Sunday, July 4, 2010

Mahjong - I'm so Chinese



This falls into that "Professional Personality" side of me...the Chinese side.

About once a month my mother, my brother and my cousin all get together to play Mahjong. It started when I was working at East West Players and produced a staged production of The Joy Luck Club.

Many people don't know or understand what Mahjong is so I thought I'd go over some basics.

To preface, there are many different types of mahjong play, different rules, points, etc come into effect depending on what style you play. My family and I generally play Cantonese style, so that's what I'll explain.

Mahjong is very similar to playing a game of Gin Rummy (or Phase 10) but instead of cards you are using tiles. There are about 5 different suits in mahjong, 3 main ones and 2 special ones.

The main suits are Circles/Bubbles:

Sticks/Bamboo:


Characters/Thousands:


Think of these as the Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs & Spades. Each suit you have tiles number 1 - 9, similar to Ace - King. The difference to mahjong pieces as cards is that there are 4 of each piece. (i.e. 4 tiles that are #4 Circles or 4 tiles that are #7 Sticks).

The other two "suits" are the Direction Tiles: East, South, West, North:


and the Honor/Dragon Tiles: Center/Red Dragon:, Prosperity/Green Dragon, Empty Space/White Dragon:


There are also 4 of each of these tiles.

You are dealt 13 tiles at the beginning of your game. And throughout the game you draw tiles that are face down on the board, and discard tiles face up for everyone to see. A basic winning hand must have 14 tiles, 4 sets of 3 and a pair (or as we call them the "eyes.")

Sets of 3s are made up of either runs, or 3 of a kinds, but they must fall in the same suit. Runs are like #3 Bamboo, #4 Bamboo, #5 Bamboo. A 3 of a kind would be a 3 tiles that are all the #2 of Circles. The types of sets you collect effect your points when you win.

With the directional/wind tiles (E,S,W,N) you must get 3 of kinds, you can't technically have a "run" with those. Same with the honor/dragon tiles you can only collect those as 3 of a kind sets.

Your "eyes" or your pair can be a pair of any tiles they just must be exactly the same.

You can SEE some of these sets and a sample winning hand in the video above.

So that's a background of the pieces and how to collect "sets" to win. There actually game play is pretty intricate as well as there are customs of picking seats, bonus points based of where you're sitting and what tiles you pick up, etc. If you're interested I'll actually get more into those that.

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