1000FluffyClouds Home
Classical Chinese Mahjong Rules


Rules (Laws of Play)

Chinese Classical (Kohnen, Millington, Whitney, Thompson & Maloney, Headley & Seeley, Carkner, Pritchard).

Westernised variations are more irregular hand orientated, whereas original rules the regular hand is the central concept.

There are many rules of play described in many books and around the internet however this is the first to attempt to combine them into something that includes all rules (Classical Chinese and variations). At present this is incomplete and may always remain so, however it does give a, hopefully useful, insight into the rules and their variations.


  1. Babcock details 3 variations Mixed-Hand (classical Chinese) game, the One-Double game, or the Cleared-Hand game. They differ only in Mah-jongg qualifications, in the dead wall provision, and in the scoring. (details highlighted where necessary) [18].
  2. The privilege of being East Wind or Chief shall pass after each declaration of Mahjong to the next player in the direction of play, the Wind Marker being passed to the next player at the right at the same time. Exception: If East Wind declares Mahjong he shall remain East and the Wind shall not pass. [1, 18]
  3. Four rounds shall be a game, each player in turn being Chief four times, subject to the exception East goes Mahjong. A lesser number of rounds may be played at the option of the players if agreed upon before the first throw of the dice [1].
  4. During the first round East is the Prevailing Wind; during the second round, South prevails; during the third, West; and during the fourth, North [18].
  5. At the end of a Round of the Winds the players again draw for positions at the table [18].
  6. The player who is East in each game shall retain the dice, to indicate his position. A marker may be used to show which Wind is Prevailing [18].
  7. The first player (the dealer) is always East. To her right is South; then West; then North (to the left of East). The order of play, beginning with East, therefore, is counter clockwise [3, 18]. Tiles are removed from the wall clockwise [8].
  8. The stakes and limits shall be agreed upon by all players before the commencement of the game. [1]
  9. Settlement shall be made after the play of each hand, East Wind paying or receiving double the difference between value of his hand and the other players. [1]
  10. The tiles in the Kong Box including the Loose Tiles are only used as replacement tiles for Flowers, Seasons and Kongs. Otherwise they form no part of the Game [2]. (Note: some versions may play as follows: kongs only taken from the Kong box and bonus tiles take from the wall - the argument for this method is there are only enough tiles in the Kong box to support all 16 possible kongs).
  11. Flower and Season tiles are never discarded, but always immediately Exposed above a player's stake and the player is dealt a Loose Tile as a replacement. [2]


  1. Determine East. At the commencement of the game drawing of the Wind Markers shall determine the order of seats. East Wind or Chief shall have the choice of seats. South Wind shall sit at Chief's right. West Wind opposite Chief and North Wind opposite South. This relative order shall be maintained throughout the whole game [1,18].
  2. Determine East. The player who throws the highest total of the two dice becomes "East Wind", and the other players then take the wind correspondingly to their seats [5]. In [19] there is a complex method to select the players initial wind by rolling 2 dice to count counter clockwise to the player selecting the first wind and another two dice to determine the wind chosen from a row of face down wind tiles where the last dice pair if totalled odd select the wind from one end or even the other end of the row. The other players then take the next winds from the row counter clockwise. The players then re-seat in the correct E-S-W-N order. The host should throw the first dice pair.

West (3)


North (4)

South (2)


East (1)


Figure 1: The East Round seating positions. Play goes anti-clockwise.

Starting with cards

  1. The players having taken their seats, place the tiles face downwards in the centre of the table and shuffle them thoroughly. [1]
  2. Each player then forms a small heap of tiles approximately even size. (It is not necessary to count them as it is quite immaterial whether one heap contains more or less than another. [1]
  3. The heap from which the deal is to be made shall be determined by one throw of two dice, the Chief throwing and counting around the table to the right, beginning with himself as 1. [1]
  4. The selected heap is then cut, added to the next heap in rotation, Chief proceeds to deal 13 tiles to each player in the ordinary way, but gives himself a fourteenth tile. The remaining heaps are then collected and added to any tiles in dealer's hands. The top two are placed face downwards on the table and become the original loose tiles. Loose tiles are replenished from time from the bottom of the pack. [1]

Starting with tiles (wall building)

  1. Mix, face down, the 144 tiles . . . with tremendous clatter!
  2. Length of initial wall should be 18 (17 if not using Seasons/Flowers).
  3. Arrange 18 stacks (a stack is two tiles, one on top of the other) in a horizontal row in front of each player, making a square. Once the wall is complete, it belongs to all the players.
  4. Each player shall attend to the wall immediately in front of him, swinging it into position for the draw and replacing loose tiles drawn during play [18].

Breaking The Wall

  1. To break the wall and determine where to begin distributing tiles to the players, East rolls 2 dice and counts players counter-clockwise, beginning with East to the total number shown [4,5,12,2].
  2. If dice are not flat and inside the wall, one or more dice will be re-rolled [19].
  3. The player whose wall is to be breached has now to throw the two dice to determine WHERE his wall is to be breached. He then adds the number he has thrown to the number thrown by East Wind and counts this total clockwise along the upper row of the wall, from the right-hand end, and breaches the wall by removing the piece arrived at and the one underneath it, these are the loose tiles [4].

Kong Box (dead wall) (variations in size 5 or 7 stacks, where bonus tiles are replaced and replenishable or not from the wall)

  1. He lifts the two loose tiles and places it on the top of the wall to the right of the opening, the lower tile of the two nearer the opening, the upper one farther from it [18].
  2. The latter piece of the loose tiles is then placed (face down) on top of the wall on the second piece to the right of the breach, and the former is placed on the fourth piece to the right of the breach. The small wall is moved away from the rest of the wall. Thus, if the total of the throws is 12 the player removes the two 12 th pieces from the right-hand end, and places the bottom one on the 10 th pieces from the right end, and the top one on the 8 th pieces. The pieces from 7 to 11 are moved a bit away from the rest of the wall. [4]. Kong box of wall section 5 stacks long.
  3. The last 14 tiles in the Wall, to the left of the opening of the Wall, together with the loose tiles are referred to as the Kong Box [2].
  4. In front of the person last counted, break the wall from the right of that line of stacks setting aside as the "dead wall" (Kong Box) that number of stacks rolled by the dice. (The break occurs AFTER the number rolled, counting from the right.) Some versions dictate that the dead wall will be 7 stacks.
  5. The last 7 stacks that were counted over from the second dice throw and are separated from the rest of the wall. These will not be used within play of the game. [11, 19]
  6. At start of play the Kong box is 16 tiles (inc loose tiles) and are not replenished during play [19]. Alternative to below.
  7. [5] specifies that the kong box always has 14 tiles including the loose tiles and the loose ones just mark the end of the wall rather than a separate group of tiles. Hence the Kong box does not shrink in this case but replenishes and the game ends with 14 tiles spare.
  8. In the One-Double game and in the Cleared-Hand game there is no Dead Wall; the last tile in the wall must be drawn, unless a Mah-jongg has been previously announced. In the Mixed-Hand (classical) game, the last fourteen tiles in the wall, including the loose tiles, constitute the Dead Wall, and the fifteenth tile from the end is the last tile which may be drawn under any circumstances. This fifteenth tile in the Mixed Hand game, and the last tile in the wall in the One-Double game and the Cleared-Hand game, is the 'last available tile.' [18].
  9. If both are drawn, take up a new stack from the rear of the wall and replenish the loose tiles. Thus, the Dead Wall may have fourteen or thirteen tiles at any given point in the game [6]. Should both "loose tiles" be used, by drawing for two or more sets of fours, then the two last pieces are placed on top of end of wall as new "loose tiles" [13].


  1. East picks up the first two stacks to the left of the break (4 tiles); East then distributes the next 2 stacks (moving again left of the break) to South, then West, then North. Or players take their own stacks [4].
  2. East repeats this distribution two more times so that each player has 12 tiles (or 6 stacks) in hand [4].
  3. East then draws 2 more tiles (top one and top third tile at left) and distributes one more tile to S, W, and N [4].

Grounding Flowers (alternative ground bonus tiles in player order or as dealt)

  1. If any player has flower(s) or seasons(s), they declare so right away, turn face up in front of them, and they draw a substitute tile from the dead wall for each flower/season. Alternative to below.
  2. If a player has flower(s) or seasons(s) in the hand originally dealt him he lays it out, face upwards, on the table. Starting with East Wind, and continuing in the usual direction, each player then draws a Loose Tile for each Season or Flower he has laid out. [4,5,18,19]
  3. Play shall be deemed to commence with first discard of East. [1]

Special starts (within the first round of discards)

  1. An Original Hand can only be declared by East Wind. An Original Hand is a very rare event and can only be achieved by an East Wind player. This hand occurs when the East Wind player is able to go Mahjongg from the tiles they are initially dealt plus the first tile that is drawn by the East Wind player from the Wall. For such a hand the East Wind player's score will be an extra three times doubled. This Hand is also known as The Heavenly Blessing , Hand from Heaven and The Natural Winning . [2]
  2. A Standing Hand (Original Call) can be declared by all players. A Standing Hand means that after the first tile discard by a player, the player only needs one specific tile to complete a Mahjongg. The player keeps discarding picked up tiles until this specific tile is available to pick up. The tile that is required can become available from the Wall or it may be discarded by another player [2, 19]. If the hand is changed then the player may not go Mah-Jong [19].
  3. Going Mahjong with the first discard from East, special limit hand [5,9]
  4. Extension to original hand is when Mahjong declared when the hand first has 14 tiles, ie, first pickup [5].

During Play

  1. The direction of play shall be from left to right. [1] Counter clockwise. (Eat Soy With Noodles! East, South, West, North)
  2. East (chief) opens the game by discarding a tile. Each player follows in turn obtaining a tile either by a "pong", a "chow" or by drawing from the pack. He then discards and the turn passes to the next player on the right, thus if a player pongs a tile and it is not the regular player order then players will miss their turn as play will continue with the pongers right hand player [18].
  3. When player is dealt a tile from the Wall or a Loose Tile, providing the tile is not a Flower or Season and the tile does not enable the player to complete a Kong, then the player does not have to show this tile to the other players. Instead the player places the tile on his or her stake and discards one of the tiles he or she has on their stake, a player can discard a tile that they have just picked up should they wish to do so [2].

Drawing from the Wall

  1. If a player has drawn from the wall but has not discarded, the preceding discard may still be claimed by another player, in which case the tile drawn must be replaced. But if the player has drawn and grounded a Flower or completed a Kong, the preceding discard cannot be claimed.
  2. If a player exposes the tile he would have drawn, he must take it; if he exposes any other tile, it must be shuffled with six adjacent stacks, or as many as may be available, and the wall rebuilt.
  3. If a player draws out of turn, or from the wrong end of the wall, or after he has chowed or ponged, the tile drawn must be replaced; but if he has seen or felt its face, it must be shuffled with six adjacent stacks or as many as may be available, and the wall rebuilt.
  4. If the player whose turn it is to draw touches a tile at the open end of the wall, as though about to draw it, he must take it. But if he touches or takes a discard, he may reject it before he discards, even if he has grounded the tiles to complete a Set.
  5. A grounded Set cannot be changed after the player has discarded. A tile used in a grounded Set shall not be used in another Set or discarded.


  1. Discards are thrown, face-up, to the middle, and declared by the discarder. Eg. "One crack" [19]. The Chinese play the game with the discards turned face downwards, so that one has to reply entirely on one's memory, and it is very good practice to play this way.
  2. After the discard a player shall have neither more nor less than 13 tiles in his hand, or it shall be dead. Play, however, shall continue till one player shall declare Mahjong or all hands are declared dead. The dead hand shall pay to all players, but shall not collect. [1] (He must continue to draw and discard and at the end pay the other players their scores, without deducting his own score if he had too many pieces, and after deducting his own score if he had too few pieces. [4]) variation in scoring.
  3. A player can't use a tile discarded by any of the other players to add to any of the combinations already Exposed on the table. [1,2]
  4. A tile is deemed discarded when it hits the table and is deemed drawn when the player touches it [19]. But the discarder can take it back provided no player has claimed it or drawn from the wall [19].

The Chow

  1. To Chow a discarded tile, a player shall need this tile to complete a sequence. The chowed group shall be exposed. [1, 18]
  2. A tile can be claimed for a chow and a discard made prior to exposing the set but the set must be exposed before the players next claim or drawn tile [19].
  3. Only the player immediately following the person discarding a tile may chow it. [1]

The Pong

  1. To Pong a discarded tile, a player shall already hold a similar pair. The ponged group shall be exposed. [1]
  2. After a Pong play shall continue to the right of the player who ponged. [1]
  3. Should a player omit to claim a "Pong", or withdraws his claim, he can not Pong the same piece, should it be discarded again, until after he has had another turn [4].
  4. Any player who can pong or Kong a discard may do so, intervening players, if any, losing their turns. After the player who has ponged has discarded, it becomes the turn of the player on his right [18].

The Kong

  1. A player who holds three tiles of the same suit and denomination may take any player's discard of a similar tile to complete a Four. He takes the three tiles from his concealed hand and grounds them with the discard that completes the Four; he must then draw a loose tile and discard. This is an exposed Kong but the discard added to the concealed Pong is turned face down to indicate the original pong is concealed [19].
  2. A player who can kong a discard may, if he prefers, take the discarded tile to complete a Triplet, holding the fourth tile of the Set in his hand. At any later stage of the game, but only after drawing from the wall, he may add this fourth tile to the three already grounded, in order to complete a Four; he must then draw a loose tile and discard [18].
  3. A player who holds a concealed Triplet and draws from the wall the fourth tile of the Set, may then, or at any time immediately after drawing from the wall, ground the four tiles. He turns both end tiles face down to show that the Set counts as a Four in hand. He must then draw a loose tile and discard. [18, 19].
  4. A player who draws the fourth tile from the wall may add it to a grounded Triplet to make a Four; he must then draw a loose tile and discard [18]. The set has all tile face up [19].
  5. A player who has grounded a Triplet cannot kong the fourth tile of the Set if it is discarded [18].
  6. In order to score for a set of "four of a kind" the player must expose it before another player declares Mahjong. [1]. If another player should terminate the hand by going Mah-Jongg before a player has placed the Kong on the table (exposing it), his score will only count as for a concealed Pong. [4, 5, 13]. Only one exposed tile is allowed within the Kong. [13]. A Four that has not been grounded before Mah-jongg is announced counts only as a concealed Triplet. [18, 19].
  7. If the kong is marked incorrectly then it shall be treated as an exposed kong [19].

Loose Tiles

  1. In place of a fourth in a Kong or a flower/season tile the player shall draw an extra tile from the Loose tiles. [1]
  2. He must then draw the Loose Tile farthest away from the breach, or, if that Tile has already been drawn, the other Loose Tile, after which he discards in the usual way. If both the original Loose Tiles are drawn, the pair of pieces next to the breach are placed on the wall exactly in the same manner as the original Loose Tiles and serve as additional Loose Tiles. [4]
  3. A player can't change or take back any of the combinations already Exposed on the table. There is one exception, see rule 17 . [2]
  4. Rules of precedence for pickup of tile discards: [19]
    • The precedence ordered left to right:
      • MJ special hand, MJ with Pong, MJ with Chow, MJ with Pair, Kong, Pong, Chow
    • If one player claims a discard for Pong or Kong, and another player
      claims the same tile for Chow, the Pong or Kong has preference, provided
      that the claim is made before the two concealed tiles of the Sequence are
      grounded by the player who can chow [18].
    • When two or more players claim a discarded tile to make a similar combination of tiles (for example, a Chow) and no other player claims the discarded tile for a more valuable combination (for example, Mahjongg), then the player positioned nearest in the playing direction to the player who discarded this tile, will get the tile. [2]
    • A claim over another players claim can be made up to the point of the discard, exposed tiles and loose tiles being replaced [19].
    • A claim for Mah-Jong can be claimed by a high priority Mah-Jong (ie, one nearer the discarder) up to the point of completing score settlement.
  5. A discarded tile that is not chowed, ponged, or claimed before the subsequent player's discard shall be dead and out of play for the rest of the hand. [1]
  6. The last discarded piece may be taken even if the next player has drawn a piece from the wall, providing that player has not discarded or drawn a loose tile [19]. In this case the piece drawn from the wall must be replaced. [4, 5, 19]
  7. A player shall not reclaim a tile once discarded. (exception: see below). [1]
  8. A player discarding out of turn shall lose his turn to draw or chow, but shall take back his discard. [1]


  1. A player who takes a discard and grounds with it tiles that do not complete a Set, may correct his error by placing the proper tiles on the table before he discards. If he does not correct his error before he discards, his hand is Foul [18].
  2. If a player discovers that he cannot legitimately use a discard he has taken, he may return it to the table without penalty, provided he has not yet discarded [18].
  3. A player who can chow a tile erroneously taken, may call attention to the error and take the tile, provided the following player has not discarded. If the player in error has already discarded, he must remain with a Short Hand [18].
  4. A player must not place a discard among his concealed tiles. It must be laid face up on the table, and the other tiles necessary to form the set added to it. Should a discard be placed with the concealed tiles, any player may demand that it be returned to the table, and if it is the turn of the player in error he shall forfeit his turn [18].
  5. If a player discards two tiles, the first is his discard and the second may not be claimed by another player. If attention is called to the double discard before the succeeding player discards, the player in error may take back the second discard [18].
  6. A discard that has been quitted by removing the fingers from it cannot be recalled by the discarder [18].
  7. A discard becomes dead as soon as the following discard is made. All dead discards must remain face up on the table. If a player uses a dead discard and grounds a Set, the error may not be corrected after the following player has discarded [18].
  8. If a player discards before he draws he may be required to take back his discard [18].
  9. A drawn tile from the wall can not be replaed unless a previous discard is claimed [19].

Ending a Round (Variation to announce fishing or not)

  1. When a player needs one tile go out, the hand is "ready" (Fishing) and should be declared [3]. Alternative to below.
  2. Rule 56 in ref [19] says the fishing hand should not be declared: If a player obtains a calling hand subsequent to the first discard he should not (and may not) make any announcement [19].
  3. A player may claim a piece which has been drawn from the wall by another player and use to convert an exposed Pong into an exposed Kong, and this is called "snatching a Kong" [4]. A concealed kong can only be robbed to complete the Thirteen Unique Wonders [19]. The player being robbed must not draw a replacement tile [19] but if the tile is already taken and used the chance to rob has passed [19].
  4. To declare Mahjong a player's hand shall be composed of four sets (Kong, Pong or Chow) and a pair [1] OR have a special hand [2]. Player calls “Mah-Jong” [4].
  5. In the Mixed-Hand (this is classical chinese) game the four Sets and a Pair may be of any kind. In the One-Double game the four Sets and a Pair must score one double, exclusive of Flower doubles. In the Cleared-Hand game the four Sets and a Pair must be all of one suit, with or without Honors; or all Terminals, with or without Honors; or all Honors [18].
  6. A player declaring Mahjong shall expose his hand at once, and if found complete, all the other players shall expose their hands on the table in front of them, and leave them till all scores shall have been settled. [1]
  7. When laying down a Pong or Kong in hand (concealed) the middle piece should be turned over to denote that it is "concealed". [4]
  8. Concealed Triplets should be identified by placing one of the three face up on top of the two others. Filling the Only Place, or Drawing the Winning Tile, is indicated by standing the tile on end. In order to score the bonus this tile must not be taken into the concealed hand but must be grounded immediately [18].
  9. If a declared Mah-Jong had is shall be found incomplete, it shall be declared dead, and play shall continue. At the end of play the dead hand shall pay, but shall not collect. [1]
  10. A sacred discard occurs if a player discovers that a previously discarded tile (by that player) would permit the player to go out. This tile is a sacred discard and should be declared. If another player discards an identical tile, the "ready" player may not use it unless she has drawn from the wall at least once after their own discard. [3] [4]
  11. A hand that would be worth more than the limit according to the scoring chart has its value reduced to the limit. [16]
  12. If east has 13 consecutive Mah-Jongs (discarding drawn hands) then this is a limit hand and East moves round to the next player.

No win / Draw

(variation East moves on / East retains position)

  1. If no player can declare Mahjong and the last tiles of the pack (including the two Loose tiles) readied, all hands shall be declared dead. No scores shall be counted. A fresh start shall be made, the Wind passing to the next player whose turn it shall be to become the East Wind or Chief [1]. When a draw occurs the hand stops. The deal passes and a new hand begins [13].
  2. Should the game proceed with no hand completed for game until there are only fourteen pieces (seven twos) left in the wall, none of these last fourteen pieces can be drawn, but the game is declared a "draw" and no scores count. In counting the fourteen pieces, the one or two "loose tiles" on the end of the wall, are included in the fourteen [13]. The kong box remains undrawn – that is the last 14 tiles together with the loose tiles [2].
  3. If no player Mah-jonggs with any of these discards, the game is drawn, all hands are abandoned, no one scores, and East retains his position for the next game [18]. Alternative to above.

Next Deal

  1. At the end of a hand the deal passes counter clockwise and the player who was South becomes East, UNLESS the dealer won the round in which case the deal does not pass. The player who was west becomes south, the player who was north becomes west and the player who was east becomes north [17].

Go to 4 Scoring