What is Hong Kong Mahjong?
Hong Kong Mahjong is a popular variant of the classic Chinese game of Mahjong. The differences lie in the scoring system.
Hong Kong was one of the earliest places to adopt Mahjong as a pastime, and Hong Kong-style Mahjong adapted native rules from the Hong Kong cities and New Territories, becoming what it is today.
How to play Hong Kong Mahjong?
Hong Kong Mahjong, much like Chinese Mahjong, was designed for 4 players. The typical Chinese Mahjong sets can be used to play Hong Kong Mahjong. All you need to play is a Mahjong set and 2 dice.
Hong Kong Mahjong tiles are split across a total of 5 suits. 8 tiles from the Seasons and Flower suits are optional. The tiles are:
|Tile Type||Suit||Tile Count|
All suited tiles have a rank and suit. Ranks are a number within the range from 1 to 9. In the dot and bamboo suits, the rank is simply the number of objects illustrated on the tile. The ‘5 Dot’ tile has 5 circular dots, the ‘4 Bamboo’ tile has 4 bamboo sticks on the tile, and so on. The ‘1 Bamboo’ is normally shown as a sparrow, rather than a single bamboo stick.
The Character suit contains tiles with traditional Chinese wording. The top part shows the rank as the Traditional Chinese numeral, and the bottom tile shows the 萬 or 万 character. The numerals and the ranks are as follows:
|五 or 伍||5|
The Wind and Dragon tiles do not have ranks, and as such can only be used to complete triplet melds. The Wind tiles are東 for East, 南 for South, 西 for West, 北 for the North. The Dragon tiles include the Red 中 (center), the Green 發 (wealth), and the White tile, sometimes illustrated with a blue frame, known as the 板.
The Flower and Season tiles are optional, and they do not have duplicates, meaning there are only 8 throughout the entire set. These tiles give the player who draws them extra bonuses.
Determining Turn Order
Hong Kong Mahjong uses the traditional method of determining the turn order, or Winds of each player. The process is summarized below:
- Each player throws two dice, and the player with the highest number becomes the temporary East Wind.
- The other players in anticlockwise order are assigned the Winds of South, West, and North.
- The East Wind player draws and arranges the Wind tiles face down, and places an odd and even tile face up on each end of the Wind tiles.
- The East Wind throws two dice and counts the players in anticlockwise order. The indicated player picks the tile from the odd or even end of the Wind tiles, depending on whether the thrown number was odd or even. The other players then draw the remaining tiles.
- Players move to the seats corresponding to the Winds of the drawn tiles.
- All tiles are shuffled face down.
- Each player builds a wall of 38 tiles, arranged 19 tiles across, 2 tiles high. Each wall is placed in front of the building player.
- The East Wind throws two dice and counts players anticlockwise, the indicated counts 14 tiles from the right side of his/her wall and pushes those tiles aside, forming the Dead Wall which acts as a draw pool for special cases.
- Each player draws 4 tiles from the left of the broken wall, known as the Live Wall, starting from the East Wind, rotating anticlockwise.
- Once each player has 12 tiles, each player draws 1 tile each.
- If Flower and Season tiles are drawn, they are immediately declared and placed face up to the side. These are replaced with tiles taken from the Dead Wall. The same thing applies to Flower and Season tiles drawn at any point in the game.
All players have 13 tiles. The game can now begin.
The goal in Hong Kong Mahjong is to build a complete winning hand of 14 tiles. In general, this is formed from 4 sets of three and a single pair.
Each player starts the game with 13 tiles, and at the start of each turn, draws a tile, then discarding a tile to the center of the table face up. At this points, other players get the opportunity to steal the tile to complete a set in their possession by calling a pung, chow, or kong, or even to declare a win. Otherwise, the turn then passes to the next player in anticlockwise order.
At the start of each player’s turn, they draw a tile from the end of the wall, continuing where the draws last left off. A discard of one tile of their choosing. Other players are then allowed to call the discarded tile, using it to complete a set within their hand. Calls in Hong Kong Mahjong claim the discarded tile to complete one of the three possible sets. The player must call out the corresponding name of the set while claiming the discarded tile. Once the tile is claimed, the player must unveil the completed set.
Chow is similar to straights in poker, consisting of 3 suited tiles from the same suit in a sequence. A chow can only be called if the discarded tile is from the player to the left of the caller. An example of chow is shown below:
Note that chow cannot be made with Honor tiles.
Pung are sets of three tiles of the same suit and rank, also known as triplets. Any player can call a pung, and the turn then skips to the caller. Examples of pung is shown below:
Similar to pung, kong
Should a player that previously called a pung draw the 4th and final duplicate from the Live Wall, the player can replace the 4th tile with the pung to make a kong. The player then draws another tile.
The game of Hong Kong Mahjong ends once a player has assembled a winning hand of 4 sets and 1 pair. An example winning hand consisting of 2 chow, 2 pung, and 1 pair, making a total of 14 tiles, is shown below:
There are cases where all tiles in the Live Wall have been drawn. These are known as Dead Hands, and no player wins. The winning player becomes the new dealer and East Wind. The Winds are shifted accordingly. For Dead Hands, the dealer and positions remain the same.
In the following section, we will be discussing the standard rules of Hong Kong-style Mahjong, involving 144 tiles with the Season and Flower tiles.
A chow or straight can only be called on discards from the left player.
Should there be multiple calls on the discarded tile, the priority list is as follows:
- Winning calls have the highest priority.
- Pung and kong have priority over chow.
- If multiple claims of the same priority are called, the next player in anticlockwise order from the discarding player will win the claim.
If claims are made illegally where the caller fails to reveal the corresponding set, the player can be penalized in different methods depending on house rules. In general, a false call results in a point penalty. This is discussed in the Scoring section of the guide.
Should a player miss a winning hand, he forfeits the right to win from duplicates of the tile he discarded on the missed win until his next draw from the Live Wall.
If a player is found to have more or less than 13 tiles, the number of tiles remains uncorrected, and the player forfeits the right to win the round.
In summary, the Hong Kong Mahjong rules are:
- At the start of the game, each player draws 13 tiles from the wall.
- The East Wind player acts as the dealer and draws 1 tile from the Live Wall.
- If Flower or Season tiles are drawn, they must be revealed and an extra tile must be drawn from the Dead Wall.
- If the East Wind player does not win with the draw, 1 tile is discarded from his/her hand.
- The discarded tile can be called with a pung, kong, or chow to complete the corresponding set.
- Sequences completed with called tiles are revealed and placed face-up. The turn goes to the calling player.
- If a kong is revealed, a tile must be drawn from the Dead Wall.
- If the discarded tile is not called, the turn order follows in an anticlockwise order.
- A player wins when a winning hand is assembled with 4 sets of pung, kong, or chow and a single pair.
- The winning player becomes the new East Wind player and dealer.
- If all tiles are drawn from the Live Wall and no players have a winning hand, the round is a draw.
- In the case of a draw, the East Wind player remains for the next round.
Hong Kong Mahjong scoring is based on fan or番. Fan means that certain winning hands can be worth more than others, adding a layer of strategy.
Fan are awarded based on the completion of certain criteria, such as the assembly of difficult hands. The payout of each round is then done based on the acquired fan by the winning player. The full list of standard fan and the prerequisite conditions are provided below:
|Pung of Dragon tiles||1|
|Kong of Dragon tiles||1|
|Pung or kong of player’s Wind||1|
|Pung or kong of the Wint of the round||1|
|Flower or Season of player’s Wind||1|
|All Flowers or Seasons||2|
|No Flowers or Seasons||1|
|Two Dragon pungs or kongs and a pair of another Dragon||4|
|Full chow hand||1||Full pung hand||3|
|Hand consisting of only a single suit and Honor tiles||3|
|Hand consisting of only a single suit||6|
|Self-drawing the final tile||1||Win with the last tile from the Live Wall||1|
|Win with the last discard of the game||1|
|Win by stealing a kong||1|
|Win through replacement tile from Dead Wall||1|
There are also special hands that, when assembled, reward a large amount of fan, up to 64 points, though most require complex requirements to be achieved. Some are instantly forfeited once you reveal tiles through calling, making them extremely rare. A list of special hands is included in the Hands section of the guide.
Depending on the amount of fan obtained by the winning player, the payout will be paid by the losing players. As a rule of thumb, if the winning tile was called from a discard, the discarding player will have to pay double the fan during the payout; if the winning tile was self-drawn, all other players will need to pay double the fan.
The value of a single fan depends on the setting of the Hong Kong Mahjong game, and can range from chips to a specified sum of money.
Hong Kong Mahjong hands consist of 14 tiles, and are usually 4 sets of three and a single pair. A winning hand worth 5 fan is shown below:
This hand consists entirely of pungs, awarding 3 fan, and also includes two pung of dragon tiles, awarding 1 fan each. In total, this winning hand is worth 5 fan.
There are hard-to-assemble special hands that award large sums of
Seven Pairs – 16 fan
Consists of 7 pairs.
Four Winds – 64 points
Consists of 3 pungs of Wind tiles, a random tile, and a pair of the final Wind. Also applies to 4 pungs of Wind tiles and a pair of other tiles.
Three Scholars – 64 points
Pung or kong with all 3 Dragon tiles, any set of chow, pung, or kung, and any pair.
Hidden Treasure – 64 points
Consists of 4 pungs and any pair, all concealed.
All Honors – 64 points
Consists of only Honor tiles.
All Terminals – 64 points
Consists of only terminal tiles (ones and nines) and any tile that forms a pair with 2-8.
Nine Gates – 64 points
Consists of 3 ones, 3 nines, and the 2-8 tiles of any suit, followed by any tile of the same suit and any tile that forms a pair. This hand must be concealed.
Thirteen Orphans – 64 points
Consists of the terminal tiles of each suit, and every single Honor tile, followed by a tile that forms a pair. This hand must be concealed.
All Kongs – 64 points
A full hand consisting of 4 kongs and a pair.
Jade Dragon – 64 points
Consists of pungs or kongs of Bamboos only and a pung or kong of the Green Dragon tile.
Ruby Dragon – 64 points
Consists of pungs or kongs of Characters only and a pung or kong of the Red Dragon tile.
Pearl Dragon – 64 points
Consists of pungs or kongs of Dots only and a pung or kong of the White Dragon tile.
Heavenly Hands – 64 points
Achieved when the East Wind dealer wins with the starting hand and draw.
Earthly Hands – 64 points
Achieved when a player wins from the dealer’s first discard.
- The key to Hong Kong Mahjong strategy is to think ahead before making any moves. Always check to see if a winning hand is available, and be alert to call out discards that can help.
- Do not focus on the special hands, and instead focus on achieving the base requirement of 1 fan in your winning hand. The first person to call a legal winning had wins regardless of the fan accumulated, and it is perfectly acceptable to win a hand worth 1 fan.
- For people just starting out, keeping hands concealed is recommended. This makes things hard to read by the opponent, and keeps more options open for discards.
- Take note of pungs and kongs, since there are only 4 duplicates of each tile, once a pung or kong is called, the chances of getting one of the called tile becomes significantly unlikely. Strategize around revealed tiles and reorganize your hand to enable other win conditions.
Frequently Asked Questions
I don’t have a Mahjong set; can I still play Hong Kong Mahjong?
There are many online Mahjong simulators that use the Hong Kong Mahjong ruleset, and arguably is the most prolific Mahjong style available online.
Can Hong Kong Mahjong be played with less than 4 players?
Hong Kong Mahjong is designed to be played by 4 players, though it can be easily adapted to 2 and 3-player settings.
Are there alternate rulesets in Hong Kong Mahjong?
The addition or removal of the Season and Flower tiles can make a significant difference to gameplay since the Dead Wall is more accessible. There are also variants of Hong Kong-style Mahjong played with house rules.
The variant with the removal of fan is popular in South East Asian countries like Malaysia and Singapore, where the goal is simply to assemble a winning hand.
How many rounds are each game of Hong Kong Mahjong?
Hong Kong Mahjong consists of at least 4 rounds labeled East, South, West, and North. Each round consists of at least 4 games, and the rounds switch once all players have been the East Wind. This means there is a minimum of 16 games per complete game of Hong Kong Mahjong.