Mahjong is a Chinese game played with tiles. It spread to Japan and the Philippines in the late nineteenth century, and reached the USA in the 1920s. Playing styles vary by region and many variations have additional rules and special hands that can be used. The Filipino style involves matching tiles into sets to win, with detailed points awarded at the end of the game.
Mahjong Tile Sets
A mahjong set can have between 136 and 172 tiles. The Filipino rules are played with 136 tiles. These consist of the three basic suits -- dots, bamboo and characters -- each numbered between one and nine. Filipino rules also use the four winds, each marked as East, South, West or North; and the three dragons, which are red, green, and white. The flowers, seasons, or other special suits are not typically used in the Philippines.
Mahjong is played with two to four players, usually with four. Each player represents one Wind in a cardinal direction. For example, the player who begins the game is the East Wind. This is determined by a roll of dice. The mahjong tiles are laid on the table face-down and shuffled. Then four walls are built, making a square shape with the tiles still face-down. If you want to use a tile as a wild card, this must be decided before the game begins.
Gathering Your Hand
A starting point is also decided by a die roll, to begin breaking the wall of tiles. One throw determines whose wall, and a second throw give the number of tiles from the right. The East player takes four tiles starting from that spot. The player to the left, the South, takes four, and so on until everyone has sixteen tiles. This is the starting hand.
How to Play
The East player begins. At each turn, the player discards one tile and picks another one up from the remaining walls with the goal of making sets matching tiles. Players can only pick up the last discarded tile, called "chow." Pick up the last discard at any time by calling "Pung" but only to make a set of three or four, not just a pair. Chow and pung matches are laid on the table for everyone to see. Matches made by drawing tiles can be kept in your hand. You must have sixteen tiles at all times or your hand is considered "dead" and you cannot win.
How to Win
Some variations of mahjong rules have several special hands, such as certain numbers in a row. Winning in Filipino rules focuses on matching tiles, however. A winning hand is all sets of three or four, with one pair allowed. After someone gets a winning hand, points are tallied and the winner decided. Scoring points is complex, with points depending on whether the tiles are hidden in your hand or displayed on the table.
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