pair. Such a hand is tabled without discarding and wins the game. Flowers and Seasons are bonus tiles and are immediately "grounded" by placing in front of the owner. A "kong" is a pung plus the fourth corresponding tile. The last tile of a kong is grounded. Grounded tiles are replaced by drawing loose tiles. Kongs, pungs, and bonus tiles count in scoring, but chows are useful only in filling a complete hand.

Any player, irrespective of turn, may claim a discarded tile, but he must use it immediately to complete a set. When a player wins, or "woos," he collects from each adversary. The others settle among themselves according to their scores. Routine of play varies slightly, but scoring varies widely. It is best to use the scoring shown in the rules with the set or accepted by the group playing.


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