u3a - Mahjong

Contact the adviser


I do hope you are all enjoying Mahjong once again.  If you can meet in an airy room which is not overcrowded all should be well.  Enjoy!

Do message me if you have any queries.

You can download/print my book with ‘step by step’ instructions on how to play Mahjong based on British Mahjong Rules at the bottom of this page. (31 pages)

If your u3a wants me to do a Workshop for a day– if they could pay my travel expenses from Lymington, Hampshire  – I would be delighted to do so.

I am doing one for Isle of Wight u3a in November and I am booked to do a 4 day course at Chichester Summer School next June – but places will be limited, of course.

There are several good sites for learning the game. You can go on to Facebook or YouTube and watch ‘How to play Mahjong’. There is a very good written explanation on this site:-

https://wonderful-things.org/2013/09/08/how-to-play-british-rules-mahjong/  and also this one https://mahjong-britishrules.com/introduction  also my own book which has step by step instructions on how to play -  available to download below   

Have fun! 

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Websites which permit multi-player play:

There is a way for two homes to play Mah-Jong remotely. Please use the link supplied by Peter Gregory: Here is a link to my Mah-Jong, British Rules website where he has explained how to do this. This works for BMJA rules and it appears it can be applied to other versions of the game as well.

Mah Jong Time - http://www.mahjongtime.com/ - offers a free trial. Runs on Adobe Flash or Adobe Air so is limited to computers with web browsers which can support Flash. Also, Adobe Flash is being discontinued in nine months' time, yet Mah Jong Time is still using it. Does not play British rules, but does play American, Chinese Official, and Hong Kong. Has a complex system of "coins" and "chips" with which one can buy entry into games, as well as add-ons for the games. The free trial allows between one and four free games per day (1000 chips allocated per day, minimum entry fee per game is 250 chips). Free trial cannot host games, but can only join other games.

National Mah Jongg League - https://www.nmjl.org/game/home.html - does *not* offer a free trial; you must pay $50 up-front for a year's subscription to the game. In addition, you must also have an active subscription to the League itself; this costs $8, which gets you a membership number which is required for registration of the game's subscription, as well as a printed copy of this year's list of rules and permitted hands (or $9 for a large-print version). The NMJL changes the list of approved hands annually; it's a totally different beast to BMJA. At the time of writing the NMJL is closed due to COVID-19 and is not sending out cards until the offices re-open. The game appears to play solely in the web browser without requiring any extras, but I wasn't willing to pony up fifty bucks on-spec so this is only speculation.

Real Mah Jongg - https://realmahjongg.com/ - offers a fully-functional fourteen-day trial. Plays in any modern web browser which can support HTML 5, so isn't restricted solely to a limited range of computers. Plays only American NMJL rules so, as above, players must have a copy of the NMJL card to know the valid hands. However, the game supports NMJL cards from 2017, 2018, and 2019 (and will soon be updated with the 2020 card), so anyone who can buy a 2019 card may still be able to play. Yesterday I ordered a 2019 card from https://www.mahjonggmaven.com/ which appears to still be open for business... for now. (I also ordered a copy of the 2020 card direct from the NMJL itself, but expect to wait several weeks or months before it finally arrives.)

My Jongg - https://www.myjongg.net/ - offers a fully-functional free tier, capped at 8 hands per day. Like Real Mah Jongg, it plays in any modern web browser which supports HTML 5. Also like Real Mah Jongg, it plays only American NMJL rules. However, unlike Real Mah Jong, My Jongg's support for NMJL goes back to 2014. And some kind soul has uploaded a copyright-infringing copy of the NMJL 2014 card to Boardgame Geek. So, in extremis, anyone who's willing to learn American NMJL rules from six years ago can get a game at this website for free.

Four Winds Mahjong

Four Winds Mah Jong (4WMJ) allows players to customise many aspects of the rules, including imposing caps on the number of chows and whether or not to permit dirty/mixed hands or to require clean/single-suit hands.

To change the number of allowed chows, go to File -> Preferences -> Rules -> Winning & Draw. Then select from the "Rule preset" drop-down list at the top-right of this box. You can see the restrictions on clean hands ("No mixed suits") and the maximum number of chows both in this window, in the section titled "Restrictions on winning".

If you select a specific Rule preset, e.g. "British Official", then you cannot change the parameters. However, if instead you go to the bottom of the drop-down list and select "Customized", the parameters become available to edit. And now you can cap the number of chows allowed and force players to play clean.

In addition, multi-player on a local network and across the Internet may be possible, but require some advanced knowledge of how to configure one's Internet router and firewall. As every router is different, the game programmer does not give specific instructions, but the game's Help file gives details of which network ports and protocols must be permitted for a multi-player game to work; see the FAQ section for those details.

User Guides for playing Online

Instructions for playing Mahjong Online

Instructions for Setting up Playing Mahjong Online

'Lockdown Mahjong' using 'Houseparty'

Picture Tiles

   Mahjong History

The counters dice and wind discs have been portrayed as far back as the Han Dynasty  (202BC-220AD).  Records of the Chung Dynasty 960-1279AD show a similar game to MJ known as Ma Chuek which was played with 40 curved pieces similar to dominoes, as a gambling game. So the origin is partly based on a Chinese form of dominoes and a card game similar to rummy called ‘108 Brigands’  popular since 17th century [There are 108 suit tiles in the game of Mahjong]

Mahjong as we know it is believed to have developed in the Ningpo region of China in the 1870s – it was further developed in China with each region having its own rules with special hands. Chinese children learned to play  by watching, so there were no written instructions – no standardised rules.

Joseph P Babcock who was a rep for the Standard Oil Company in Suzhou collected and interpreted the many conflicting variations throughout China.  Arabic numbers engraved on to the tiles were first intro by Mr Babcock in 1920 when he imported to the USA sets of tiles in sufficient quantity.   He simplified the game and introduced a standard set of rules which could easily be understood giving us the game of Mahjong as we know it today.

In its present form Mahjong is most closely linked to rummy -   Sets of 3 or 4 tiles to complete a set common in both games. It has its own terminology and suits there are 108 suit tiles, 16 wind tiles, 12 dragon tiles, four flower tiles and 4 season tiles – total 144 + 4 white ‘joker’ tiles for use if no one goes Mahjong and a deciding game called a ‘Goulash’ has to be played. The game has evolved in China, Japan, NZ US & Britain with differing national characteristics.

The Chinese game is a fast, noisy and stylised form of rummy played for high stakes, whereas the Western game appears to Eastern eyes as slow, unnecessarily complicated and of little interest as far as gambling is concerned.

The U3A has a book (due to be revised) that you can buy if you wish to teach yourself Mahjong.  It costs £4.  It is based on British Mahjong Association Rules.  Some people play using the Australian book ‘The Game of Mahjong Illustrated by P A Thompson & Betty Maloney’ which clearly explains and illustrates the game - with an easy scoring system.

Hilvary Robinson is the Subject Adviser and you can contact her above.

   The Game


The advanced game requires some skill, strategy and calculation - a whole game could take 5 hours. [Needless to say we stop after an agreed length of time rather than play to the end]  It may not be as intellectual as chess or as easy as backgammon  or as chancy as poker but it is probably not as addictive as bridge.  However, no other game uses such beautiful equipment. The quality of the set adds to the pleasure of the game.  It is fun to play – the outcome is determined by mental or physical skill as well as chance.

Mahjong is a game for 2,3, or 4 players – usually played by 4 as individuals.   Players have a special routine for choosing who will break the ‘Great Wall of China’ and each player takes 13 tiles then East Wind takes a 14th – so that they are first to discard a tile.   Each player takes one tile from the wall at a time in turn anti-clockwise.

The objective of the game is to obtain a complete set of 4 defined groups of three or four tiles and one pair i.e. 14 tiles – [ no discarded tile] in order to call Mahjong.  There is a selection of ‘Special’ hands that can be collected in order to score more highly.

The Tiles


There are three suits Circles, Bamboo and Characters – 4 of each of the numbers 1-9 = 108 plus 16 wind tiles, 12 dragon tiles, four flower tiles and 4 season tiles – a total 144 + 4 white ‘joker’ tiles for use if no one goes Mahjong and a deciding game called a ‘Goulash’ has to be played.

Play starts by throwing two dice to see who will be East Wind first.  The tiles are ‘twittered’ (mixed up) and East Wind calls ‘Pow’ when he/she considers them sufficiently stirred. Players each proceed to place 18 tiles in front of them and build another 18 on top – the tiles are then moved forward to create ‘The Great Wall of China’.  The dice are thrown again by East Wind to decide who will break the wall.  The person due to break the wall throws the dice again and adds the two scores together to decide where the break should be by counting the tiles from his/her right hand side and pushing two tiles out and placing them on top of the wall.  These last 14 loose tiles form the ‘Flower or Season Wall/Kong Wall’ and are only used when a player picks up a Flower or Season or forms a Kong (a set of 4 tiles the same).  Players take 4 tiles each in an anti-clockwise direction starting with East Wind until everyone has 13 tiles – East Wind then takes a 14th tile. Play begins by East Wind discarding a tile face up leaving 13 on the rack.  If someone wants it and already have 2 tiles the same on their rack they call ‘Pung’ and take it and display it in front of them.  There are other rules for forming a ‘Chow’ which is a run of three tiles – but only 1 ‘Chow’ is allowed per hand and it does not attract any score.

Play continues until some calls ‘Mahjong’ or all the tiles are used up (apart from the Loose Tiles).  If the game is unfinished then a ‘Goulash’ is played by adding the 4 ‘Joker’ tiles.  The rules are slightly different but the game is played in the same way.



Mahjong Book Updated version September 2021    MahjongBookSeptemberFINAL2021UPDATED2 (1.21 MB)    

Below is a great guide to playing Mah Jong by Dr Paul Roebuck from Keyworth District U3A (Nottinghamshire).

Mahjong for Keyworth U3A   Mahjong for Keyworth U3A (2.61 MB)

Further information can be obtained from:  Mahjong-BritishRules.com