Basic Mahjong Gameplay

Introduction to the Basics of Japanese Mahjong

Mahjong Basics

This document is an introduction to the basic game mechanics of Riichi Mahjong. If you are familiar with other
variations of Mahjong (e.g. chinese official) you are unlikely to learn much from this document.

Mahjong Tiles

Bamboos, Bones or Sticks

In a complete set of Mahjong there is a suit called Bamboos (sometimes called bones or sticks). The suit of bamboos
are numbered from 1 to 9 and there are four tiles of each number.

Mahjong Bamboo Tiles

In most sets the bamboo one tile resembles a bird. here is an example:

Bamboo 1 Tile

Character Tiles

Character suit tiles. 1 to 9.

Mahjong Character Tiles

Beginner sets usually include western numerals. However we recommend learning the symbols. It is not really that hard to memorize nine symbols. In some variations of Japanese Mahjong, specifically the three player variations the character tiles of 2 to 8 are removed.

Dots

Dot suit tiles numbered 1 to 9.

Mahjong Dot Tiles

Also known as circles, disks or spots.

Dragons Tiles

Green, Red and White dragons. Make sure you memorize them in that order.

Mahjong Dot Tiles

These are the Green, Red, and White dragon tiles. If your set has English letters, the green dragon is labeled F, red is C, and white is P or B. In Japanese sets, the White dragons are completely blank tiles. In American sets, the Green and Red dragons maybe depicted with a dragon graphic. In Chinese mahjong sets they look like a frame. In a complete mahjong set there are four tiles of each of the dragons.

Wind Tiles

East, South, West, North and East.

Mahjong Wind Tiles

In a set of mahjong there are four tiles of each direction.
The order is important in Riichi. Note that west is to the right of south in mahjong.

Honor Tiles

Mahjong Honor Tiles

Winds and dragons are collectively called honor tiles, thus there is a total number of 28 (12 dragons, 16 winds) tiles in a complete mahjong set.

Terminals

Mahjong Terminal Tiles

1s and 9s in every suit are called terminal tiles.

Red fives

Mahjong Red 5 Tiles

Red Tiles (akapai, akago) are specific to Japanese mahjong. If this variation is played, one five from each suit is replaced with a red five tile. Upon winning a player scores extra points for each red five in his/her hand.

Sets or Melds

Pon

A set can consist of three identical tiles (called a Pon)

Melded Pon Example 1

It is common beginners mistake to think that the three dragons (one of each) can make a Pon.

Kan

A Kan is a set of four identical tiles (called a kan)

Kan of 4 dots

Chii

three Suit tiles in numerical sequence and of the same suit (called a chii).

Note that a Chii must consist of exactly three tiles, of the same suit. It is a common beginners question if four tiles can make a Chii. They do not!

The Pair

The pair may be any pair, as long as it consists of two identical tiles. The pair is sometimes also referred to as the head of the hand.

Terminology Difference

Those familiar with mahjong but not Japanese Mahjong in particular. You might want to be interested that a few basic terminology differences. As a mahjong player you are probably familiar with the terms Pong, Chow and Kong, in the japanese version of the game they are called Pon, Chii and Kan respectively.

Mahjong Tiles

Bamboos

Bamboo suit tiles numbered 1 to 9.

Mahjong Bamboo Tiles

In most sets bamboo one resembels a bird.

Character Tiles

Character suit tiles. 1 to 9.

Mahjong Character Tiles

Beginner sets usually include western numerals. However we recommend learning the symbols. It is not really that hard to memorize nine symbols.

Dots

Dot suit tiles numbered 1 to 9.

Mahjong Dot Tiles

Also known as circles, disks, spots…

Dragons Tiles

Green, Red and White dragons. Make sure you memorize them in that order.

Mahjong Dot Tiles

These are the Green, Red, and White dragon tiles. If your set has English letters, the green dragon is labeled F, red is C, and white is P or B. In Japanese sets, the White dragons are completely blank tiles. In American sets, the Green and Red dragons maybe depicted with a dragon graphic. In Chinese mahjong sets they look like a frame. In a complete mahjong set there are four tiles of each of the dragons.

Wind Tiles

South, West, North and East.

Mahjong Wind Tiles

In a set of mahjong there are four tiles of each direction.
The order is important in Riichi. Note that west is to the right of south in mahjong.

Honor Tiles

Mahjong Honor Tiles

Winds and dragons are collectively called honor tiles, thus there is a total number of 28 (12 dragons, 16 winds) tiles in a complete mahjong set.

Terminals

Mahjong Terminal Tiles

1s and 9s in every suit are called terminal tiles.

Red fives

Mahjong Red 5 Tiles

Red Tiles (akapai, akago) are specific to Japanese mahjong. If this variation is played, one five from each suit is replaced with a red five tile. Upon winning a player scores extra points for each red five in his/her hand.

Sets

Pon

A set can consist of three identical tiles (called a Pon)

Melded Pon Example 1

Kan

A Kan is a set of four identical tiles (called a kan)

Kan of 4 dots

Chii

three Suit tiles in numerical sequence and of the same suit (called a chii).

Note that a Chii must consist of exactly three tiles, of the same suit. It is a common beginners question if four tiles can make a Chii. They do not!

The Pair

The pair may be any pair, as long as it consists of two identical tiles. The pair is sometimes also referred to as the head of the hand.