- Hong Kong/Cantonese style Mahjong tiles (144 tiles)
- A mahjong table
Number of players:
You will need four players. You can adapt the game to three people, but it's more fun with four people. To play mahjong, we call it “open table” (開枱), so if you can only find three people, we refer as we are “a table missing a leg” (少隻腳) or three missing one (三缺一 ).
How long is Mahjong?
A session of Mahjong is three rounds––the East, South, West and then North round and each player takes turns being the dealer for each round; therefore, it is at least 16 games before a session of Mahjong is completed and that takes around two hours. Also, we don’t usually sit down to play just one session, we will most likely play eight or 12 rounds in one gathering.
You start out with your own pot of chips which would be equivalent to a monetary amount, if you’re playing with money. If you win a hand, you get rewarded with chips, and if you give someone their winning tile, then you pay with your chips. The objective at the end of your session of Mahjong is for your pot of chips to be even or above what you started with.
The game is played with 144 tiles and they comprise of:
- Three suits (36 tiles in each suit; 108 suit tiles total). The circles, bamboo and character suit numbered 1-9 with four tiles of each.
- Honour tiles (28 tiles total). Honour tiles are spilt into 1) Dragons––Green, Red and White with four tiles of each and 2) Winds––East, South, West, and North with four tiles of each.
- Eight flowers (eight tiles). There are flour flowers and flour seasons, but it’s generally collectively referred to as just flowers.
Everybody starts with 13 tiles upright and concealed in their own hand, and they take turns counterclockwise, drawing their 14th tile from the tile wall and discarding one tile face up into the discard pile until their hand is in order to “call or wait”, meaning all 13 tiles are in order.
You’ll need four sets plus one pair of eyes to win, which equals 14 tiles to win.
Sets are normally three tiles––either 1) three of a kind called a “pong!”, or 2) three tiles in a run/straight called a “chow”! If you get four of a kind, we call that a “kong!” and kongs have to be shown face up and an extra tile has to be drawn into your hand. Eyes are two of a kind.
How to win:
If your 13 tiles are in order then that means you’re waiting for your winning tile (which would either complete a set or your eye) and there are two ways to win! Winning by discard means that another player discards your winning tile and only they would need to pay you for the win; however, if you win by self-pick, meaning that you draw your own winning tile, then everybody has to pay you (you lucky duck!). When you win, you can call out “sik-wu!” (食糊!), which literally translates to “eat congee!”.
A faan is a point and in Hong Kong/ Cantonese style, it is usually three faans minimum to win, meaning you can only win if you are able to count at least three faans in your hand. You can get a faan from drawing your own lucky flower, pong-ing any one of the dragons, self-picking your winning tile, etc. These variables are hard to control, therefore, players will create Mahjong hands that already have a minimum base value of three faan and then count whatever extra faans accumulated.
Here are two hands that have a base value of three faan:
Pong Pong Hand:
Four sets of pongs plus one pair of eyes. The pongs and eyes can be made from any suit or honor tile.
Mixed one suit:
Honour sets plus one suit sets plus one pair of eyes. Your entire hand can be a mixture of pongs and chows; however, it can only be made from honour tiles and one suit only. The eyes will have to follow the same constraint, and it can only be a two of a kind from either honour tiles or the suit that you’ve chosen.