Mahjong players want to know!

This FAQ covers specific rules questions, common misunderstandings, and other details concerning the Official International Rules. Read this section to learn the ins and outs of the world standard of mahjong!

Q: Why is it not possible to score for No Honors when a hand includes All Chows or All Simples?

A: All Chows and All Simples are each defined as having no honors. In other words, both patterns already imply no honors, and therefore, the point for No Honors is not counted. As a rule, points are not counted for elements that are implied by the completion of a pattern. Similarly, consider the patterns that are by definition concealed hands (such as Seven Pairs and Four Concealed Pungs). If you pick the tile to complete one of these hands, you do not score 4 points for Fully Concealed Hand, but just 1 point for Self-Drawn (since it can be taken from another player, and Self-Drawn is therefore not implied).

Q: Experienced players are aggressive about melding sets, but as a beginning player, I have trouble determining what the proper timing is for taking action. Can you offer any hints about melding for the beginning player?

A: The initial challenge for a new player is envisioning possible patterns. Take a look at a starting hand, and think of all the possible patterns. The more patterns you can think of, the more flexibility you will afford yourself. And once you learn to recognize all the possible patterns, you will be able to make judgments about which tiles to claim, and at what timing.

But it will take time to master this approach. Therefore, if you are a beginning player, try this: start out by melding a “prime chow.” Prime chows are chows of 123, 456, or 789. The value of these chows is high, since they can be used toward building many of the core patterns of International Rules, including Mixed Triple Chow, Mixed Shifted Chows, Mixed Straight, Pure Straight, and Pure Shifted Chows.

For example, imagine that you are holding , and the player to your left discards . That’s right, it’s time to meld a prime chow of . Now you have , which sets you up to build either a Pure Straight or Pure Shifted Chows. Pick and complete Pure Straight. Pick and complete Pure Shifted Chows. Or, claim one of these tiles from the player to your left, as in , to be one tile away from Mixed Shifted Chows.

If you are not sure what patterns to build, start by melding a prime chow. This way, you can complete a core set that can be used as a building block for a variety of patterns. The tiles you draw after melding the chow will determine which patterns you will build. It may seem like a blunt strategy, but you will be surprised at how effective in can be.

Q: I saw a player pass up a winning tile thrown by a player, and then self-draw the same tile. He said it was worth the chance, since one gains more points by finishing self-drawn. Was this player’s strategy correct?

A: This player was certainly correct in pointing out that self-drawn hands score higher. As illustrated by the graph below, the higher-scoring the hand is, the more points are gained from self-drawing the hand as opposed to going out on a player’s discard. For a minimal hand of 8 points, self-drawing yields 150% the score. But for very large hands, a score can jump up by as much as 260% when self-drawn. The larger the hand, the more a player gains from self-drawing the winning tile.

However, this also tells us that for smaller hands, the point difference is minimal. What does this imply? That you should not let a winning hand slip through your fingers in an attempt to earn a few extra points.

In many cases, even if you hold a two-chance wait, only one of the tiles will complete your pattern and allow you to go out. In other words, with so few tiles to complete your hand, it is often difficult to win self-drawn. In such cases, we certainly do not recommend passing up winning tiles in an attempt to pick the tile yourself. The best way to take the lead is to go out repeatedly on quick, small hands rather than one large hand. If you must pass up winning tiles, only do it when you have a multiple-chance wait where every tile completes your hand, or when you’re on the very last hand of the game and you need a specific number of points to win the game.

Q: At times, I find myself with no high-scoring pattern and instead with just a lot of small-scoring ones. When this happens, I’m not sure if I have 8 points or not. Are there any simple techniques for handling the more detailed scoring?

A: Many players are surprised by the number of patterns in the Official International Rules. And of course, every player must learn to build patterns that add up to at least 8 points. As one strategy, players begin by learning the patterns that score at least 8 points by themselves, or patterns that are very close to 8 points (such as Mixed Shifted Chows and All Types). But this presents a problem. Sometimes you will not be so lucky to have a high-scoring pattern within reach. You will not always be able to meld prime chows. And in these cases, you should keep your hand concealed, and try to just barely clear the 8-point minimum. If you wish to master scoring, we recommend using a special solo practice technique. First, ignore all hands. Next, draw and discard until you have made ready. When you do, count up, precisely, the number of points. By repeating this process, you will learn which hands can be completed on a player’s discard, which must be self-drawn, and which are completely lacking in sufficient points. Once you can quickly spot the 1-point hands (such as Pure Double Chow, Mixed Double Chow, Short Straight, Two Terminal Chows, Terminal Pung, Honor Pung, No Honors, and Voided Suit) and the 2-point hands (Double Pung and Two Concealed Pungs), you will be a big step toward mastering the fine points of scoring.

Q: One person told me “When in doubt, just discard your honors.” Is this correct strategy?

A: Well, the short answer is, usually. The reason is that All Chows-based hands are easy to build, and inclusion of any honors prevents you from building these hands. The player you spoke with probably meant “get rid of your honors, then consider what patterns you can build from there,” which is not a bad strategy.

However, you will not always have starters that allow you to build an All Chows-based hand. Sometimes you will find yourself with many honors. In such cases, you should be building one of the pair-friendly hands (All Pungs, Half Flush, All Types, Seven Pairs), in which honors will play an important role. In other words, you should not develop a habit of automatically discarding honors, but should rather consider the types patterns that are optimal based on your given starters.

Q: I can score 1 point for a single wait or for a closed wait. Why can’t I score a point for a 2-chance single wait such as ?

A: The point for your wait is scored only if you are waiting on one distinct tile. Open chow waits and double pung waits score zero. Single waits, closed waits, and edge waits score 1 point. When you have a pattern such as which can be interpreted as a combination of a single wait and a closed wait, you score nothing because you are waiting on 2 or more tiles. The corollary to this is . This can be seen as either an edge wait or a closed wait, but since the only tile you can complete it with is , you score 1 point despite it being a “combination” wait.

Q: Is it possible to practice Official International Rules with just three players?

A: Official International Rules can be played by three players.

In fact, there are official rule adjustments for use in international tournaments. First place scores 4 tables points, second place 2, and third place 1. So, if you end up with a three-handed table, at least you know you won’t leave without at least gaining a point!

However, with three players, you play only 12 hands. In the standard 4-player game, you would play 16 hands, but with three players, you play 3 hands each of rounds East, South, West, and North. With fewer hands, players who play for the faster, smaller hands will have an advantage.