Corrections and clarifications to Mah-Jong (Know the Game)

Mah-Jong, Know the Game (KTG)

There are some mistakes/ambiguities – acknowledged by the authors – in the official explanation of the BMJA rules (2nd edition 2002, 3rd edition 2008) of “Mah-Jong (Know the Game)” by Gwyn Headley and Yvonne Seeley.

These corrections and qualifications are highlighted here to avoid any confusion. They have come to light as a result of the many and various questions sent by visitors to my website since it was launched in 2008 (often just seeking an explanation of a particular rule).

My thanks to them and to Gwyn and Yvonne for responding to my emails with the relayed questions.

The website (blessed with no space constraints, an ease of correction and the help of the authors) is able to give these corrections and qualifications. And their current state is reflected here.



Paying double when East Wind

The following statement (KTG 3rd edition, p28) is incorrect:
The prevailing Wind player always scores double and pays double to all the other players”

See statement (2nd edition p24, 3rd edition p34):
“There are two points to remember: every player, no matter what his score, pays the player who goes Mah-Jong, and East Wind always pays and receives double.”

  • Description used here:
    “Settling Up”
    “If East Wind wins then everyone pays him double his score. If another player wins then East Wind pays or receives double the difference between his score and that of the other players.
    This rule holds for East Wind even when the prevailing Wind changes from East to South.”

Scoring a double for a concealed hand when you go Mah-Jong

Described as (KTG 2nd edition p23, 3rd edition p33):
“All concealed hand of different suits with Winds and/or Dragons”

  • Description used here:
    “Doubling – For the player who goes Mah-Jong”
    “All tiles are concealed and are from one or
     more suits with Dragons and/or Winds”
    (Questions Answered): “You might expect a concealed hand of the same suit with Winds and/or Dragons to give you the special hand of “Buried treasure”. But if your hand contains a kong or a chow, this special hand is nullified. So in these cases having just one suit (with Winds and/or Dragons) would give you a double. If the hand doesn’t contain a pung, kong or pair of Dragons/Winds (and no chow) then it is the special hand of Purity.”

Doubling for all 1s & 9s when you go Mah-Jong

Described as (KTG 2nd edition p23, 3rd edition p33):
“All 1s and 9s with Winds and/or Dragons”

Description used here:
“Doubling – For the player who goes Mah-Jong”
“All tiles are 1s and/or 9s with some Dragons and/or Winds (All tiles are majors)”

This makes the rule consistent with the clarifications given for other doubles involving suits.

Special hand – Buried Treasure

Described as “Concealed pungs in one suit with Winds/Dragons and a pair” (KTG 2nd edition p30, 3rd edition p40) but with an illustration (in the 3rd edition) showing a Mah-Jong hand of just Characters.

  • Description used here
    “Buried Treasure
    Concealed pungs and a pair using one suit and (optionally) Winds and/or Dragons.”

Special hands: Going Mah-Jong with the final discard

The authors of the BMJA rules have allowed another doubling (of the bonus tile score) if a player goes Mah-Jong with the final discard tile for a special hand that scores less than 1,000.
For example:
….. A player calls Mah-Jong – with the final discard tile – for the special hand of Triple knitting.

….. He also has 2 bonus tiles, one for his own Wind (which gives 1 double).
….. His score would be 4 + 4 = 8 x 2 x 2 = 32 + 500 = 532


Constructing the wall – How the corners should touch

When I was constructing my website I looked at the 2nd edition of “Know the Game – Mah-Jong” and found that some photographs showed the overlap of the walls so the right end is inside and some the other way around. The explanation for building the walls just said, “The walls must touch in the corners…”.

So I referred to A. D. Millington‘s book, “The Complete Book of Mah-Jongg” – generally cited as an authoritative text on classical Chinese Mah-Jong (from which the BMJA rules derive) – and found the following:

“By tradition, the walls are pushed together so that each stands in at the right end, and out at the left. This arrangement is of no consequence as far as the play of the game is concerned: but it is one of the formal ceremonies which give Mah-Jongg its Character. The walls represent the walls of a Chinese city, and their formation into a neat and tight-fitting square is said ‘to keep the devils out’ “.

The 3rd edition of “Know the Game” – published after my website had been constructed – had new photographs, but again with the variation of overlaps and no specific instructions on this matter.

So I have used the rule given by Millington: “the right side of the wall should be on the inside.”  


The set of tallies generally only gives a player 2,000 points. This is sometimes not enough.

I think the authors of the BMJA rules adopted the tallies used in another form of the game which didn’t result in such high scores (so much). I have mentioned this in my website and suggested some remedies. See Equipment → More on tallies

The answer, I think, is to either use some coins and assign them the value of 1,000 / 2,000 points or buy a different type of tally and use that similarly.

Clockwise & anti-clockwise

This can be confusing. Nearly everything is done anti-clockwise (East, South, West North):

  • Counting which wall to break
  •  The order in which players are dealt tiles
  • The player whose turn it is next
  • Exchanging Flower or Season tiles after the deal
  • Determining who takes precedence if more than one person declares Mah-Jong
  • Changing East Wind
  • Changing the prevailing Wind

But some things are done clockwise:

  • Counting along the wall to determine where it is to be broken (before dealing tiles to the players)
  • Picking the tiles from the wall to deal to the players
  • Picking the next live tile from the wall

Kong box and loose tiles

Placing the loose tiles

The two tiles which are picked up from the start of the kong box (the end nearest the start of the live wall) are placed on top of the kong box in sequence – I put the bottom one down first and the top one behind it, going anti-clockwise. (KTG specifies placing them on the first & third pair from the left).

Taking a loose tile

If there are two loose tiles you should pick up the one furthest from the start of the kong box.

Replacing the loose tiles

When the second loose tile has been picked up, the loose tiles should immediately be replenished (following a procedure similar to that described above).

Concealed kongs

Although you would normally declare a concealed kong (so that you can pick up a replacement tile from the kong box) you do not need to do this immediately. You may wish to save it with a view to collecting the special hand of “All pair honours”.If a concealed kong is left in your hand at the end of the game it will still contribute to your score.

Once a concealed kong has been declared it cannot be taken back into the hand.

A concealed pung can be converted into a concealed kong if the player picks up the fourth tile from the wall – but not by claiming another player’s discard.

Concealed kongs are shown with the two middle tiles face up and the end ones face down. (Exposed kongs are shown with just one end tile face down).


Concealed pairs & Mah-Jong

A pair claimed from a discard which allows a player to go Mah-Jong is not concealed and so destroys an otherwise concealed hand. However, this does not apply to the special hand of “Buried treasure”.

Scoring a pair of East Winds

A pair of East Winds (providing East Wind is the prevailing Wind) will give the player who is East Wind 4 points – 2 for having his own Wind and 2 for having the prevailing Wind.

Fishing / Calling / One for Mah-Jong

Players should announce that they are “one for Mah-Jong” or “fishing” when they realise that they have a “calling hand”, where just one tile is needed to go Mah-Jong. It warns the other players.

Failed to say “I’m fishing”

You can still go Mah-Jong if you have not said that you are fishing. There are no official penalties, but if you want to introduce one you should agree upon it before you play. I’m of the view that is just merits some tut-tutting.

No longer fishing

If a player declares that he is “fishing” he can subsequently change a tile in his hand which means he is no longer fishing (though, for etiquette, he should say that he is “no longer fishing”).

Tile wanted is dead

If a player is fishing for a special hand, but unable to realise that hand because the tile he wants is dead, he is still able to claim the fishing points when another player goes Mah-Jong.

Going Mah-Jong


If more than one person calls “Mah-Jong” – claiming the last discard – then the player nearest to the right of the discarder (i.e. going in an anti-clockwise direction) takes precedence.

And East Wind

If East Wind doesn’t go Mah-Jong, South Wind then becomes East Wind and the other Winds change accordingly – West becomes South, North becomes West and West becomes North.

Prevailing Wind

Changing it

The prevailing Wind changes from East to South when every player has been East Wind. It changes to West and then to North if the session lasts long enough for East Wind to do two more circuits.

Effect on scoring

If the player who is the prevailing Wind collects a pung or kong of that Wind then he will get two doubles for it – one for the prevailing Wind and one for it being his own Wind.
Similarly, a pair of the prevailing Wind would give him 4 points rather than 2.

Special hands

Using the intrinsic value of your tiles

Occasionally, using the intrinsic value of your tiles (i.e the score as you would normally calculate it), will give you a higher score than the special hand that you were attempting.
This applies particularly when you are fishing and someone else goes Mah-Jong.
Only for one special hand, namely “Purity”, could a Mah-Jong hand give you a higher instrinsic value than the special hand itself – and then only in somewhat unusual circumstances.

Doubles from Flowers and Seasons

Special hands and “calling” special hands (i.e. the player is fishing when another goes Mah-Jong) which score below the 1,000 limit can apply doubling for ‘own Flower’, ‘own Season’ and ‘bouquets’, but the doubling only apples to the score from the bonus tiles – not the score from the full hand.
(See the example hand of West in KTG 2nd edition p27, 3rd edition p37)
So, if West has calling hand of ‘The wriggling snake’ which contains two bonus tiles, one a Season 3, then the player would receive 400 + 8 x 2 = 416 points.


KTG:  “Pungs/kongs of any one suit and a pair. No Winds, Dragons or chows


  • The basic score is doubled 3 times. This does not include any points for Flowers & Seasons, which are counted and doubled separately
  • No Winds, Dragons or chows are allowed
  • The basic score includes the 20 points for going Mah-Jong (but, obviously, not if you are fishing)
  • You get an extra 2 points if the winning tile is drawn from the wall (the live wall or the kong box)
  • Having a concealed hand makes no difference to the number of doubles – it’s always 3 (unless the player goes Mah-Jong with the final discard)
  • If you can obtain a higher score using the intrinsic value of your hand (where you have sufficient bonus tiles) then you may score this way if you wish. In this case the doubling would apply to the basic score obtained by the whole hand

All pair honours

KTG:  “Seven pairs of 1s / 9s / Winds / Dragons”


  • 1s and 9s are allowed, even though they are not honour tiles. (“All pair honours” is the traditional name given to this hand)
  • You can have two pairs of the same tile (e.g. two pairs of Green Dragons)
  • You need to keep them in your hand, and not declare them as a kong
  • They would count as a kong, should someone else go Mah-Jong before you are fishing
  • Any combination of major tile pairs is allowed


KTG:  “Seven pairs of tiles in any two out of the three suits; no Winds or Dragons”


  • Duplicate pairs are allowed

Tripple knitting

KTG:  “Four sets of three tiles in the different suits and a pair; no Winds or Dragons”


  • Duplicate triplets are allowed

Buried treasure

KTG:  “Concealed pungs in one suit with Winds/Dragons and a pair”


  • The Winds/Dragons are optional
  • No kongs or chows are allowed
  • The honour/suit tiles can just be in the pair
  • You can pung the last set, or claim a discard to form a pair, so as to go Mah-Jong
  • A concealed kong must stay in your hand until you are able to discard the fourth tile
  • The pair must be in the same suit or of a Wind / Dragon
  • A hand with pungs of Winds and/or Dragons and a suit pair would also be Buried treasure

All Winds and Dragons

KTG:  “Pungs/kongs of Winds/Dragons; no suit tiles”


  • The pair must be of Winds or Dragons

Fourfold plenty

KTG:  “Four kongs and a pair”


  • The suits can be mixed

The gates of heaven

KTG:  “A concealed pung of 1s, a concealed pung of 9s, a run from 2 to 8 with one pair, all in the same suit”


  • You can pung the last set to go Mah-Jong

The goulash

Stopping the swapping

Normally the swapping must be done, even though a player may actually prefer to keep his tiles. However, there are a couple of scenarios where these exchanges can be avoided:

  • East Wind is able to go Mah-Jong immediately with the special hand of “Heaven’s blessing”
  • Any player who is one tile away from Mah-Jong and declares that he is fishing, does not have to make any exchanges. However, he must then keep to this hand for the remainder of the game.

The remaining players would then exchange tiles in the usual way unless they all agree not to bother.
Should either of these scenarios occur during the swapping process, the same rules would apply.

Wild tiles

The number of wild tiles that you can use to create a kong, pung and pair is limited…

  • Only one wild tile can be used to make a pair or a pung
  • No more than 2 wild tiles can be used to make a kong
  • You can use 3 or 4 wild tiles to make a special hand, but not as a pung/kong of just wild tiles

There is one exception to the above restrictions. If a player picks up a wild tile which would allow him to go Mah-Jong, an additional wild tile can be used to make a pair or a pung.