Mahjong – skill game

Mahjong is a popular draw-and-discard tile game that originated around the 18th century in China and eventually conquered the western world. The Mahjong game was first played with cards before it evolved into the complex tile game you can find today.

Throughout its long run, dozens of variations of Mahjong have sprouted across the globe, most of which can be found in China. And thanks to modern technology and its popularity in the West, you can now even play it for real money in a number of online casinos.

Some interesting facts about Mahjong are:

  • Mahjong is mostly played by four participants but the game can be played with two, three or sometimes five players too.
  • ‘Mahjong’ goes by several different names  in China; ‘majiang’, ‘mah jong’, ‘ma jong’ and ma cheuk’ are commonly used.
  • As the game had a gambling component to it the Chinese government had officially banned Mahjong for almost 40 years from late 40’s till mid 80’s. 
Easy to learn and great to play, find out how!




What’s the best Mahjong strategy?

Despite what many believe, Mahjong is not just a game of luck but requires skills. How you combine your tiles and what decisions you play an important role in you winning the game or even cashing out more.

So, what exactly can you do to do better in Mahjong? While there’s no failsafe method, the following tips can all help you increase your winning chances and payouts:

  • Always calculate the shortest path to a winning hand.
  • Know the bonus point rules.
  • Know your tiles by heart.
  • Stay disciplined with your money.
  • Try your hand at multiplayer strategies.

try mahjong

screenshot mahjong game


The above is a screenshot of the Mahjong game as you can play it at Stargames. The great part of that site is that you are able to play mahjong for money against players from all over the world simultaniously.  It doesn’t matter where tyou are located you play in realtime against others that are online too.

You are able to purchase Stars, which are very cheap, and use those as stakes to enter a game. Since Mahjong is a skill game you don’t have to spend a lot of money nor do you risk to lose it. Although Stargames offers Mahjong more as leisure game you are still able to earn a bit of money with it.

try mahjong

Number of tiles

In most case a game set of Mahjong contains 144 tiles. However there are versions where more Flower and/or Joker tiles are avaialble.

Most common Mahjong sets
  • the traditional Chinese set
  • the Japanese Mahjong set
  • the special Hong Kong version
  • the early 1920’s set
  • the Vietnamese game set
Tiles base material

In the old days Ivory was used for the Mahjong tiles but with this becoming a protected material now a days most of the tiles are made of composite, bamboo, bone or pressed fish-bone. Exceptional luxury game-sets can be made of Jade to but due to the extreme high value one does not see those sets often. Let alone you would be able to play with one of those.

Over 40 different game variations

At present there are at least 40 different game versions of Mahjong played worldwide. Here are the most played on a row:

  • Chinese – Chinese Classical, Hong Kong Old Style, Chinese Official and Zung Jung (WSOM rules)
  • Taiwanese – played with 16 tiles opposed to 13
  • Japanese – also know as  Riichi or Dora
  • American
  • Western/British –  Wright-Patterson, Indian/Mumbai and common Western
  • Filipino – like the Taiwanese also with 16 tiles in the hand. Winds and dragons are treated as flowers in Taiwan
  • Vietnamese – this version starts with 160 or 176 tiles
  • Malaysian – mostly played with three players instead of four

Online Mahjong Variations

Up until a few years back, there were several variations of Mahjong to be found online. However, whether the game lost a bit of its popularity or the non-Asian players had hard time staying on top of the different rules, the choices you have today are far more limited.

The most common Mahjong game you can find today is Solo Mahjong, which is a simplified single-player game. You might also be able to find a multiplayer version, although they are extremely rare.

Most online mahjong games follow Honk Kong scoring rules, simply because they are easier to grasp. Other popular varieties are Classic Mahjong, which like the Honk Kong version allows scoring of four sets and any pairs, and the Japanese Riichi, which is even rarer than multiplayer versions

How to play Mahjong

A game of online Mahjong begins with you receiving 13 tiles with the final goal of discarding and drawing tiles to make a winning hand.  The game usually starts with a ready hand, i.e. a hand that’s only missing a single tile. Thus, a winning hand would be one made with 14-tiles.

To get a winning hand, you would have to complete sets of 2, 3, or 4 tiles, or even 4 sets and a pair, as determined by the rules. The most common scoring rules are Honk Kong rules, but you might be able to find other variations as well.

To complete your hand, you can draw tiles from “the Wall”, which is a 24-tile rack that’s placed in front of you in traditional Mahjong, or a virtual table in online Mahjong. When you want to make a pick, you just click or tap the tile. In online Mahjong, if you make a wrong choice, the game might also automatically warn you.

When you make your hand, you will get a pre-defined score, according to the game rules, and once three-four hands are completed the game will be over. The winner is determined by his/her score, with the trick being that you only get a limited number of picks (3-4) before you lose a hand.

Knowing your “tiles” when playing Mahjong

There are up to 144 tiles in a game of Mahjong, which can be overwhelming to the novice player. However, understanding different tiles is nothing too complicated. It all comes with knowledge, hence Mahjong is considered a skilled gambling game. In short, all tiles are divided into three groups:


suit tiles have three different suits: bamboo, characters, and dots. All suit tiles are numbered from 1 to 9 and are matched in progression or pairs.
mahjong bamboo suit tiles
mahjong character suit tiles

mahjong circle suit tiles


there are two types of honor tiles: dragons and winds. The winds are four tiles representing the four winds (north, south, east, and west) and the dragons are three: red, green, and white.

dragon tiles

wind tile honor suit mahjong


these are divided into seasons and flowers tiles, each of which has four different flowers/seasons

flower tiles

gentlemen tiles

Bonus Points when playing Mahjong

Some online Mahjong versions also come with special or bonus points. These can be either Seat Wind or Quarter Wind bonuses, or Dora (bonus tiles) and Honor Streaks. Basically, when you have a set of tiles matching the Seat Wind or Dora tiles, you can get extra points in the game. The exact bonus rules will be available in most of the game’s help menu’s.

Mahjong Fun Facts

  • The earliest tiles of Mahjong that survived into today are dated back to the 1870s.
  • The first Mahjong sets in the U.S. were sold by Abercrombie and Fitch in 1920.
  • Some Malaysian variations include animal tiles in the sets, with symbols representing cats, mice, roosters, etc.
  • Mahjong was so popular in China that people eventually started gambling on it. Thus, the Chinese government enforced a ban on Mahjong during the 1960s and 1970s, which caused its popularity to dwindle a bit.
  • The origin of the name is believed to be the Chinese word “máquè” meaning “sparrow”. A popular belief is that the name was given due to the clinking sounds of the tiles, which reminds one of sparrows clattering.


Mahjong is a great game for anyone looking for something more exotic to play in today’s online world. The game has remained massively popular for centuries for a reason – one which becomes clearly evident on your first try. Fast-paced, stimulating, and entirely unique, Mahjong just has something that other tile games don’t have.

However, before you start playing, keep in mind that the solo version is very easy to grasp and play, while for the multiplayer versions you will need a more thorough strategic approach. But whatever your preference, there’s always plenty of value to be found in a game of Mahjong.