Sunday, October 5, 2008


Xiangqi , is a two-player board game in the same family as chess, chaturanga, shogi and janggi. The present-day form of Xiangqi originated in China and is therefore commonly called Chinese chess in . The first 象 ''Xiàng'' here has the meaning "image" or "representational", hence Xiangqi can be literally translated as "representational chess". The game is sometimes called "elephant chess" after an alternative meaning of 象 as "elephant".

Xiangqi has a long history. Though its precise origins have not yet been confirmed, the earliest literary reference comes from the 9th century.

Xiangqi is one of the most popular board games in the world. Distinctive features of Xiangqi include the unique movement of the ''pao'' piece, a rule prohibiting the ''generals'' from facing each other directly, and the ''river'' and ''palace'' board features, which restrict the movement of some pieces.

Rules of the game


Xiangqi is played on a board that is 9 lines wide by 10 lines long. In a manner similar to the game , the pieces are played on the intersections, which are known as ''points''. The vertical lines are known as ''files'', while the horizontal lines are known as ''ranks''. With a few awkward substitutions, it is possible to play this game using a standard chess set.

Centered at the first through third ranks of the board is a square zone also mirrored in the opponent's territory. The three point by three point zone is demarcated by two diagonal lines connecting opposite corners and intersecting at the center point. This area is known as 宮 ''gōng'' , the palace or ''fortress''.

Dividing the two opposing sides is 河 ''hé'', the ''river''. The river is often marked with the phrases 楚河 ''chǔ hé'' , meaning " River", and 漢界 or 汉界 ''hàn jiè'' , meaning " border", a reference to the Chu-Han War. Although the river provides a visual division between the two sides, only a few pieces are affected by its presence: soldiers are promoted after crossing, and elephants cannot cross the river.

The starting points of the soldiers and cannons are typically marked with small crosses, but not all boards have these marks.


The two players take command of pieces on either side of the river. One player's pieces are usually painted red , and the other player's pieces are usually painted black . Which player moves first has varied throughout history, and also varies from one part to another of China. Some xiangqi books state that the black side moves first; others state that the red side moves first. Also, some books may refer to the two sides as north and south; which direction corresponds to which color also varies from source to source. Generally, red goes first in most modern formal tournaments.

Xiangqi pieces are represented by disks marked with a Chinese character identifying the piece and painted in a colour identifying to which player the piece belongs. Modern pieces are usually made with plastic, though some sets use pieces made of wood, and more expensive sets may use pieces made of jade. In more ancient times, many sets were simple unpainted woodcarvings; thus, to distinguish between the pieces of the two sides, most corresponding pieces use characters that are similar but vary slightly between the two sides.

The oldest Xiangqi piece found to date is in Henan Provincial Museum - a 俥 piece.

In Mainland China, most sets still use traditional characters for the pieces.


The generals are labelled with the Chinese character 將 / 将 ''jiàng'' on the black side and 帥 / 帅 ''shuài'' on the red side. These pieces are equivalent to the kings of Western chess. Legend has it that originally the pieces were known as emperors, but when an emperor of China heard about the game, he executed two players for "killing" or "capturing" the emperor piece. Future players called them generals instead.

The general starts the game at the midpoint of the back edge . The general may move one point either vertically or horizontally, but not diagonally. The general cannot leave the palace under any circumstances ; thus, the general can only move to and stay on the 9 points within the palace.

When a general is threatened by an enemy piece, the general is said to be "in ." When the general is in check and unable to escape check on the player's move, it is said to be checkmated, and the player will lose the game. The player only loses the game if the opponent makes a move to capture the general; if the opponent fails to notice the check or shows mercy, the game can continue. A stalemate rule does not exist.

If a player makes a move that leaves the two generals facing one another on the same file with no other pieces placed in between, then the general is in check. This rule is known as the flying general , and states that one general may "fly" across the board and capture the other if they are in the same file with no pieces in between. This is a very important feature of the Xiangqi game and is often forgotten by new players of the game. It is important because the general often plays a role in enforcing checkmate, especially when many of the other pieces have been taken and the board is wide open. Indeed, a win remains possible as long as a player has at least a single horse, chariot, or soldier not on the last rank. If a player forgets this rule and moves a piece that exposes a clear line between his or her general and his opponent's, he or she loses the game if his or her opponent notices what has happened.


The advisors are labelled 士 ''shì'' for black and 仕 ''shì'' for red. Rarely, sets use the character 士 for both colours.

While their origin is probably the same as that of the queen in Western chess, their powers are distinct from those of the queen.

The advisors start to the sides of the general. They move one point diagonally and may not leave the palace. This effectively means they can only move to five of the points within the palace. They serve to protect the general/marshal.

Minister/War Elephant

The elephants are labelled 象 ''xiàng'' for black and 相 ''xiàng'' for red. They are located next to the advisors. These pieces move exactly two points diagonally and may not jump over intervening pieces. If an elephant is blocked by an intervening piece, it is known as "blocking the elephant's eye" . They may not cross the river; thus, they serve as defensive pieces. There are only seven possible points on the board to which they can move.

Because of an elephant's limited movement, it can be easily trapped or threatened. A can threaten one just by moving to a space where all brown spaces available to the elephant are threatened. Since one elephant could be easily captured, it depends on the other for protection.

The Chinese characters for "minister" and "elephant" are homophones and both have alternative meanings as "appearance" or "image". However, both are referred to as elephants in the game.


The horses are labelled 馬 ''mǎ'' for black and 傌 ''mà'' for red in sets marked with Traditional Chinese characters and 马 ''mǎ'' for both black and red in sets marked with Simplified Chinese characters. Some traditional sets use 馬 for both colours. They begin the game next to the elephants. It moves one point vertically or horizontally and then one point diagonally away from its former position. It is important to note that the horse does not jump, as the knight does in Western chess. Thus, if there were a piece lying on a point one point away horizontally or vertically from the horse, then the horse's path of movement is blocked and it is unable to move in that direction. Note, however, that a piece two points away horizontally or vertically or a piece a single point away diagonally would not impede the movement of the horse. A blocked horse is also known as "blocking the horse's leg" . The diagram on the left illustrates the horse's movement.

Since horses can be blocked, it is sometimes possible to trap the opponent's horse. It is possible for one player's horse to attack the opponent's horse while the opponent's horse is blocked from attacking, as seen in the diagram on the right.


The chariots are labelled 車 for black and 俥 for red in sets marked with Traditional Chinese characters and 车 for both black and red in sets marked with Simplified Chinese characters. Some traditional sets use 車 for both colors. Rarely, simplified sets use 伡. All of these characters are pronounced as ''jū'' . The chariot moves and captures vertically and horizontally any distance, and may not jump over intervening pieces. The chariots begin the game on the points at the corners of the board. Their placement and movement is similar to that of a in western chess.

The chariot/rook piece is considered to be the strongest piece in the game.


The cannons are labelled 砲 ''pào'' for black and 炮 ''pào'' for red. They are homophones.

砲 ''pào'' means a "catapult" for hurling boulders. ''pào'' means "cannon". The 石 ''shì'' radical of 砲 means 'stone', and the 火 ''huǒ'' part of 炮 means 'fire'. However, both are referred to as cannon in the game.

In Xiangqi, each player has two cannons. The cannons start on the row behind the soldiers, two points in front of the horses. Cannons move like the chariots, horizontally and vertically, but capture by jumping exactly one piece over to its target. When capturing, the cannon is moved to the point of the captured piece. The cannon may not jump over intervening pieces if not capturing another piece. The piece which the cannon jumps over is called the 炮臺 / 炮台 ''pào tái'' . Any number of unoccupied spaces may exist between the cannon and the cannon platform, or between the cannon platform and the piece to be captured, including no spaces in both cases. Cannons are powerful at the beginning of the game when platforms are plentiful, and are typically used in combination with chariots to effect mate. They can also take a horse immediately, however this is not a popular strategy, since the cannon can get taken right away by a chariot. There is also a strategy where both cannons of one side group in front of the opposing general along with a cannon platform. This is unavoidable unless the general can move out of the way, or another piece can take out the front cannon.


Each side has five soldiers, labelled 卒 ''zú'' for black and 兵 ''bīng'' for red. Soldiers are placed on alternating points, one row back from the edge of the river. They move and capture by advancing one point. Once they have crossed the river, they may also move one point horizontally. Soldiers cannot move backward, and therefore cannot retreat; however, they may still move sideways at the enemy's edge. Unlike Western chess, soldiers in Xiangqi do not promote when they reach the farthest rank.

Approximate relative values of the pieces

These advisory values do not take into account positional advantages. For example, the chariot at the corner in the beginning of the game is not very useful, but it can be moved to points where it affects the game much more, for example near the center of the board or the opponent's palace. Also, the value of a cannon drops as the game goes on due to having fewer platforms for use in capturing, while the value of the horse increases slightly due to fewer obstructions. Despite the chariot having the highest value of 9 points, it should be pointed out that often, players will, at certain game scenarios, value a cannon/horse on or exceeding the level of a chariot due to the piece's unique attack style. What's left on the board is also important to value of piece. For example, in a mid or late game, if red still has two chariots and black has one advisor left, that advisor is very valuable for black because it is very easy for red to checkmate with two chariots if black does not have an advisor.

Ending the game

The game ends when one player successfully takes the general, or checkmates the other player—that is, when one player successfully threatens the opposing general with a piece and the player with the threatened general has no legal moves which would prevent the general from being threatened. Unlike in international chess a stalemate is considered a loss for the player with no legal moves left.

In , to say , one says 將 / 将 ''jiāng'' , and to say checkmate, one says 將軍 / 将军 ''jiāngjūn'' . The two calls are sometimes interchangeable. You are not required to inform the other player when you have them in check.

In Xiangqi, a player may attempt to check or chase pieces in a way that the moves fall in a cycle, forcing the opponent to draw the game. The following special rules are used to make it harder to draw the game by endless checking and chasing :

*The side that perpetually checks with one piece or several pieces will be ruled to lose under any circumstances unless he or she stops the perpetual checking.
*The side that perpetually chases any one unprotected piece with one or more pieces will be ruled to lose under any circumstances unless he or she stops the perpetual chasing. Chases by generals and soldiers are allowed however.
*If one side perpetually checks and the other side perpetually chases, the perpetually checking side has to stop or be ruled to lose.
*When neither side violates the rules and both persist in not making an alternate move, the game can be ruled as a draw.
*When both sides violate the same rule at the same time and both persist in not making an alternate move, the game can be ruled as a draw.

The above rules to prevent perpetual checking and chasing are popular, but they are by no means the only rules. There are a large number of confusing end game situations.


Notational system 1

The book ''The Chess of China'' describes a notational system of absolute positional references in which the ranks of the board are numbered 1 to 10 from closest to farthest away, followed by a digit 1 to 9 for files from right to left. Both values are relative to the moving player. Moves are then indicated as follows:

[piece name] ([former rank][former file])-[new rank][new file]

Thus, the most common opening in the game would be written as:

#炮 –35, 馬 –37

Notational system 2

A notational system partially described in ''A Manual of Chinese Chess'' and used by several computer software implementations describes positions in relative terms as follows:

[single-letter piece abbreviation][former file][operator indicating direction of movement][new file, or in the case of purely vertical movement, number of ranks traversed]

The file numbers are counted from each player's right to each player's left.

In case there are two identical pieces in one file, symbols + and - are used instead of former file number.

The initials are as follows:

Direction of movement is indicated via an operator symbol. A plus sign is used to indicate forward movement. A minus sign or hyphen is used to indicate backwards movement. A or equal sign is used to indicate horizontal or lateral movement. If a piece simultaneously moves both vertically and horizontally, then the plus or minus sign is used rather than the period.

Thus, the most common opening in the game would be written as:

#C2.5 H8+7

Gameplay and strategy

Xiangqi is a fast game for several reasons. First, the barrier of pawns is reduced dramatically. Second, the cannons jump to capture, making them a long-range threat early in the game. In addition, since the general is confined to only moving within the palace, it can be checkmated more easily unless it is protected by other pieces.

Because of the size of the board and the relative low number of long-range pieces, it may take time to move one's army of pieces from place to place on the board, and there is a tendency for the battle to focus on a particular area of the board. Common strategies used in such as forking with horse and pinning with chariot are also applicable in xiangqi.

Usually, the soldiers do not support each other unless the player has no better move. This is because from the initial position, it takes a minimum of 5 moves of a soldier to allow twin soldiers to protect each other.

Defensively, a common configuration is to leave the general at his or her starting position, deploy one advisor and one elephant on the two points directly in front of the general, and to leave the other advisor and the other elephant in their starting positions, to the side of the general. In this setup, the paired-up advisors and elephants support each other, and the general is immune from attacks by cannons. However, with the loss of a single advisor or elephant, the general becomes vulnerable to cannons, and this setup may need to be abandoned. The defender may move advisors or elephants away from the general, or even sacrifice them intentionally, to ward off attack by a cannon.

The two chariots are ''not'' normally lined up together as they are the most powerful piece and in doing so, a player risks the chances of losing at least one chariot to an inferior piece of the enemy. Depending on the situation, it may be advantageous to position a chariot at one of the corners of the enemy's side of the board, where it is very difficult to dislodge, and threatens the enemy general.

It is common to use the cannons independently to control particular ranks and files. Using a cannon to control the middle file is often considered vital strategy, because it helps to lock certain pieces such as the advisors and elephants in certain positions to prevent a check. The two files adjacent to the middle rank are also considered important and knights and chariots can be used to push for mate here. In addition, the cannons can also be used one in front of one another in the centre line, therefore checkmating the general/marshall in almost all scenarios, as the front cannon ensures that nothing can block, and the rear ensuring that if the front cannon is taken, the general/marshall is still check, and therefore resulting in checkmate. Unfortunately, there are ways to block this tactic, but there is less chance that the opponent can block this manoeuvre in time.


Since the left and right flank of the starting setup are symmetrical and therefore equivalent, it is customary to always make the first move from the right flank. Starting on the left flank is considered to be needlessly confusing.

The most common opening is to move the cannon to the central column, an opening known as 當頭炮 / 当头炮 ''dāng tóu pào''. The most common reply is to advance the horse on the same flank. Together, this move-and-response is known by the rhyme 當頭炮,馬來跳 / 当头炮,马来跳 ''dāng tóu pào, mǎ lái tiào'' . The notation for this is "1. 炮 –35, 馬 –37" or "1. C2.5 H8+7". See also the diagrams to the right.

This is usually followed by the most common second move, 出車 / 出车 ''chū jū''—"chariot sortie"—in which the first player moves a chariot forward one space .

The most common reply is to move the right advisor diagonally. 上士 ''shàng shì''.
This is to prevent a series of events that leads to the first player quickly checkmating the second.

Less common first moves include:
*moving an elephant to the central column
*advancing the soldier on the third or seventh file
*moving a horse forward
*moving either cannon behind the 2nd pawn from the left or right

General advice for the opening includes rapid development of at least one chariot, because it is the most powerful piece and the only long-range piece besides the cannon. It may not be a bad move to develop one horse to the edge of the board, for example, to avoid being blocked by one of one's own pawns that cannot advance. Usually, at least one horse should be moved to the middle.

Beginners often succumb to an with two cannons. This checkmate may be executed in four moves from the beginning of the game. However, it is easily countered by the horse reply. A double cannon technique involves 2 cannons of the same side lining up with the enemy general with no other pieces in between. This results in a check as the rear cannon uses the front cannon as cannon platform. The opponent cannot get away by placing a piece in front of the general to block the rear cannon because the front cannon will use that newly-moved piece as cannon platform to capture the general. The solution is either to move the general up before the check or to nullify the 2nd cannon either by taking it out or placing a piece between the two cannons.


Xiangqi has a long history. Though its precise origins have not yet been definitely confirmed, the earliest indications reveal the game may have been played as early as the 4th century BC, by Tian Wen , the Lord of Mengchang for the state of , during the Warring States Period. Judging by its rules, Xiangqi was apparently closely related to military strategists in ancient China. The ancient Chinese game of may have had an influence as well.

The word ''Xiàngqí'''s meaning "figure game" can also be treated as meaning "constellation game". Sometimes the xiàngqí board's "river" is called the "heavenly river", which may mean the Milky Way; previous versions of xiàngqí may have been based on the movements of sky objects.

During the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period, wars were fought for years running. A new strategy board game was patterned after the array of troops . This was the earliest form of Xiangqi.

During the Cao Wei, and Northern and Southern Dynasties, a kind of strategy game was popular among the people. It laid a foundation for the finalized pattern of Xiangqi. In ancient times, both highbrows and lowbrows enjoyed Xiangqi.

During the reign of of the Tang Dynasty, Prime Minister Niu Sengru wrote a fictional story about Xiangqi. That occurred during the Baoying period, so it was named Baoying. Baoying had six pieces and produced a significant influence on Xiangqi in subsequent years.

Three forms of the game took shape after the Song Dynasty. One of them consisted of 32 pieces. They were played on a board with 9 vertical lines and 9 horizontal lines. Popular in those days was a board without a river borderline; the Korean game of janggi is derived from this earlier riverless version. The river borderline was added later, and this form of the game has lasted to the present day.

With the economic and cultural development during the Qing Dynasty, Xiangqi entered a new stage. Many different schools of circles and players came into prominence. With the popularization of Xiangqi, many books and manuals on the techniques of playing the game were published. They played an important role in popularizing Xiangqi and improving the techniques of play in modern times.

Modern play

Tournaments and leagues

Although Xiangqi has its origin in Asia, there are Xiangqi leagues and clubs all over the world. Each European nation generally has its own governing league; for example, in , Xiangqi is regulated by the United Kingdom Chinese Chess Association. Asian countries also have nationwide leagues, such as the Malaysia Chinese Chess Association in Malaysia.

In addition, there are also several international federations and tournaments. For example, the Chinese Xiangqi Association hosts several tournaments every year, including the Yin Li and Ram Cup Tournaments. There is also an Asian Xiangqi Federation and a World Xiangqi Federation, which hosts tournaments and competitions bi-annually, though most are limited to players from member nations.


The Asian Xiangqi Federation and its corresponding member associations also rank players in a number format similar to the of chess. The best player in China, according to the 2006 Chinese National Ratings, is Xu Yinchuan with a rating of 2628. Other strong players include Lu Qin and Hu Ronghua.

The Asian Xiangqi Federation also bestows the title of grandmaster to select individuals around the world who have excelled at xiangqi or have made special contributions to the game. Though there are no specific criteria for becoming a grandmaster, the list of grandmasters is limited to fewer than a hundred people.


The of xiangqi is approximately 10150, so in 2004 it was projected that a human top player will be defeated before 2010.

And in the Computer-Human Xiangqi Dual Meet in 2006, the final score was Computer 5.5 - Human 4.5

Xiangqi is one of the more popular competitions at the annual Computer Olympiad.


Variations of the game have been created, such as , Supply Chess and two variations "blind" chess.

In Blitz games, each player only has around 5-10 minutes each , leading to a fast-paced game with no room for thought and moves have to be made by instinct.

In Supply Chess, a team of two players plays against another team, with one person taking the black pieces and another taking the red pieces. Any pieces obtained by killing the opponent's pieces is given to the teammate. These pieces can be deployed by the teammate to give him an advantage over the other player, so long as he observes the following rules:

# The piece can only be on your own side
# The piece cannot cause your opponent to be in check

There have been instances of Blitz-Supply chess, but such competitions are usually friendly or small scale, as much criticism has arose over these variations of chess. Players often use tactics such as rapidly exchanging pieces to force out a draw in blitz games.

In supply chess, one player often exchanges all his pieces with his opponent to allow his teammate to confuse his opponent with the large number of pieces on the board. Four cannons or rooks on the board would lead to an almost unbreakable control of key lanes, virtually assuring victory.

In , played by two, all of the pieces are jumbled, flipped so the character of the piece is concealed and placed on the squares on only one side of the river. The players assume a colour and take alternate turns. The object of the game is to capture all of your opponent's pieces.

At each turn, the player can do one of three things. They may choose to uncover a concealed piece, move one of their own pieces to an empty square or they may choose to capture one of their opponents pieces. There are limitations for the last option however.

Each piece, although move the same way, has a "rank" that enables it to capture pieces beneath its rank. The general is the highest rank and can capture any piece apart from the soldier. The chariot can capture all other pieces apart from the general. The horse may capture all pieces apart from the general and the chariot. The cannon may capture the elephant, advisor and soldiers and the elephant may capture the advisor and soldiers. Soldiers, is the lowest rank but also one of the most important as it is the only piece that can capture generals

The game continues until one of the players has lost all of their pieces. Blind chess is mostly a game of luck as the player cannot choose where their pieces are set up. They can only increase their chances by moving pieces and uncovering appropriately, calculating the odds that the uncovered piece next to them can be friend or foe, superior or inferior. This game is more well known in Hong Kong than in mainland China.

A second variation of blind chess involves playing without a visible chess board. The players have to memorize the positions of the pieces on the chess board. A third person is occasionally asked to keep track of the game with an actual chess board in case of disputes. The players calls out their moves with four character notations in the format . For example, if a horse was in rank 3 file 3 and it was to move to rank 4 file 5, the notation used would be the Chinese words "horse 3 advances to 5". If a chariot was to move from rank 3 file 3 to rank 3 file 6, it would be "chariot 3 horizontal to 6". If a piece advances forward without changing file, the number of steps forward or back is used instead.


Tangram is a dissection puzzle. It consists of seven pieces, called ''tans'', which fit together to form a shape of some sort. The objective is to form a specific shape with seven pieces. The shape has to contain all the pieces, which may not overlap.


The Tangram possibly originated from the ''yanjitu'' furniture set during the Song Dynasty. There is some variation to such furniture set during the Ming Dynasty, and later became a set of wooden blocks for playing.

According to other authors, the earliest known reference to tangram appears in a Chinese book dated 1813, which was probably written during the reign of the Jiaqing Emperor.

While the tangram is often said to be ancient, its existence in the Western world has been verified no earlier than 1800. Tangrams were brought to America by Chinese and American ships during the first part of the nineteenth century. The earliest example known is made of ivory in a silk box and was given to the son of an American ship owner in 1802.

The word "tangram" is built from + GRAM. The word "Tangram" was first used by Thomas Hill, later President of Harvard, in his book ''Geometrical Puzzle for the Youth'' in 1848.

The author and mathematician Lewis Carroll reputedly was a great enthusiast of tangrams and possessed a Chinese book with tissue-thin leaves containing 323 tangram designs. Napoleon was said to have owned a Tangram set and Chinese problem and solution books while he was imprisoned on the island of St. Helena although this has been contested by Ronald C. Read. Photos are shown in "The Tangram Book" by Jerry Slocum.

In 1903, Sam Loyd wrote a spoof of tangram history, ''The Eighth Book Of Tan'' convincing many people that the game was invented 4,000 years ago by a god named Tan. The book included 700 patterns some of which are not possible.

Traditional tangrams were made from stone, bone, clay or other easy to get materials. Nowadays they can be made from plastic, wood or other modern materials.

Mathematical proofs

Fu Tsiang Wang and Chuan-chin Hsiung proved in 1942 that there only existed 13 patterns .

Convex tangrams are very special and there are so few of them. Ronald C. Read in his book “Tangrams: 330 Puzzles” asked for any other special kinds of tangrams that would be more numerous than the convex ones, and yet not in number. He proposed to investigate the "snug tangrams" with the use of a computer.

An estimate of ten millions of configuration has been reported, focusing on the fully matched patterns , which are indeed a wider set than the Read's "snug tangram".

The pieces

Sizes are relative to the big square, which is defined as being of width, height and area equal to \scriptstyle.
* 5
** 2 small
** 1 medium size
** 2 large size
* 1 square
* 1 parallelogram

Of these 7 pieces, the parallelogram is unique in that its mirror image cannot be obtained by rotation. Thus, it is the only piece that needs to be flipped when forming some silhouettes. Since there is only one such piece, every possible silhouette or its mirror image can be formed with a set of one-sided tangrams .

Square chess

Square chess , also known as 丢方 and 下方, is an abstract strategy board game played traditionally in the northwestern regions of China, especially Ningxia, Gansu, Shaanxi, Qinghai, Xinjiang, and other areas with a high concentration of Chinese Muslims. The game is also played by Dungans, who have brought the game with them to Central Asian countries such as Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.


The game is played on a 7x8 grid, with pieces played on the points, much as in . Players take turns alternately placing stones until the board has been filled up, attempting to form 2x2 squares with their pieces. When the board has been filled up, players each remove one of their opponent's stones. The player then counts up the squares that he/she has formed and removes an equal number of the opponent's pieces, as long as those pieces are not part of a square. After the initial removal of pieces, players take turns moving pieces; pieces can move any distance along the grid up, down, left, or right. Every time a square is formed, the player can remove one of the opponent's pieces. The player who removes all of the opponent's pieces first is the winner. Thus, the game is similar in concept to Nine Men's Morris.

Playing equipment

The game can be played on any 7x8 board using black or white go stones, even on the intersections of a chessboard. The game is popular in agricultural communities in northwestern China, and often played on a board traced out on the ground. Common playing pieces include stones, twigs, and sheep droppings.


The Xinjiang variant of square chess is played on a 7x7 board. Because this leads to an odd number of playing points the first player has an advantage. Thus, the second player is allowed to remove one more piece from his/her opponent during the initial removal of pieces.

Other variants of the game allow encirclement of pieces, as in Go. Still other variants disallow certain moves, for example, forming a square in the same way repeatedly .

Because of the game's popularity among country folk in rural areas, there are a great many variants of the game, each local to a specific area.

Sic bo

Sic bo , also known as tai sai , dai siu , big and small or hi-lo, is an unequal played with three dice, and of ancient origin. Grand hazard and chuck-a-luck are variants, and of origin. The literal meanings of sic bo, tai sai and dai siu are ''dice pair'' or ''dice bowl'', ''lucky dice'' and ''big small'' respectively.

Sic bo is a casino game, popular in Asia and widely played in casinos in Macau. It is played in the Philippines as hi-lo. It was introduced into the USA by Chinese immigrants in the early 20th century, and can now be found in most American . Since 13 May 2002, it can be played legally in licensed casinos in the United Kingdom, under The Gaming Clubs Regulations 2002 .

The most common wagers are "Big" and "Small".


Grand Hazard is a gambling game of origin, also played with three dice. The dice are rolled down a chute containing a series of inclined planes that tumble the dice as they fall.

Chuck-a-luck, also known as birdcage, is a variant in the United States, which has its origins in grand hazard. The three dice are kept in a device that resembles a wire-frame bird cage and that pivots about its centre. The dealer rotates the cage end over end, with the dice landing on the bottom. Chuck-a-luck usually features only the single-number wagers, sometimes with an additional wager for any "triple" with odds of 30 to 1 . Chuck-a-luck was once common in Nevada casinos but is now rare, frequently having been replaced by sic bo tables.

Pong Hau K'i

Pong Hau K'i is a traditional board game for two players. In Korea, it is known as Ou-moul-ko-no.

The board consists of 5 vertices and 7 edges. Each player has two pieces. Players take turns to move. At each turn, the player moves one of his two pieces into the adjacent vacant vertex. If a player can't move, he loses.

Only one type of position can make a player lose. If both players play perfectly, the game ends after three consecutive moves.

It is used for childhood education generally.

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Starting position:
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Pai Gow

Pai gow is a gambling game, played with a set of Chinese dominoes. Pai gow is played in unsanctioned casinos in most Chinese communities. It is played openly in major casinos in China ; the U.S.A. ; Canada ; Australia; and, New Zealand. It dates back to at least the Song Dynasty, and is a game steeped in tradition.

The name "pai gow" is sometimes used to refer to a card game called pai gow poker , which is loosely based on pai gow.


Starting the Game

Tiles are randomized on the table, and are stacked into eight stacks of four tiles each in an assembly known as the ''woodpile''. Various ritualistic "shuffles" are made, rearranging the tiles in the woodpile in standard ways that result in a new woodpile. Bets are then made.

Next, each player is given four tiles with which to make two hands of two tiles each. The hand with the lower value is called the ''front hand'', and the hand with the higher value is called the ''rear hand''. If a player's front hand beats the dealer's front hand, and the player's rear hand beats the dealer's rear hand, then that player wins the bet. If a player's front and rear hands both lose to the dealer's respective hands, the player loses the bet. If one hand wins and the other loses, the player is said to ''push'', and gets back only the money he or she bet. Generally seven players will play, and each player's hands are compared only against the dealer's hands.

Basic scoring

The name "pai gow" is loosely translated as "make nine" or "card nine". This reflects the fact that, with a few high-scoring exceptions, the best a hand can score is nine. To find the value of a hand, simply add the total number of pips on the two tiles, and .
So for instance, a 1-3 tile used with a 2-3 tile will score nine, since four plus five is nine. A 2-3 tile with a 5-6 tile will score six, and not sixteen, because you drop the 1. And a 5-5 tile with a 4-6 tile will score zero, since ten plus ten is twenty, and twenty reduces to zero when you drop the tens place.

Gongs and Wongs

There are special ways in which a hand can score more than nine points. The double-one tiles and double-six tiles are known as the ''Day'' and ''Teen'' tiles, respectively. If a Day or Teen tile is used with an eight, the pair is worth ten instead of the usual zero. If a Day or Teen tile is used with a nine, the hand is worth eleven instead of one. But a Day or Teen tile used with a ten is only worth two, not twelve; this is because only eights and nines can be combined with Days or Teens for higher values.

The Gee Joon tiles

The 1-2 and the 2-4 tiles are called ''Gee Joon'' tiles . Either tile can count as 3 or 6, whichever scores more. So a 1-2 tile can be used with a 5-6 tile to make a hand worth seven points, rather than four.


The 32 tiles in a Chinese dominoes set can be arranged into 16 pairs, as shown in the picture at the top of this article. Eleven of these pairs have identical tiles, and five of these pairs are made up of two tiles that score the same, but look different. If a hand is made up of a pair, it always scores higher than a non-pair, no matter what the value of the pips are.

When two pairs are compared, the higher-valued pair wins. This is not determined by the sum of their pips, but by aesthetics. It must be memorized which pairs score more than other pairs. The highest pairs are the Gee Joon tiles, the Teens, the Days, and the red eights. The lowest scoring pairs are the mismatched nines, eights, sevens, and fives. But even the lowest-scoring pair will beat any non-pair.


When one of a player's hands is compared to one of the dealer's hands, it sometimes happens that both will have the same score. For instance, a player may have a front hand worth one point, consisting of a 3-4 tile and a 2-2 tile, and the dealer may have a front hand also worth one point, made up of a 5-6 tile and a 5-5 tile. In these cases, determine which tile in each hand has a higher value, as determined by the pair rankings mentioned above. In this case, the 2-2 tile is in a higher-ranking pair than the 3-4 tile, and the 5-5 tile is in a higher-ranking pair than the 5-6 tile. Since the 5-5 pair outranks the 2-2 pair, the dealer would win this front hand. In the unusual case of a true tie, where the dealer's high tile would be in the same pair as the player's high tile, the dealer wins the tie.

There are two exceptions to the method described above. First, although the Gee Joon tiles form the highest-ranking pair, they are considered to have no value when evaluating ties. Second, any zero-zero tie is won by the dealer, regardless of the tiles in the hand.


The key element of pai gow strategy is to present the optimal front hand and rear hand given four tiles dealt to the player. There are three ways to arrange four tiles into two hands, though practically some combinations may be the same.

For instance, consider the four tiles at right. If tile A were made into a hand with tile B both resulting hands would score zero. However if tile A were paired with tile C, both hands would score 5. Or if tile A were paired with tile D, the front hand would score 3 and the rear hand would score 7. The player must decide which front hand-back hand combination is most likely to beat both of the dealers' hands, or at least to break a tie in the player's favor. In some cases a player with weaker tiles may deliberately attempt to attain a push so as to avoid losing the bet outright. Many players rely on superstition to choose tile pairings.

Popular culture

The game is heavily mentioned in Jinyong's wuxia novel ''The Deer and the Cauldron''.

The game is mentioned in the movie ''''.

The game is played in the opening scenes of ''Big Trouble in Little China''.


Mahjong is a game for four players that originated in China. Mahjong involves skill, strategy, and calculation, as well as a certain degree of chance. Depending on the variation which is played, luck can be anything from a minor to a dominant factor in success. In Asia, mahjong is also popularly played as a gambling game. In the game, each player is dealt either thirteen or sixteen tiles in a hand . On their turn, players draw a tile and discard one, with the goal of making four or five and one pair, or "head". Winning comes "on the draw", by drawing a new or discarded tile that completes the hand. Thus a winning hand actually contains fourteen tiles.


Mahjong in China

One of the myths of the origin of Mahjong suggests that Confucius, the great philosopher, had developed the game in about 500 BC. This assertion is likely to be apocryphal. According to this myth, the appearance of the game in the various Chinese states coincided with Confucius' travels at the time he was teaching his new doctrines. The three dragon tiles also agree with the three Cardinal virtues bequeathed by Confucius. ''Hóng Zhōng'' the Red, ''Fā Cái'' the Green, ''Bái Pi'' the White represent Benevolence, Sincerity, and Filial piety respectively, again under this myth. In fact, the "middle" is likely a reference to — China's name in Chinese.

Also, this myth claims that Confucius was fond of birds, which would explain the name "Mahjong" . However, there is no evidence of Mahjong's existence before the Taiping era in the 19th century, which eliminates Confucius as a likely inventor.

Many historians believe it was based on a Chinese card game called ''Mǎdiào'' in the early Ming dynasty. This game was played with 40 paper cards similar in appearance to the cards used in the game Ya Pei. These 40 cards, numbered 1 to 9 in four different suits along with four extra flower cards, are quite similar to the numbering of Mahjong tiles today. Although Mahjong only has three suits and, in effect, uses four packs of Ya Pei cards.

There is still a healthy debate about who created the game. One theory is that Chinese army officers serving during the Taiping Rebellion created the game to pass the time. Another theory is that a noble living in the Shanghai area created the game between 1870 and 1875. Others believe that around 1850 in the city of two brothers had created Mahjong from the earlier game of ''Mǎdiào''.

This traditional Chinese game was banned in its homeland in 1949, when the People's Republic of China was founded. The new Communist government forbade any gambling activities, which were regarded as symbols of corruption. After the Cultural Revolution, the game was revived, and once again Mahjong has become a favorite pastime of the Chinese, as well as in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and elsewhere.

Mahjong in the Western world

By 1895, Stewart Culin, an American anthropologist, wrote a paper in which Mahjong was mentioned. This is the first known written account of Mahjong in any language other than . By 1910, there were written accounts in many languages including and . In 1920, Abercrombie & Fitch became the first ever brand to introduce the game. It became a success in New York, and owner of the Company, Ezra Fitch, sent emissaries to Chinese villages to buy every set of Mahjong they could find. In the end, Abercrombie & Fitch sold a number of 12,000 sets. Later, an important English book was ''Rules of Mah-Jongg'', which, simplified in 1920, was simply known as the "''red book''". Although this was the earliest version of Mahjong that had been introduced to America, many of Babcock's simplifications were abandoned when the 1920s fad died out.

The game was a sensation in America when it was imported from China in the 1920s, as the same Mahjong game took on a number of trademarked names, such as ''Pung Chow'' or the ''Game of Thousand Intelligences''. Part of Mahjong nights in America was to decorate rooms in Chinese style and dress like Chinese. Several hit songs were also recorded during the mahjong fad, most notably "Since Ma is Playing Mah Jong" by Eddie Cantor.

American Mahjong, which was mainly played by women during the time, grew from this craze. By the 1930s, many revisions of the rules developed that were substantially different from Babcock's classical version . Standardization came with the formation of the National Mah Jongg League in 1937, along with the first American mahjong rulebook, ''Maajh: The American Version of the Ancient Chinese Game.''

While Mahjong was accepted by U.S. players of all ethnic backgrounds during the Babcock era, many consider the modern American version a Jewish game, as many American Mahjong players are of Jewish descent. In addition, players usually use the American game as a family-friendly social activity, not as gambling.

British author Alan D. Millington revived the Chinese Classical game of the 1920s with his book, ''The Complete Book of Mah-jongg'' . This handbook includes a formal rules set for the game. Many players in Western countries consider Millington's work authoritative.

Current development

Today, the popularity and the characteristics of players of Mahjong vary from country to country. There are also many governing bodies, which often host exhibition games and tournaments. It remains far more popular in Asia than in the West.

In Japan, there is a traditional emphasis on gambling and the typical player is male. Many devotees there believe the game is losing popularity and have taken efforts to revive it. In addition, Japanese video arcades have introduced that can be connected to others over the Internet.

Mahjong culture is still deeply ingrained in the Chinese community: Sam Hui wrote , using Mahjong as their themes. Hong Kong movies have often included scenes of Mahjong games. Gambling movies have been filmed time and again in Hong Kong, and a recent sub-genre is the Mahjong movie.

A recent study by doctors in Hong Kong concluded that the game can induce .

Type of game

Due to the solid form of the tiles, Mahjong is sometimes classified as a 'domino game'. This is unrealistic as the tiles are not double-headed like a western domino. Mahjong is more similar to western-style card games such as rummy with the unusual extra characteristic of having a 'hard' card.


There are many variations of mahjong. In many places, players often observe one version – and are either unaware of other variations or claim that different versions are incorrect. Although many variations today differ only by scoring, there are several main varieties:

* Chinese Classical Mahjong is the oldest variety of Mahjong, and was the version introduced to America in the 1920s under various names. It has a small, loyal following in the West, although few play it in Asia.
* Hong Kong Mahjong or Cantonese Mahjong is possibly the most common form of Mahjong, differing in minor scoring details with the Chinese Classical variety.
* Sichuan Mahjong is a growing variety, particularly in southern China, disallowing eating, and missing the "fa", "zhong", and other pieces. It can be played very quickly.
* Taiwanese Mahjong is the variety prevalent in Taiwan and involves hands of 16 tiles, as opposed to the 13-tile hands in other versions. It also features bonuses for dealers and recurring dealerships, and allows for multiple players to win from a single discard.
* Japanese Mahjong is a standardized form of Mahjong in Japan, found prevalently in video games. In addition to scoring changes, the rules of ''riichi'' and ''dora'' are unique highlights of Japanese Mahjong.
* Western Classical Mahjong is a descendant of the version of Mahjong introduced by Babcock to America in the 1920s. Today, this term largely refers to the Wright-Patterson rules, used in the U.S. military, and other similar American-made variants that are closer to the Babcock rules.
* American Mahjong is a form of Mahjong standardized by the and the – and makes the greatest divergence from traditional Mahjong. It uses Joker tiles, the Charleston, plus melds of five or more tiles, and eschews the Chow and the notion of a standard hand. Purists claim that this makes American Mahjong a separate game. In addition, the NMJL and AMJA variations, which differ by minor scoring differences, are commonly referred to as ''Mahjongg'' or ''Mah-jongg'' .
* 3-Player Mahjong is a simplified 3-person Mahjong which involves hands of 13 tiles, and total tiles of 84 on the table and uses Joker tiles as well. It only includes the ''tong zhi'' tiles or circular shapes of patterns on the tiles for which is different from the conventional Chinese mahjong which has bamboo patterns, 10-thousand and the tong zhi tiles. It has ''jackpot'' or ''Royal Flush'' rules of winning, in which whoever accumulates a point of 10 is considered to hit the jackpot, with that some would double the winning stake. There are advantages of playing this version of game because you need fewer people to start a game and the turnaround time of a game is short, hence it is considered a speedfast game.
* Malaysia Mahjong is a variant similar to Cantonese mahjong played in Malaysia. Unique elements of Malaysia mahjong are the four animal tiles as well as certain tweaks in the scoring rules, which allow payouts midway through the game if certain conditions, such as a ''kang'' are met.

Other variants include Fujian Mahjong , Vietnamese Mahjong , and Filipino Mahjong . In addition, Pussers Bones is a fast-moving variant developed by sailors in the Royal Australian Navy; it uses a creative alternative vocabulary, such as ''Eddie'', ''Sammy'', ''Wally'', and ''Normie'' instead of ''East'', ''South'', ''West'', and ''North.'

Mahjong Competition Rules

In 1998, in the interest of changing mahjong from an illegal gambling game to an approved 'healthy sport', the China State Sports Commission published a new set of rules, now generally referred to as Chinese Official rules or International Tournament rules. The principles of the new, ‘healthy’ mahjong are: no gambling – no drinking – no smoking. In international tournaments, players are often grouped in teams to emphasize that mahjong from now on is considered a sport.

The new rules are highly pattern-based. The rulebook contains 81 combinations, based on patterns and scoring elements popular in both classic and modern regional Chinese variants. Some table practices of Japan have also been adopted. Points for flower tiles may not be added until the player has scored 8 points. The winner of a game receives the score from the player who discard the winning tile, plus 8 basic points from each player; in the case of zimo , he receives the value of this round plus 8 points from all players.

The new rules were used in an international tournament first in Tokyo, where in 2002 the first World Championship in Mahjong was organized by the Mahjong Museum, the Japan Mahjong Organizing Committee and the city council of Ningbo, China, the town where it is believed mahjong most likely originated. One hundred players participated, mainly from Japan and China, but also from Europe and the United States. Miss Mai Hatsune from Japan became the first world champion. The following year saw the first annual China Majiang Championship, held in Hainan. The next two annual tournaments were held in Hong Kong and Beijing. Most players were Chinese, but players from other nations attended as well.

In 2005 the was held in the Netherlands, with 108 players. The competition was won by Masato Chiba from Japan. The , in Copenhagen, Denmark, 2007, with 136 players, was won by Danish player Martin Wedel Jacobsen. First Online European Mahjong Championship was held on server in 2007 with 64 players and the winner was Juliani Leo from USA and the best European Player was Gerda van Oorschot from Netherlands. The next European Championship will be held in Austria, 2009.

In 2006, the World Mahjong Organisation was founded in Beijing, China, with the cooperation of, amongst others, the Japan Mahjong Organizing Committee and the European Mahjong Association . This organization held its first World Championship in November 2007 in the Chinese town of Chengdu, which was won by Li Li, a Chinese student of Tsinghua University. There were 144 participants, from all over the world.

Critics say that the new rules are unlikely to achieve great popularity outside of tournaments. They argue that regional versions are too well-entrenched, while the Mahjong Competition Rules use many unfamiliar patterns. The new mahjong's advocates claim that it meant to be a standard for international events, not to replace existing variations.


Mahjong, can be played either with a set of Mahjong tiles, or a set of Mahjong playing cards ; one brand of Mahjong cards calls these ''Mhing''. Playing cards are often used when travelling as it reduces space and is lighter than their tile counterparts, but are of a lower quality in return. In this article, "tile" will be used to denote both playing cards and tiles.

Many Mahjong sets will also include a set of chips or bone tiles for scoring, as well as indicators denoting the dealer and the Prevailing Wind of the round. Some sets may also include racks to hold tiles or chips , with one of them being different to denote the dealer's rack.

Computer implementations of Mahjong are also available: these allow you to play against computer opponents, or against human opponents on the Internet.

A set of Mahjong tiles will usually differ from place to place. It usually has at least 136 tiles, most commonly 144, although sets originating from America or Japan will have more. Mahjong tiles are split into these categories: suits, honor and flowers.


*Dots: named as each tile consists of a number of circles. Each circle is said to represent can coins with a square hole in the middle.

*Bamboos: named as each tile consists of a number of bamboo sticks. Each stick is said to represent a string that holds a hundred coins. Note that 1 Bamboo is an exception. It has a bird sitting on a Bamboo. This is a belief that players cannot draw or add bamboo sticks to 1 Bamboo to change the tile to some other Bamboo.

*Characters: named as each tile represents ten thousand coins, or one hundred strings of one hundred coins.


*Wind tiles: East , South , West , and North .

*Dragon tiles: red, green, and white. The term ''dragon tile'' is a western convention introduced by Joseph Park Babcock in his 1920 book introducing Mahjong to America. Originally, these tiles are said to have something to do with the Chinese Imperial Examination. The red tile means you pass the examination and thus will be appointed a government official. The green tile means, consequently you will become financially well off. The white tile means that because a person is doing well they should act like a good, incorrupt official. It usually has a blue border to distinguish from replacement tiles and prevent players from secretly adding lines to effect a victory. In the original Chinese Majiong, the piece called "箭" , represents archery, the red "中" represents a hit on the target. In ancient Chinese archery, one would put a red "中" to signify that the target was hit. White "白" represents failure, green "發" means that one will release the draw.


*Flower tiles: The last category and typically optional components to a set of mahjong tiles, these tiles often contain artwork on their tiles. Many people prefer not to use these tiles due to the fact that they make it easier to win and earn bonus points. For example, if you have no flowers in your hand you get 1 bonus point, and 2 points for 2 bonus tiles of your seat

The 4 tiles below are flower tiles that represent , orchid, chrysanthemum, and bamboo, the of reckoning.

The 4 tiles below are seasonal tiles that represent , summer, autumn, and winter.

The suits of the tiles are money-based. In ancient China, the copper coins had a square hole in the center. People passed a rope through the holes to tie coins into strings. These strings are usually in groups of 100 coins called ''diào'' or 1000 coins called ''guàn'' . Mahjong's connection to the ancient Chinese currency system is consistent with its alleged derivation from the game named ''mǎ diào'' .

In the mahjong suits, the coppers represent the coins; the ropes are actually strings of 100 coins; and the character myriad represents 10,000 coins or 100 strings. When a hand received the maximum allowed winning of a round, it is called ''mǎn guàn''

Setting up the board

The following sequence is for setting up a standard Hong Kong game. Casual or beginning players may wish to proceed directly to gameplay. Shuffling the tiles is needed before piling up.

Game Wind and Prevailing Wind

To determine the Player Game Wind , each player throws three dice and the player with the highest total is chosen as the dealer or the banker . The dealer's Wind is now East, the player to the right of the dealer has South wind, the next player to the right has West and the fourth player has North. Game Wind changes after every round, unless the dealer wins. In some variations, the longer the dealer remains as the dealer, the higher the value of each hand.

The Prevailing Wind is always set to East when starting. It changes after the Game Wind has rotated around the board, that is, after each player has lost as the dealer.

A Mahjong set with Winds in play will usually include a separate Prevailing Wind marker and a pointer that can be oriented towards the dealer to show Player Game Wind. In sets with racks, a rack may be marked differently to denote the dealer.

These winds are also significant as winds are often associated with a member of a Flower tile group, typically 1 with East, 2 with South, 3 with West, and 4 with North.

Dealing tiles

All tiles are placed face down and shuffled. Each player then stacks a row of tiles two tiles high in front of him, the length of the row depending on the number of tiles in use:

* 136 tiles: 17 stacks for each player
** Suits of dots, bamboo, characters + Wind + Dragon
* 144 tiles: 18 stacks for each player
* 148 tiles: 19 stacks for dealer and player opposite, 18 for rest
* 152 tiles: 19 stacks for each player

The dealer throws three dice and sums up the total. Counting counterclockwise so that the dealer is '1', a player's row is chosen. Starting at the right edge, 'sum' tiles are counted and shifted to the right.

The dealer now takes a block of 4 tiles to the ''left'' of the divide.

The player to the dealer's right takes 4 tiles to the left, and players take blocks of 4 tiles until all players have 12 tiles for 13-tile variations and 16 for 16-tile variations. In 13-tile variations, each player then takes one more tile to make a 13-tile hand. In practice, in order to speed up the dealing procedure, the dealer often takes one extra tile during the dealing procedure to start their turn.

The board is now ready and new tiles will be taken from the wall where the dealing left off, proceeding clockwise. In some special cases discussed later, tiles are taken from the other end of the wall, commonly referred to as the back end of the wall. In some variations, a group of tiles at the back end, known as the dead wall, is reserved for this purpose instead. In such variations, the dead wall may be visually separated from the main wall, but it is not required.

Unless the dealer has already won , the dealer then discards a tile. The dealing process with tiles is ritualized and complex to prevent cheating. Casual players, or players with Mahjong playing cards, may wish to simply shuffle well and deal out the tiles with fewer ceremonial procedures.


In the American variations, it is required that before each hand begins, a Charleston is enacted. This consists of a procedure where three tiles are passed to the player on one's right, followed by three tiles passed to the player opposite, followed by three tiles passed to the left. If all players are in agreement, a second Charleston is performed, however, any player may decide to stop passing after the first Charleston is complete. The Charleston are followed by an optional pass to the player across of one, two or three tiles. This is a distinctive feature of American-style Mahjong that may have been borrowed from card games.


Each player is dealt either 13 tiles for 13-tile variations or 16 tiles for 16-tile variations. If a player is dealt a hand of tiles that is determined to be a winning hand , he or she may declare victory immediately before the game even begins. But this scenario of victory occurs very rarely.

A turn involves a player drawing a tile from the wall and then placing it in his or her hand. The player then discards a tile onto the table. This signals the end of his or her turn, prompting the player to the right to make his or her move. As a form of courtesy, each player is encouraged to announce loudly the name of the tile being discarded. Many variations require that discarded tiles be placed in an orderly fashion in front of the player, while some require that these be placed face down.

During gameplay, the number of tiles maintained by each player should always be the same, ie. 13 or 16. A player ''must'' discard a tile after picking up one. Failure to do so rules that player effectively out of winning , but he or she is obliged to continue until someone else wins.

When three players drop the West tile, the fourth player will usually avoid discarding another West the following turn. This is caused by a superstition that, when all the players discard a West together, all players will die or be cursed with bad luck . During the West Prevailing Wind Round, players will also avoid throwing in the One Circle during the first move because One Circle sounds like "together" in mandarin.

Flower tiles

Flower tiles, when dealt or drawn, must be immediately replaced by a tile from the dead wall, or if no dead wall exists, the back end of the wall. They are immediately exposed . At the start of each round, where two or more players may have flower tiles, flower tiles are replaced starting with the dealer and moving to the right. Flower tiles may or may not have point value; and in some variations, possession of all the flower tiles wins the round regardless of the actual contents of the hand.

In American Mahjong, however, Flower tiles are not instantly exposed and replaced, as they may be melded with other Flower tiles in the same group or be used as a requirement of a winning hand. Early versions of American Mahjong used Flower tiles as Joker tiles.

Joker tiles

A feature of several variations, most notably American variations of Mahjong, is the notion of wild card or Joker tiles. They may be used as a substitute for any tile in a hand . Depending on the variation, a player may replace a Joker tile that is part of an exposed meld belonging to any player with the tile it represents.

Rules governing discarding Joker tiles also exist: some variations permit the Joker tile to take on the identity of any tile, and others only permit the Joker tile to take on the identity of the previously discarded tile .

Joker tiles may or may not have an impact on scoring, depending on the variation. Some special hands may require the use of Joker tiles .

In American Mahjong, it is illegal to pass jokers during the Charleston.


When a player discards a tile, any other player may "call" or "bid" for it in order to complete a meld in his or her own hand. The disadvantage of doing this is that the player must now expose the completed meld to the other players, giving them an idea of what type of hand he or she is creating. This also creates an element of strategy, as in many variations, discarding a tile that allows another player to win the game causes the discarding player to lose points .

Most variants allow three types of melds. When a meld is declared through a discard, the player must state the type of the meld to be declared and place the meld face-up. The player must then discard a tile, and play continues to the right. Because of this, turns may be skipped in the process.

* Pong or Pung - A ''pong'' or ''pung'' is a set of three identical tiles. In American Mahjong, where it is possible to meld Flower tiles, a pong may also refer to a meld of three of the four flower tiles in a single group. American Mahjong may also have hands requiring a ''knitted triplet'' - three tiles of identical rank but of three different suits.
For example:; ; ; .

* Kong - A ''kong'' is a set of four identical tiles. Because all other melds contain three tiles, a Kong must be immediately exposed when explicitly declared. If the fourth tile is formed from a discard, it is said to be an ''exposed Kong'' . If all four tiles were formed in the hand, it is said to be a ''concealed Kong'' . In some forms of play, the outer two tiles of a concealed Kong are flipped to indicate its concealed status. It is also possible to form an exposed Kong if the player has an exposed Pung and draws the fourth tile. In any case, a player must draw an extra tile from the back end of the wall and discard as normal. Play then continues to the right. Once a Kong is formed, it cannot be split up , and thus, it may be advantageous not to immediately declare a Kong.
For example: ;

* Chow - A ''chow'' is a meld of three suited tiles in sequence. Unlike other melds, an exposed Chow may only be declared off the discard of the player on the left. The only exception is when the player needs that tile to form a chow to win. In this case, a chow can be declared at any 3 opponents' turns. American Mahjong does not have a formal ''chow'' , but some hands may require that similar sequences be constructed in the hand. Some American variations may also have the ''knitted sequence'', where the three tiles are of three different suits. Sequences of higher length are usually not permissible .
For example: ; ; ;

* Eye -The pair, while not a meld , is the final component to the standard hand. It consists of any two identical tiles. Two are the eyes in this case:

Note that American mah-jongg hands may have tile constructions that are ''not'' melds, such as "NEWS" . As they are not melds, they cannot be formed off discards, and in some variations, cannot be constructed in part or in whole by Joker tiles.

When two or more players call for a discarded tile, a player taking the tile to win the hand has precedence over all others, followed by ''pong'' or ''kong'' declarations, and lastly chows. In American Mahjong, where it may be possible for two players needing the same tile for melds, the meld of a higher number of identical tiles takes precedence. If two or more players call for a meld of the same precedence , the player closest to the right wins out . In particular, if a call to win overrides a call to form a kong, such a move is called ''robbing the Kong'', and may give a scoring bonus.

There is generally an informal convention as to the amount of time allowed to make a call for a discarded tile before the next player takes their turn. In American Mahjong, this "window of opportunity" is explicitly stated in the rules, whereas in other variants, it is generally considered that when the next player's turn starts , the opportunity has been lost.

Ready hands

When a hand is one tile short of winning , the hand is said to be a ready hand , or more figuratively, "on the pot". The player holding a ready hand is said to be ''waiting'' for certain tiles. It is common to be waiting for two or three tiles, and some variations award points for a hand that is waiting for one tile. In 13-tile Mahjong, the most amount of tiles that you can wait for is 13 . Ready hands must be declared in some variations of Mahjong, while other variations prohibit the same.

Some variations of Mahjong, most notably Japanese variations, allow a player to declare ''riichi'' . A declaration of ''riichi'' is a promise that any tile drawn by the player is immediately discarded unless it constitutes a win. A player who declares ''riichi'' and wins usually receives a point bonus for their hand, while a player who declares ''riichi'' and loses is usually penalized in some fashion. Declaring a nonexistent riichi is also penalized in some fashion.

In some variations, a situation in which all four players declare a ''riichi'' is an automatic drawn game, as it reduces the game down to pure luck .


If only the dead wall remains and no one has won, the round is drawn or "goulashed". A new round begins, and depending on the variant, Game Wind may change. For example, in most playing circles in Singapore, if there is at least one Kong in the round by any player, the following player becomes the dealer for the next round. If there is no Kong, then the existing dealer remains as the dealer for the next round.

Abortive draws

In Japanese Mahjong, abortive draws are possible. They can be declared under the following conditions:
* 九種么九牌倒牌 '':'' If, on a player's first turn, and with no melds declared, a player has nine different terminal or honor tiles, the player may declare the round to be drawn .
* 三家和 '':'' If three players claim the same discard in order to win the round, the round is drawn.
* 四風子連打 '':'' If, on the first turn without any meld declarations, all four players discard the same wind tile, the hand is drawn.
* 四家立直 '':'' If all four players declare ''riichi'', the round is drawn.
* 四槓算了 '':'' The round is drawn when the fourth kong is declared, unless all four kongs were declared by a single player. In this case, the round is drawn when another player declares a kong.


A player wins the round by creating a standard mahjong hand which consists of a certain number of melds, four for 13-tile variations and five for 16-tile variations, and a pair. Some variations may also require that winning hands be of some point value. If a player declares victory but is discovered to not be holding a winning hand, he or she suffers a penalty of having to pay all the opposing players .

If the player wins by drawing a tile from a wall during his turn, a special name is given to this type of win in Chinese and Japanese . If the player wins by taking a tile cast off by another player, in Japanese it is called ロン .
Variations may also have special nonstandard hands that a player can make .

Turns and rounds

If the dealer wins the game, they will stay as the dealer. Otherwise, the player to the right becomes dealer and the player's wind becomes the Game Wind, in the sequence East-South-West-North.

After the wind returns to East , a round is complete and the Prevailing Wind will change, again in the sequence East-South-West-North. A full game of mahjong ends after 4 rounds, ie. when the North Prevailing Wind round is over. It is often regarded as an unlucky act to stop the gameplay at the West round, as West has a similar sound to death in Chinese.

It is also generally considered poor etiquette to touch the shoulders of someone during the game as this is said to give bad luck to the player.

However, the Japanese variation differs in that the game starts on the East round, where a special table wind is assigned to all games in that round. The dealer is also always considered East seat, so when the dealership passes to the next player, it reassigns all the seat winds to the next player . After every player has been East at least once, the East round is over, and the South Round begins. Play usually ends after the South Round, however, if none of the players has above a certain amount, usually 30,000, then play will continue to West, and possibly even North Rounds.


Scoring in Mahjong involves points, with a monetary value for points agreed upon by players. Although in many variations scoreless hands are possible, many require that hands be of some point value in order to win the round.

While the basic gameplay is more or less the same throughout mahjong, the greatest divergence between variations lies in the scoring systems. Like the gameplay, there is a generalized system of scoring, based on the method of winning and the winning hand, from which Chinese and Japanese base their roots. American mahjong generally has greatly divergent scoring rules .

Because of the large differences between the various systems of scoring , groups of players will often agree on particular scoring rules before a game. As with gameplay, many attempts have been made to create an international standard of scoring, but most are not widely accepted.

Points are obtained by matching the winning hand and the winning condition with a specific set of criteria, with different criteria scoring different values. Some of these criteria may be subsets of other criteria , and in these cases, only the most general criterion is scored. The points obtained may be translated into scores for each player using some functions. When gambling with mahjong, these scores are typically directly translated into sums of money. Some criteria may be also in terms of both points and score.

Mahjong in Unicode

The Unicode range for Mahjong is U+1F000 .. U+1F02F. Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points.