Mahjong Dimensions Classic Rules

Each player in turn, in counterclockwise direction, draws a tile from the wall; as long as the tile drawn is not one of the bonus tiles, the player proceeds to discard a tile (either the tile just drawn, or a tile in the hand) to maintain a hand of 13. The discarded tile is thrown into the centre and, if desired, the player announces out loud what the piece is. The other players have an opportunity to seize the discarded tile; if no one takes it, the turn continues to the next player. Play continues this way until one player has a legal winning hand and calls out the win (each region does this call differently--no Asian version uses the word "mahjong" to signal a win) while revealing their hand.

There are four different ways that regular order of play can be interrupted:

  1. A bonus tile (flower or season) is drawn
  2. A meld (pong, kong, or chow) is made from a discard
  3. Going mahjong (declaring a winning hand)
  4. Robbing a kong

During play, each player's hand should always be 13 tiles (meaning in each turn a tile must be picked up and another discarded). The count of 13 tiles do note include any bonus tiles (flowers and seasons), which are set to the side, nor does it include the fourth added piece of a kong. If a player is seen to have fewer or more than 13 tiles in their hand outside of their turn they are penalised.

Legal hand

A winning hand consists of 14 tiles. Since players always have 13 tiles in their hand during play, they must win by either drawing a piece from the wall that completes a 14-tile hand ("winning from the wall") or claiming a discard from another player which completes a 14-tile hand ("winning by discard"). The winning hand is made of four melds (a specific pattern of three pieces) and the eyes (a pair of identical pieces). The exceptions 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, but can be higher or lower depending on house rules.


Melds are groups of tiles within the player's hand, consisting of either a pong (three identical tiles), a kong (four identical tiles), a chow (three suited tiles all of the same suit, in numerical sequence), or eyes (two identical tiles needed in a winning hand). Melds may be formed by drawing a tile from the wall, or by seizing another player's discard. There are rules governing which player has priority for a discard, and whether the meld should be exposed (displayed to all players) or remain concealed, depending on the manner in which the meld is formed.

Interruption of play

The regular anti-clockwise order of turns may be interrupted for four events:

1. Flower or season

Whenever a player draws a flower or season, it is announced and then placed to the side (it is not considered a part of the 13-tile hand, but in the event that player wins, they may earn bonus points for them) and the last tile of the wall is drawn as a replacement tile so that the player has the 14 pieces needed before their discard. This may happen successively in a player's turn.

2. Melding another player's discard

When a player discards a tile, other players may steal the tile to complete a meld. Stealing tiles has both advantages (quickly forming a winning hand and scoring extra points) and disadvantages (being forced to reveal part of one's 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 expose the meld by placing the three (or four) tiles 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 will essentially miss their turn as play continues anti-clockwise from the player who declared the meld.

If multiple players call for a discarded tile, priority for the discard depends on the declared action of the player stealing the discard.

  1. Highest priority goes to the player who needs the discarded tile to win the hand. A player may take the tile to win the hand from any other player.
  2. Next priority goes to the player who declares a pong or kong using the discard. A player who calls for a pong or kong may take the discard from any other player. Only one player can be in this position because there are only four of any tile in a mahjong set.
  3. Last priority goes to the player who declares a chow using the discard. Players may only call for a chow from the discard of the player immediately prior to them unless the tile is the final one required to win the hand.
3. Winning a hand

The act of winning a hand interrupts play to assess the validity of the hand won. Upon confirmation, the player is awarded the hand's value per the specific game's rule.

From a discard

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 declare a win and reveal their winning hand. This ends the hand, and scoring commences. If more than one player can use a discard to win the hand, multiple ways can handle the situation based on agreed table rules: The players might count the points they would win with the discard and the winner is the one with the higher score, the winner might simply be the player closest to the discarder in order of turn, or multiple players may be granted the win simultaneously.

From the wall

Alternatively, a player may also win by drawing a tile that completes a legal hand. This is called "winning from the wall". In Hong Kong mahjong, winning from the wall doubles the number of base points each loser must pay.

False Win

Technically, the declaration for winning a hand may be done at any time. However, the player must have a complete and legal hand. Otherwise, the player is penalized. The penalty depends on table rules. The player may forfeit points to the other players. Another potential penalty is the player who called out the false win must play the rest of the hand with their tiles face up on the table so other players can see them (open hand). Some methods apply the penalty at the end of the entire game. Again, the table rules dictate the enforcement of the penalty.

4. 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 adding a fourth piece to a melded pong but another player can use that piece to complete a hand, the completing player takes priority to win the hand and may steal that piece from the player who intended to declare the kong.

Examples of winning hands

Below are two examples of winning hands. A winning hand must consist of four melds (pongs, kongs, or chows) and a pair (eyes) and must also score the agreed table minimum.

Most players include table variations in their games, of which some non-standard are included. The hands of seven different pairs and 13 orphans are examples which do not have four melds and the eyes. They are described in more detail below.

Repeated hands

If the dealer wins the hand, they will remain the dealer and an extra hand is played in addition to the minimum 16 hands in a match.

An extra hand is also played if there is no winner by the time all the tiles in the wall have been drawn. When there is no winner it is known as a "goulash hand". Depending on table rules, the winner of the next game may take an agreed number of points from each player, carrying over the points from the non-winning hand to the winning one. If there are two or three goulash hands in a row then the winner would collect a considerable number of points from each player on top of their scoring hand. Because extra hands may be played every time a dealer wins or if there is a goulash hand, a match of 16 hands can easily become a match of 20 or even much more.

As table rules add a large amount of flexibility for players, they can choose to disregard the rule of extra hands and pass on the dealership regardless of who wins or if it results in a goulash hand. This puts a maximum estimated limit on the game duration and provides some amount of predictability.

Rhythm of play

Players may agree on table rules if the pace of the game is brisk or leisurely. For brisk games players may agree that a couple seconds after a discard are allowed for a "window of opportunity" before the next player picks up from the wall. Usually it is agreed once the next player has waited the duration of the "window of opportunity" and draws a tile from the wall, the previous discard is lost and cannot be claimed.


Old Hong Kong scoring is relatively simple. There is only one winner (or if there is a draw the hand is replayed). The winner must have a legal hand that meets the minimum faan points agreed to in advance (not including any bonus points). Only the winner scores, the other players pay the winner various sums. After each hand ends, the winner counts all of his or her faan points.