Mah Jongg Etiquette

The last couple of months I have had the pleasure of introducing the game of Mah Jongg to over 100 new friends. Nothing makes me happier than helping people discover how fun Mah Jongg can be. I go over so much information in each of these classes that it is impossible for people to remember all of it. One thing that seems unimportant when first learning is the etiquette of the play. Thinking back on the first year I learned to play I can remember just having a hard time playing attention to what hand I was playing.

So for the benefit of all my new players, and old players alike I want to remind everyone of the rules that make playing together more pleasant. No one wants to be the person at the table who is annoying, so it’s best to follow these rules.

Building the wall

Try and be quick about building your wall. It is the dull part of Mah Jongg so no need to drag it out longer than it has to be. That means learn to stack tiles with two hands and help your neighbor once you have finished your wall. You can build and talk at the same time.

Dealing the tiles

When you start getting your first four tiles from the wall, do not turn them over and put them on your rack, but place them as a stack of two-on-two on the table inside your rack. As one of my students said, “put your tiles between the rack and your rack.” Like In cards, you do not look at your tiles as they are being dealt, but wait until you have gotten all 13, or 14 tiles you are due, depending on if you are East or not.

The Charleston

Plan on spending no more than two or three minutes at the beginning of the Charleston to find the three tiles you are going to pass. Once the Charleston starts you should aim to spend no more than 15-20 seconds to figure out your next pass. Don’t hold the whole table up scanning your whole card weighing every option.

When you have the three tiles ready to pass, place them in front of the rack of the person you are passing to. Unless you are a very experienced group of players, everyone should wait until all players have passed their tiles before you pick yours up. This saves confusion about which pass you all are on.

The Play—After a Tile has been discarded

If anyone at the table thinks they are interested in the tile that was just discarded, make a clear indication you want to think about it by saying, “hold, call, wait…” you should not spend more than 10-15 seconds deciding. You can always say, “pass or never mind,” if you don’t want it, but if the next player picks up the next tile from the wall and racks it, you have missed your chance.

If you are a group of relatively new players, it is courteous to take a beat after a tile is discarded before the next player picks so that everyone at the table has a chance for the discarded tile to register with them.

Exchanging a tile for an Exposed Joker

The etiquette on this is very clear. If, at your turn, you have the real tile that is in another player’s exposed rack where a joker is acting as that tile you make make and exchange for that joker. The play goes, pick your new tile first, then make your exchange by saying to the person with the exposure, “I’d like to exchange my tile for your joker.” You hand the person your real tile and only they touch their rack and pick up the joker and hand it to you. Never put your tile on someone else’s rack and snatch back their joker.

If your hand goes dead

Never announce to the table your hand is dead. If someone asks you if it is, then you must tell the truth and stop playing. If your hand goes dead far enough into the game it is unlikely you will be able to change hands. Don’t slow the pace of the game down to a snails pace. Just pick up and discard tiles as if you are really going for something. You don’t want to be the person no one wants to play with because you slow the game down too much.

General Etiquette

Never discuss out loud what hand you think other people are playing. Just because you think someone needs a flower, it is very wrong to announce it.

Playing faster is an important goal for new players. If you are brand new playing a game should not take you more than 40 minutes. After playing a few months you should be able to get to 30 minutes a game. After a year or two 20 minutes should be your goal.

It is very generous of experienced players to play with new players and help them, but as a new player if you get terribly lost during one game, just pick up a d discard and ask for advice after the game is over. This is a game meant to be played fairly quickly.

If anyone has any other questions of etiquette, please send them in the comments and I will be happy to answer them. Happy playing.

One Comment on “Mah Jongg Etiquette”

  1. Gussy says:

    This is do helpful! I am taking classes this winter at the Woman’s Club.

    You are in my thoughts. Sounds like a lovely celebration of your father tomorrow.


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