I Learned How to Play Mahjong in 2 Minutes Thanks to This TikTok

I Learned How to Play Mahjong in 2 Minutes Thanks to This TikTok
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The hardest part about playing a new game is learning all the rules. While some people prefer to learn by doing or reading the instructions, others prefer to watch. Sometimes observing other people play can unlock a feeling of FOMO and sometimes it can result in confusion. Mahjong was always one of those games that puzzled me. To the un-keen eye, watching a group of people snatch patterned tiles from the centre can seem aggressive and confusing. At least, until I watched this TikTok.

Go on, give it a watch. I’ll wait.


#mahjong #fyp #tiktok

♬ original sound – Panda Mahjong

Does anyone else find the sound of the tiles clacking against the table satisfying?

What is mahjong?

Image: iStock/umdash9

Mahjong is a popular game that’s played in Asian countries and is often said to be very similar to the card game Solitaire or Rummy. It’s one of those games that everyone’s heard of, but may have been left a little unsure by the symbols on the tiles.

The good news is that you don’t need to be able to read the tiles to learn how to play mahjong. Instead, you’ll just need to take note of each tile’s different character, so you can create matching sets while playing, kind of like Snap.

A basic mahjong set starts with between 136 to 144 tiles, which are sectioned into characters, bamboos and circles and known as “suits”. Every suit is divided into four sets and numbered from one to nine, just like playing cards.

Your set will also contain “honour tiles”, which are referred to as wind tiles and dragon tiles. Some sets will feature bonus tiles, which are just additional tiles to play with.

The goal of the game is to make a “mahjong”, which requires you to turn all 13 of your tiles into four sets (also known as melds) and one pair.

A “pair” is just any set of identical tiles, while a “set” needs to be either three identical tiles (pong) or a run of three consecutive numbers from the same suit (chow). If you manage to collect four of the same identical tiles, you have a “kong”.

Keep in mind that there’s many different variations on how to play a game of mahjong that differ from country to country, and even set to set. We think we’ve found the easiest version for you to learn how to play below.

How to play mahjong with 4 players

Playing mahjong
Image: iStock/Probuz
  1. Roll a dice to determine the dealer*.
  2. The dealer must place all of the tiles face down in the middle of the table and shuffle them around.
  3. The dealer will then pass out 13 random tiles to each of the four players. You will always have 13 tiles at any given time. Once you have your tiles, you are free to look at them. Many prefer to organise them by standing them up in a straight line, so you can see them at all times but no one else can.
  4. The remaining tiles are known as the draw pile and will be left face down in the centre.
  5. Once everyone’s ready, one player will start the game by picking up a down-facing tile from the middle and flipping it over.
  6. That player can decide if they want to take that tile and discard one from their hand by putting it face-up in the middle, or leaving the revealed tile there for someone else to pick up.
  7. If they decide to leave it, any player can take that tile regardless of whether it’s their turn or not.
  8. The game continues with the player on the right.
  9. Keep picking up, discarding and snatching tiles that were abandoned by other players until you’ve create a mahjong by having four sets and one pair in front of you.
  10. You don’t have to reveal sets or melds you create from picking up a tile you’ve turned over, but you will have to reveal the sets when you try to claim a tile that’s been discarded by other players. The sets you don’t reveal are referred to as “concealed melds”, while the ones you do reveal are known simply as “exposed melds”.
  11. Yell out mahjong and reveal your sets to win.

If you were interested in the two-player version like in the TikTok above, you’ll just need to declare mahjong twice and play with two racks of tiles.

*Some traditionalists prefer to hand out four different wind tiles to determine the dealer. Each player will be handed a random wind tile that is marked with an N, S, E or W, which represents a direction of the wind.  The player with the letter E will become the dealer and as a result, will sit on the eastern side of the playing space.

How to create sets

Image: iStock/rai

To create a pong:

A pong (also known as pung) is a set of three matching tiles.

If you notice that a discarded tile matches two tiles in your hand, you can yell pong and claim that tile. Once you’ve claimed it, you will need to reveal your set to prove it. Discard a tile from your hand and continue.

To create a chow:

A chow is a matching set with three consecutive numbers.

Those that want to form this type of set, must yell out chow and show it to the other players. Discard a tile from your hand to take it and continue.

To create a kong (a set of four matching tiles):

A kong is a type of pong but is a set of four matching tiles, instead of three.

It usually occurs once you’ve already created a pong but you’ve happened to turn over the fourth matching tile. You can yell out kong if someone discards the fourth matching tile to claim it but it will still count as the same set as the original pong.

The best mahjong sets to buy

This classic mahjong set


classic mahjong set

This mahjong set is scratch-resistant and comes with a sturdy red carrying case that will help keep your collection neat and organised. According to reviewers, the tiles are fairly large which makes them easy to read and have some weight to them, which will prevent them from flying around while shuffling.

Where to buy

Amazon ($54.99) | eBay ($81.84)

This Western-style set with a deluxe display case

Legacy Classics mahjong
Image: Legacy Classics

This beautiful, Western-style mahjong set features two-tone tiles and a stunning lined wood case that will allow you to neatly present your collection at your next game night.

Where to buy

Amazon ($119) | eBay ($127.95 incl. postage)

This classic Chinese wooden mahjong set

Wooden mahjong set
Image: zxz

This stunning set is contained in a wooden veneer case that is decorated in illustrations of dragons and nature in a Chinese-inspired art style.

Where to buy

Amazon ($79) | eBay ($44.66)

This white-backed mahjong set

Image: Cardinal Classics

If you’re not a fan of the two-toned colour combination, you can always grab these white-backed mahjong tiles instead.

Where to buy

Amazon ($66) | eBay ($67.50 using the code FUNSNS)

Accessories for your mahjong game night

Some wooden racks to display your tiles

Wooden racks are used to display your tiles while playing mahjong
Image: iStock/bloodstone

When most people play mahjong, they prefer to keep their tiles facing them so their opponents can’t see which tiles they have in their possession. You can make the tiles stand on their own, but it’s easier to prop them up of a wooden rack Scrabble-style.

Most mahjong sets don’t come with any racks, so if you want to grab yourself a few you can do so below.

Where to buy

eBay ($38.99)

A foldable mahjong table

Image: Fortune Union Australia/iStock/RichLegg

If you want a more authentic experience while hosting a mini mahjong tournament at your home, grab this foldable table to sit at with your friend.

It even doubles as a poker table thanks to its green nylon adhesive sand surface and features hidden drawers to stash your tiles.

Where to buy

eBay ($120)

This fully automatic mahjong table machine

Image: eBay/arc.computer

If you’re a keen, seasoned player, this mahjong table was built for you. While it’s certainly an investment sitting at over a grand, it does come with its own set, four ports to recharge your smartphone and is well worth the expense for its shuffling abilities.

Its ultimate selling point is the fact that you don’t need a dealer to get started playing. You can push all of the tiles into the hole in the centre, where it will shuffle them from inside the table. Once complete, your pile will reappear in front of you in a neat row through the electronic slots on the board. If you want to see a similar one in action, you can check out this TikTok here.

The table itself is foldable so you can pack it away when it’s not in use, although if you ask us we’d keep it out for display as much as possible.

Where to buy

Catch ($1,150)eBay ($1,200)

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At Lifehacker, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.


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