Old Hong Kong mahjong uses most of the standardised tiles, utilizes the basic features in common with most variations of the game and has a relatively simple scoring system.
Hong Kong Mahjong is played with a set of mahjong tiles (though cards may be used). Sets often include counters (to keep score), dice (to decide how to deal) and a marker to show who is dealer and which round is being played. Some sets include racks to hold tiles (if they are shaped small or differently).
A set of mahjong tiles usually has at least 136 tiles (most commonly 144), although sets originating from America or Japan will have more. Mahjong tiles are split into these categories: suits, honor, and flowers.
There are three different suits numbered 1 to 9, which are called simple tiles. They are bamboo (bams), characters (or myriads or cracks), and circles (or dots).
There are four identical copies of each number of each suit giving 108 simple tiles (3x9x4).
Honors and bonus tiles
There are two different honor suits: the winds and the dragons. The winds are east, south, west and north, and the dragons are Red, Green and White. They have no numerical sequence and there are four identical tiles of each wind and dragon (e.g. four Red dragon tiles, four Green dragon tiles etc.)
There are eight bonus tiles: four flowers and four seasons. Each flower and season tile is unique without three matching pieces as per simple tiles and honour tiles. These tiles are not part of a player’s hand but are set to the side when drawn and an extra tile is drawn in lieu of the bonus tile.
Choosing table positions and first dealer
The dealer is chosen by various means, either by throwing dice (the highest total takes the east wind), by placing one of each wind face down and having each player randomly select one of these tiles or other house rule variations. Each player sits down at their respective position (called the wind position) at the table in positions of an inverted compass: East is dealer, the right of the dealer is South, across is West and the left is North. The order essentially is counter-clockwise.
Hands, rounds, and matches
A match consists of four rounds of which each round represents a “prevailing wind” starting with East. In each round at least four hands are played with each player taking the position of dealer. In the first hand of each round player 1 (winner of the dice toss) is east and therefore dealer. In the second hand, player 2 takes the east position shifting the seat winds amongst the players counter clockwise (though players don’t physically move their chairs). A marker is used to mark which player is east and often the round number. This continues until all four players have been east (dealer).
Once the first round is completed, a second round begins with the prevailing wind of “south”. Player 1 deals the first hand and player two deals the second hand etc. There are four rounds which represent all four prevailing winds.
Whenever a player in the east position (dealer) wins a hand or if there is no winner (a draw or “goulash hand”) an extra hand is played with the players repeating the same position as the previous hand.
Example of Games (assuming the player who is dealer in each hand does not win the hand)
|Hand Number||Prevailing Wind||Player 1||Player 2||Player 3||Player 4||Comment|
|7||South||West||North||East (dealer)||South||no one wins (goulash)|
|extra hand||South||West||North||East (dealer)||South||(repeat of seat positions)|
|15||North||West||North||East (dealer)||South||(east wins hand)|
|extra hand||North||West||North||East (dealer)||South||(repeat of seat positions)|
If the dealer wins a hand or if there is a draw (no winner), then an extra hand is played and the seating and prevailing wind remains the same. This may mean that a match would have no limit to the number of hands played (though some players will set a limit to three consecutive hands allowed with the same seat positions and prevailing winds).
A mahjong set with Winds in play will usually include a separate Prevailing Wind marker (typically a die marked with the Wind characters in a holder) and a pointer that can be oriented towards the dealer to show Player Game Wind. In sets with racks, a rack may be marked differently to denote the dealer.
Wind position is significant in that it affects the scoring of the game.
All tiles are placed face down on the table and are shuffled. By convention all players should participate in shuffling using both hands moving the pieces around the table, loudly, for a lengthy period. There is no fixed rule on how to deal or how to treat tiles which flip over during shuffle, though possible solutions include turning back over the pieces at the moment they are seen, turning over all revealed pieces at intervals or doing so at the end of the shuffling and forming of the wall.
Each player then stacks a row of 18 tiles two tiles high in front of them (for a total of 36 tiles). Players then push each side of their tiles together to form a square wall.
The dealer throws three dice and sums up the total. Counting counterclockwise so that the dealer is 1 (or 5, 9, 13, 17), so that south is 2 (or 6, 10, 14, 18), etc., a player’s quarter of the wall is chosen. Using the same total on the dice, the player then counts the stacks of tiles from right to left. Starting from the left of the stacks counted, the dealer takes four tiles to himself, and players in counterclockwise order take blocks of four tiles until all players have 12 tiles, so that the stacks decrease clockwise. Each player then takes one last tile to make a 13-tile hand. Dealing does not have to be this formal and may be done quite differently based on house rules.
Each player now sets aside any flowers or seasons they may have drawn and takes replacement piece(s) from the wall.
The dealer takes the next piece from the wall, adds it to his hand. If this does not complete a legal hand, he then discards a piece (throwing it into the middle of the wall with no particular order in mind).
During play, the number of tiles maintained by each player should always be thirteen tiles (meaning in each turn a tile must be picked up and another discarded). Not included in the count of thirteen tiles are flowers and seasons set to the side and the fourth added piece of a kong. If a player is seen to have more or less than thirteen tiles in their hand outside of their turn they are penalised.
A winning hand consists of fourteen tiles (the thirteen tiles in the hand plus the additional tile picked up from the wall or stolen when a player discards a tile needed to complete a hand). The first is called winning from the wall, the second is called winning by a discard.
The winning hand is made of four melds (a specific pattern of three pieces) and the eyes (a pair of two identical pieces). The exception to this rule are the special hands listed below.
Most players play with a table minimum, meaning a winning hand must score a minimum number of points (which can be seen in the scoring section). In Hong Kong Mahjong the most common point set is three.
- Pong is a set of three identical tiles. For example:
You can form a pong with any tile (except flowers as they are bonus tiles set to the side when drawn from the wall). The tiles must be identical (you cannot mix suits).
- Kong is a set of four identical tiles. For example:
Consider a Kong the same as a Pong/ Pung with an additional tile to make a set of four. There are three ways to form a Kong.
- Before discarding a player who has all four matching tiles in their hand may declare a kong. They do so by revealing the meld and placing two pieces in the middle face up and two pieces on the ends face down. This is called a concealed or hidden kong.
- If a player can use a discarded tile to complement three matching tiles in their hand, they can take the piece and reveal a “kong by discard” or “melded Kong”. The player reveals his three pieces face up and places the stolen discard on top of the middle tile.
- If a player has already stolen (melded) a piece to make a pong and then later in the game draws the fourth piece from the wall, he or she may announce (then or later in the game) a kong by placing the fourth tile on top of the middle piece of the melded pong. If a pong/pung has been melded a player cannot steal the fourth piece if another player discards it.
In any case, whenever a Kong is formed, the player must draw an extra tile from the end of the wall and then discard a tile. The fourth piece of the kong (not flowers/seasons) is not considered as one of the 13 tiles a player must always have in their hand. Kongs are worth collecting to score more points and/or deprive opponents of obtaining a specific tile.
- Chow is a meld of three suited tiles in sequence. For example:
The meld must be in absolute numerical sequence. There is no skipping of numbers, nor does 9 loop around to 1. The sequence must be in the same suit. Honours, flowers and seasons cannot be used to make chows. A player can steal a discard to form a chow from the player prior to them in order if no one else needs the tile to make pongs/ pungs or kongs or win (go mahjong).
- Eyes, also known as a pair, are two identical tiles which are an essential part of a legal winning hand. A piece cannot be stolen (melded) to form the eyes unless the player simultaneously completes a legal winning hand.
Interruption of play
Flower or season
Whenever a player draws a flower or season, it is announced and then placed to the side (it is not considered as a part of the hand but can earn a bonus points if part of the winning hand) and the last tile of the wall is drawn as a replacement tile so that the player has the fourteen pieces needed before their discard. This may happen successively in a player’s turn.
Melding another player’s discard
When a player discards a tile, any other player may steal the tile to complete a meld. Stealing tiles has both advantages (quickly forming a winning hand and scoring extra points) and disadvantages such as revealing part of ones hand to other players and not being able to change the meld once declared.
When a meld (Pong, Kong or Chow) is declared through a discard, the player must state the type of meld to be declared and place the meld face up. The player must then discard a tile, and play continues to the right. If the player who melds a discard is not directly after the discarder (in order of play), one or two players essentially miss their turn as play continues to the player after the one who declared the meld.
When two or more players call for a discarded tile, a player taking the tile to win the hand has precedence over all others. Otherwise a player who can form a Pong or Kong takes precedence over a player who claims a Chow.
If at any point in the game a player can use another player’s discard to complete a legal hand (and with the agreed minimum points), they yell out Mahjong, take the piece and reveal their hand, with the way of calling it out depending on variations. This ends the hand, and scoring commences. If two or three players need the piece to win, there are two ways to resolve the issue depending on agreed table rules: Either the players compete to see who would have a better hand in terms of scoring, or simply the player closest to the discarder in order of turn wins the game.
Robbing a kong
A rarely occurring and high scoring feature of Hong Kong Mahjong is a move called robbing the kong. If a player declares a kong (by melding it or adding a fourth piece to a pong to form a kong or declaring a concealed kong) and another player(s) can use that piece to complete a hand (which by logic could not be used to form a pong or kong as two players cannot make a pong out of the same tile) a player may steal that piece from that player when declaring the kong and go mahjong (win the hand).
Example winning hands
Below are examples of winning hands. A winning hand must consist of four melds (pongs, kongs and/or chows) and a pair (eyes) and must also score the agreed table minimum.
Hand formed with four pongs and the eyes (pair) of East wind. Only bamboo is used (no other simples), scoring extra points (clean hand). No chows are used (an all pong/kong hand scores extra points).
A high scoring hand formed using only circles, known as a pure hand. Hand is made of chows, pongs and the eyes of circles.
Most players include table variations in their games, of which some non-standard are included. The hands of seven different pairs, thirteen orphans and heavenly gates are examples which do not have four melds and the eyes. They are described in more detail below.
Calling out mahjong
In Western Classical variants, this is known as creating a mahjong, and the process of winning is called going mahjong. Calling a mahjong without having a legal hand or with the minimum points is usually penalized via points or with the player having to play the rest of the hand with his tiles shown to the other players face up.
Turns and rounds
If the dealer wins the hand, s/he will remain the dealer and an extra hand is played in addition to the minimum 16 hands in a match. The same occurs if there is no winner.
The dealer position is significant in that s/he owes or is owed double their score.
Extra points are also scored if their hand is composed of pieces that match their seat wind and or the prevailing wind.
Flowers and seasons are also scored as bonus points to the winner depending on their seat position.
Rhythm of play
Amongst players, there is an agreed amount of time allowed to make a call for a discarded tile, before the next player takes their turn, known as “window of opportunity” is explicitly stated in the rules; whereas in other variants, it is generally considered that when the next player’s turn starts, i.e., the tile leaves the wall, the opportunity has been lost.
Old Hong Kong scoring involves adding up the fan value (the value of a hand) of the winner’s hand and paying the winner the appropriate sum/points:
- Only the winner calculates (scores) his or her hand. The winners fan value is based on:
- individual melds
- the composition of the entire hand
- how the hand was won
- bonus tiles
- special patterns
- and a few other special criteria.
- In order to win, a player needs to have at least the minimum fan value agreed in advance (often three). Bonus tiles and a few other elements are not included in the minimum fan value a player needs to form a legal winning hand. (i.e. having a flower in one’s hand does not contribute to the three minimum fan points a player needs in a typical game).
- When a player wins their fan value is calculated. The other players do not need to count their hands.
- Players then pay the winner (in money or when not gambling with “points”) based on three factors:
- the fan value of the hand (converted into base points)
- if the player won from the wall (doubles the points)
- if the player was the dealer or not (doubles the points)
Basic fan value
A winning hand must include an agreed minimum amount of fan value (often 3)
|A pong/kong of Dragons||1|
|A pong/kong of Seat wind or Round wind||1|
|All chows and a pair of simples||1 point more|
|Only pongs/kongs and any pair (pong hand)||3|
|Only bamboos with honours, only circles with honours or only characters with honours (clean hand)||3|
|Three unmelded (hidden) pongs/kongs||3|
|Seven pairs (special pattern)||4|
|Pure hand (of only one suit and no honours: pure circles, pure bamboos or pure characters)||6|
|Little Dragons (two pongs of dragons and a pair of the 3rd dragon)||12|
|Little Winds (three pongs of winds and a pair of the 4th wind)||12|
|Winning from the wall||1|
|Robbing the Kong||1|
|Winning on the last tile from the wall or its subsequent discard||1|
|No flowers or seasons tiles in hand||1|
|Having Own flower (seat flower)||1|
|Having Own season (seat season)||1|
|All four flowers||4 points extra|
|All four seasons||4 points extra|
|All 8 flowers and seasons (exceedingly rare)||Automatic win with maximum payment|
A player only scores a bonus fan for flowers or seasons if it is their own flower or season (East=1, South=2, West=3 and North=4) or if the player has all four flowers or all four seasons (scoring five fan in total).
The fan value of a hand is converted into base points which are then used to calculate the money (or “points”) the losers pay the winner.
If a player has three fan then his hand is worth one base point. A winning hand with nine fan is worth four base points. The base points are doubled for the following (if two criteria apply, the base payment is doubled and then redoubled):
- If the winner wins from the wall the base payment is doubled.
- If the hand was won by discard, the discarder doubles the amount he owes the winner
- If the winner is east he or she receives double the payment from each player. If east player is not the winner, he pays double the points to the winner.
|East (dealer)||1 (base payment) x2 (doubling for winning from wall) x2 (doubling for being east) = -4|
|South||1 (base payment) x2 (doubling for winning from wall) = -2|
|West||4 (from east) + 2 (from south) 2 (from north) = +8|
|North||1 (base payment) x2 (doubling for winning from wall) = -2|
|East (dealer)||2 (base payment) x2 (doubling for being east) = -4|
|South||2 (base payment) x2 (discarding winning piece) = -4|
|West||2 (base payment) = -2|
|North||4 (from east) + 4 (from south) 2 (from west) = +10|
|East (dealer)||16 (from south) + 32 (from west) + 16 (from north) = +64|
|South||8 (base payment) x2 (paying to east) = -16|
|West||8 (base payment) x2 (paying to east) x2 (discarding winning piece) = -32|
|North||8 (base payment) x2 (paying to east) = -16|
Hong Kong mahjong is essentially a payment system of doubling and redoubling where winning from the wall adds great value to the final payment and where the dealer is highly rewarded or penalised if he or she wins or loses.
There are a series of “limit hands”. Table rules dictate if these rare and special hands are allowed, which ones, and the limit for scoring. A common scoring limit is 64 points, which is the highest base points doubled twice. A winner receives the scoring limit from each player without any doubling.
In some cases it is expected that the hand is achieved without calling any sets, except when winning, and or that it must be won from the wall.
Some groups also play with the “great flowers” rule. If a player picks up all 4 flowers and all 4 seasons during his/her hand, s/he instantly wins the hand and receives the maximum points from all of the players. This is exceptionally rare.
|Thirteen Orphans||Player has 1 and 9 of each simple suit, one of each wind, one of each dragon and in addition one extra piece of any of those thirteen elements|
|Heavenly Gates||Player has 1112345678999 of any simple suit and one extra piece of numbers 1 to 9. This hand always has four melds and the eyes.|
|Hidden Pong Hand||Four concealed pongs|
|Kong Hand||Player has four kongs|
|Honours Hand||Player has all honours in the hand (only winds and dragons)|
|Pearl Dragon||Three circle pongs/kongs and a pair of circles (eye) with a pong/kong of the White dragon (no chows).|
|Ruby Dragon||Three character pongs/kongs and a pair of character (eye) with a pong/kong of the Red dragon (no chows).|
|Jade Dragon||Three bamboo pongs/kongs and a pair of bamboo (eye) with a pong/kong of the Green dragon (no chows).|
|Great Dragons||Three pongs of all three dragons|
|Great Winds||Four pongs of all four winds|
Examples of high scoring hands
All pong hand
Pure honor hand
Thirteen orphans no