3 Most Important Things to Know When Playing one of the most popular tile-based game

Played with tiles, Mahjong remains one of the most popular Chinese strategy games to date. To win, a player must form four sets and a pair to create the winning “Mahjong” hand.

While there are several versions of Mahjong with rules varying by region, many of the basic rules, tips, and penalties are common across versions.

We highlight the three most important things to know when playing Mahjong below.

3 Most Important Things to Know Playing one of the most popular tile-based game

Knowing these three things is essential if you want a chance to win Mahjong.

#1 The Rules

  • When a player picks up the final 14th tile and creates the Mahjong hand, the player wins the game.
  • All players have 13 tiles in their hand, and they only get the 14th tile when they form the Mahjong hand.
  • Players can pick up the tiles that the player to their left discarded in their turn to create a “chow” set.
  • Players can pick up a tile discarded by any player if it completes a “kong” or a “pong” set for the player.
  • Players can take tiles discarded by any player if the tile completes their Mahjong hand.

#2 Essential Tips

  • Grabbing the first discarded tile to complete a set is a bad idea. While it will help you create sets in your hand, other players always watch your moves closely, helping them figure out what your hand looks like. Furthermore, picking up the first discard narrows down the opportunities for building the winning hand you’re envisioning.
  • One of the most common mistakes new Mahjong players make is that they do not realize how challenging making a pair can be. If your hand has a pair at the beginning of the game, it is best to keep it in your hand and not get rid of the tiles. Mahjong games are long, and it’s best to avoid claiming a matching tile to make the pair a pong set.
  • If you’re learning to play Mahjong, don’t jump at every opportunity to create a set with discarded tiles. Early in the game, the wall has several useful tiles that you can get your hands on. Drawing tiles from the wall and making the most of it is an excellent way to conceal your hand from other players.
  • Remaining flexible in games is one of the most important skills for a Mahjong player to learn. You must keep a keen eye on the tiles other players are discarding, and if you see better opportunities to build your hand, you must abandon the initial strategy you had in mind. If you’re playing the Western version of Mahjong with restrictions on winning hands, don’t rush into forming a chow set since you will have many opportunities.
  • While winning may seem like the main goal to make an effort to achieve, depending on the circumstances, it’s right to change your goal to prevent other players from winning. If you notice that a player has three sets of one suit, you may need to pay a high price if the player wins.
  • Always keep an eye on the discards and the number of tiles on the wall. In the final stages of the game, the tension on the table will increase, and you will need to be cautious about the tiles your discard. If you see that the wall is running out of tiles, avoid discarding cards that aren’t already in the discard area to avoid giving away the winning tile.

#3 Errors and Penalities

Tile discarded accidentally (either announced or touched the table)The tile cannot be picked back up
Incorrect announcement of tileThe tile cannot be claimed
A tile is called, but no exposure is madeThe call may be retracted
Incorrect exposureThe exposure may be corrected before discarding the tile
A player has too many or missing tilesThe player is out of the game but will pay the winning at the end of the game like other players.
Three players have too many or missing tilesThe game is started over
Mahjong is declared in error, and the hand is revealed to all playersThe player’s hand is “dead,” and they are out of the game. The player pays the real winner of the game.


Playing Mahjong can be one of the most fun pastime activities if you commit to learning it for a few days.

The best thing about Mahjong is that you don’t always have to visit your friends to play. You can learn to play the game online and get your skill level up for free.