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Background Information

Background Information

Mah Jongg (also spelt mahjongg, mahjong, and the Pinyin spelling of majiang) is a game for four players that originated in China. Mahjong involves skill, strategy, and calculation, as well as a certain degree of luck. 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. The object of the game is to build complete suits, or melds, usually of threes, from either 13 or 16 tiles. The first person to achieve this goal wins the game. The winning tile completes the player's set of either 14 or 17 tiles.

Myths & Debate

One of the myths of the origin of mahjong suggests that Confucius,[1] the great Chinese 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 (Cardinal) tiles also agree with the three Cardinal virtues bequeathed by Confucius.

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

The general consensus is that the game was developed from existing Chinese card and domino games sometime around 1850. Many historians believe it was based on a Chinese card game called Mádiào (also known as Ma Tiae, or Hanging Horse) 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.

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 Níngpō two brothers had created mahjong from the earlier game of Mádiào.


The 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 capitalist corruption. After the Cultural Revolution, the game was revived, and once again mahjong has become a favorite pastime of the Chinese. In Hong Kong, Macao, and elsewhere, however, mahjong has always been popular, particularly among the Cantonese.

Game Variations

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. Next year, for the first time in history, an international riichi tournament will be held. This European Riichi Mahjong Championship will take place in Hanover, Germany.

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 National Mah Jongg League and the American Mah-Jongg Association - 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 (with two Gs, often hyphenated).

Malaysian 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, 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 which some would double the winning stake. There are advantages of playing this version of game because you need less people to start a game and the turnaround time of a game is short, hence it is considered a speedfast game.