American Gameplay
American Mahjong: Overview Gameplay Scoring Penalties & Errors Resources

For every hand, your basic goal is to be the first player to make a complete hand. The hand may contain sets that make up a valid hand for mahjong. It may consist of one or more of the following: single tiles, pairs, triplets… up to nine-folds.


Before the play starts players get a chance to get rid of tiles that may not suit their hand through several rounds of passing called a Charleston. The first Charleston is mandatory. The second and courtesy passes are not.

1st Charleston

  1. Each player chooses three tiles (and sets them face down) to be passed to the right. These tiles are added to your hand.
  2. Pass three tiles across. Again add them to your hand.
  3. First Left. Pass three tiles left. You are permitted to ‘blind pass’ up to three tiles, meaning: taking the tiles you just received (still face down) you may pass them without looking at them.
  4. Any player may call a stop to the Charleston. If nobody does a second Charleston commences.

2nd Charleston

  1. Second Left. Pass three tiles left. It is customary to place one tile on top of the other two, making a pyramid-like structure. Add the tiles passed to you to your hand.
  2. Pass three tiles across. Again add the tiles passed to your hand.
  3. Pass three tiles right. You may blind pass these tiles.

Courtesy Pass (Optional)

  1. At this point decided from 0-3 tiles how many you want to pass across.
  2. If you can reach an agreement with the opposite player you may choose to pass up to 3 tiles.

Normal Turn

The dealer starts first. Each turn starts by discarding one tile from his hand and placing it in the area in the middle of the walls. The name of the discarded tile must be announced. If nobody claims this discard the play resumes with the player to his right. Remember, players take turns going counter-clockwise.

A tile which is discarded can be claimed by any player as long as the discarded tile completes a set. The set must be displayed (exposed, revealed, melded) to all players. The tiles in the set can no longer be discarded or placed back into your hand.

A player may claim a discarded tile to create a pung, kong, quint, etc. A tile to complete a pair cannot be claimed unless it completes the hand. For example:

If you want to use the most recently discarded tile in a pung, you must already have two concealed tiles in your hand that match the discard. You must:

  1. Declare “pung”.
  2. Take the discard. (Do not place the discard in your hand).
  3. Lay down the three tiles of the pung face-up as a set in front of your rack. This set is called a melded pung.
  4. Discard a tile. If nobody claims the discard, play resumes with the player to the right. Note that some players might get their turns skipped.
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Two concealed identical tiles + discarded matching tile

If you claim the discard, any player’s whose turn it would have been after the discarder is skipped. The turn continues to the player on you right. The most recent discard is only available to be claimed up until the the next player draws and places the tile in his and or discards; this is known as the Window of Opportunity rule.

If it is your turn and you want to simply want to draw a tile, you must:

  1. Draw a tile from the wall. Remember, take tiles from the wall going clockwise. If the next stack in the wall is two tiles high, take the top tile. Otherwise, take the bottom tile.
  2. Discard a tile. If nobody claims the discard, play resumes with the player to the right.

For most turns, you will simply draw a tile and then discard a tile. DO NOT draw a tile immediately after the previous player discards. It is common courtesy to give the other players a second or two to claim the discard before you draw.

Order of Claims

A player claiming a discard to complete their hand for mahjong always trumps non-mahjong calls. If two players call for the same discard, the player closest to the discarder receives the tile.

Joker Tiles

Jokers are wilds and can represent any other tile. It can't be used in a pair or as a single tile. When composing a melded set with jokers the natural tile is not needed. A natural tile is also not needed in a set that is concealed within the hand. Jokers may also be discarded.

Redeeming or Exchanging Jokers
Jokers exposed in a melded set can be replaced by that natural tile by any player and place that joker in his hand. There are several rules are in effect when redeeming jokers:

  • The joker may be redeemed during a player's turn when they have 14 tiles (when they claim a discard or draw a tile). If the player cannot call mahjong after the redemption the player must discard.
  • Multiple jokers may be redeemed.
  • When redeeming a joker it is not necessary to expose tiles if that joker creates a set.
  • Redeeming jokers does not violate a concealed hand. Redeeming isn't the same as claiming a discard.
  • Jokers exposed in dead hands can be redeemed.

Post Hand

When a player declares “mahjong” and all the points have been scored for the hand the deal passes. If no player declares “mahjong” after the the tiles in the wall are exhausted and the last discard has been made the hand ends in draw. No points are earned and the deal passes to the player to the right. There is no set amount of hands for a complete game. Each hand is a game within itself. Prior to playing it is standard to decide on the amount of hands played.

Post Round

When the first dealer receives the dice to deal a second time, he exchanges seats with the player to his right.

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