Hong Kong Mahjong – How to Play, Rules & Strategy (2023)

What is Hong Kong Mahjong?

Hong Kong Mahjong – How to Play, Rules & Strategy (1)

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 4players. The typical Chinese Mahjong sets can be used to play Hong Kong Mahjong. Allyou need to play are a Mahjong set and 2 dice.

The Tiles

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:

Hong Kong Mahjong Tiles
Tile Type Suit Tile Count
Suited Dots (筒子) 36
Suited Bamboo (索子) 36
Suited Characters (萬子) 36
Honor Winds (風牌) 16
Honor Dragons (箭牌) 12
Optional Flowers (花牌) 4
Optional Seasons (季牌) 4

All suitedtiles have a rank and suit. Ranks are a number within the range from 1 to 9. Inthe dot and bamboo suits, the rank is simply the number of objects illustratedon the tile. The ‘5 Dot’ tile has 5 circular dots, the ‘4 Bamboo’ tile has 4bamboo sticks on the tile, and so on. The ‘1 Bamboo’ is normally shown as asparrow, 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:

Hong Kong Mahjong Numerals and Ranks
Chinese Numeral Number
1
2
3
4
五 or 伍 5
6
7
8
9

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 Flowerand Season tiles are optional, and they do not have duplicates, meaning thereare only 8 throughout the entire set. These tiles give the player who drawsthem extra bonuses.

Determining Turn Order

Hong Kong Mahjong uses the traditional method of determining theturn order, or Winds of each player. The process is summarized below:

  1. Eachplayer throws two dice, and the player with the highest number becomes thetemporary East Wind.
  2. Theother players in anticlockwise order are assigned the Winds of South, West andNorth.
  3. TheEast Wind player draws and arranges the Wind tiles face down, and place an oddand even tile face up on each end of the Wind tiles.
  4. TheEast Wind throws two dice and counts the players in anticlockwise order. Theindicated 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 thendraw the remaining tiles.
  5. Playersmove to the seats corresponding to the Winds of the drawn tiles.
  6. Alltiles are shuffled face down.
  7. Eachplayer builds a wall of 38 tiles, arranged 19 tiles across, 2 tiles high. Eachwall is placed in front of the building player.
  8. TheEast Wind throws two dice and counts players anticlockwise, the indicated counts14 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.
  9. Eachplayer draws 4 tiles from the left of the broken wall, known as the Live Wall,starting from the East Wind, rotating anticlockwise.
  10. Onceeach player has 12 tiles, each player draws 1 tile each.
  11. IfFlower and Season tiles are drawn, they are immediately declared and placedface 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 thegame.

All playershave 13 tiles. The game can now begin.

The Turns

The goal inHong Kong Mahjongis to build a complete winning hand of 14 tiles. In general, this is formedfrom 4 sets of three and a single pair.

Each playerstarts 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 theirpossession by calling a pung, chow, or kong, or even to declare a win. Otherwise, the turn then passes tothe 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.

Sets

Chow

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 was from the player to the left of the caller. An example of chow is shown below:

Hong Kong Mahjong – How to Play, Rules & Strategy (2)

Note that chow cannot be made with Honor tiles.

Pung

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:

Hong Kong Mahjong – How to Play, Rules & Strategy (3)

Kong

Similar to pung, kong are made up of 4 identical tiles. When a kong is called, the player needs to draw an extra tile from the Dead Wall in order to make up for the tile deficit. It is not compulsory to call a kong once it can be formed. A player can opt to conceal the kong, and even break it into a chow by discarding one of the tiles. An example of a kong is shown below:

Hong Kong Mahjong – How to Play, Rules & Strategy (4)

Should a player that previously called a pung draw the 4th and finalduplicate from the Live Wall, the player can replace the 4th tilewith the pung to make a kong. The player then draws anothertile.

Winning

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:

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There are cases where all tiles in the LiveWall have been drawn. These are known as Dead Hands, and no player wins. Thewinning player becomes the new dealer and East Wind. The Winds are shiftedaccordingly. For Dead Hands, the dealer and positions remain the same.

Rules

In thefollowing section, we will be discussing the standard rules of Hong Kong style Mahjong,involving 144 tiles with the Season and Flower tiles.

Calls

A chow or straight can only be called ondiscards from the left player.

Shouldthere be multiple calls on the discarded tile, the priority list is as follows:

  1. Winningcalls have the highest priority.
  2. Pung and konghave priority over chow.
  3. Ifmultiple claims of the same priority are called, the next player inanticlockwise order from the discarding player will win the claim.

Penalties

If claimsare made illegally where the caller fails to reveal the corresponding set, theplayer can be penalized in different methods depending on house rules. Ingeneral, a false call results in a point penalty. This is discussed in theScoring section of the guide.

Should aplayer miss a winning hand, he forfeits the right to win from duplicates of thetile he discarded on the missed win until his next draw from the Live Wall.

If a playeris found to have more or less than 13 tiles, the number of tiles remainsuncorrected, and the player forfeits the right to win the round.

Summary

In summary,the Hong Kong Mahjongrules are:

  • Atthe start of the game, each player draws 13 tiles from the wall.
  • TheEast Wind player acts as the dealer and draws 1 tile from the Live Wall.
  • IfFlower or Season tiles are drawn, they must be revealed and an extra tile mustbe drawn from the Dead Wall.
  • Ifthe East Wind player does not win with the draw, 1 tile is discarded fromhis/her hand.
  • Thediscarded tile can be called with a pung,kong or chow to complete thecorresponding set.
  • Sequencescompleted with called tiles are revealed and placed face-up. The turn goes tothe calling player.
  • Ifa kong is revealed, a tile must bedrawn from the Dead Wall.
  • Ifthe discarded tile is not called, the turn order follows in an anticlockwiseorder.
  • Aplayer wins when a winning hand is assembled with 4 sets of pung, kong or chow and a single pair.
  • Thewinning player becomes the new East Wind player and dealer.
  • Ifall tiles are drawn from the Live Wall and no players have a winning hand, theround is a draw.
  • Inthe case of a draw, the East Wind player remains for the next round.

Scoring

Hong Kong Mahjong scoring is based on fan or番. Fan means that certain winninghands 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:

Hong Kong Mahjong Score Sheet
Set Fan
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
Seven pairs 4
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 arealso special hands that, when assembled, reward a large amount of fan, up to 64 points, though mostrequire complex requirements to be achieved. Some are instantly forfeit onceyou reveal tiles through calling, making them extremely rare. A list of specialhands is included in the Hands section of the guide.

Dependingon the amount of fan obtained by thewinning player, the payout will be paid by the losing players. As a rule ofthumb, if the winning tile was called from a discard, the discarding playerwill have to pay double the fanduring the payout; if the winning tile was self-drawn, all other players willneed 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.

Hands

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:

Hong Kong Mahjong – How to Play, Rules & Strategy (6)

This handconsists entirely of pungs, awarding3 fan, and also includes two pung of dragon tiles, awarding 1 fan each. In total, this winning hand isworth 5 fan.

Special Hands

There are hard-to-assemble special hands that award large sums of fan. These are listed below:

Seven Pairs – 16 fan

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Consists of 7pairs.

Four Winds – 64 points

Hong Kong Mahjong – How to Play, Rules & Strategy (8)

Consists of 3 pungs of Wind tiles and a random tile, and a pair of the final Wind. Also applies to 4 pungs of Wind tiles and a pair of another tile.

Three Scholars – 64 points

Hong Kong Mahjong – How to Play, Rules & Strategy (9)

Pung or kong with all 3 Dragon tiles, any set of chow, pung or kung and any pair.

Hidden Treasure – 64 points

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Consists of 4 pungs and any pair, all concealed.

All Honors – 64 points

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Consists of only Honor tiles.

All Terminals – 64 points

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Consists of only terminal tiles (ones and nines) and any tile that forms a pair with 2-8.

Nine Gates – 64 points

Hong Kong Mahjong – How to Play, Rules & Strategy (13)

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

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Consists of the terminal tiles ofeach suit, and every single Honor tile, followed by a tile that forms a pair.This hand must be concealed.

All Kongs – 64 points

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A full hand consisting of 4 kongs and a pair.

Jade Dragon – 64 points

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Consists of pungs or kongs of Bamboos only and a pung or kong of the Green Dragon tile.

Ruby Dragon – 64 points

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Consists of pungs or kongs of Characters only and a pung or kong of the Red Dragon tile.

Pearl Dragon – 64 points

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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 winswith the starting hand and draw.

Earthly Hands – 64 points

Achieved when a player wins from thedealer’s first discard.

Strategy

  • The key of 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 Mahjongset; can I still play HongKong Mahjong?

There aremany online Mahjong simulators that use the Hong Kong Mahjong ruleset, and arguably is themost prolific Mahjong style available online. A popular simulator program islinked in the External Links section of the guide.

Can Hong Kong Mahjong be playedwith less than 4 players?

Hong Kong Mahjong is designed to be played by 4 players, thoughit can be easily adapted to 2 and3-player settings.

Are there alternate rulesetsin Hong Kong Mahjong?

Theaddition or removal of the Season andFlower tiles can make a significant difference to gameplay, since the DeadWall is more accessible. There are also variants of Hong Kong style Mahjong played with houserules. The variant with the removal of fan is popular in South East Asiancountries like Malaysia and Singapore, where the goal is simply to assemble awinning hand.

How many rounds are eachgame of Hong Kong Mahjong?

Hong Kong Mahjong consists of at least 4 rounds labelled East, South, West and North. Each roundconsists of at least 4 games, and the rounds switch once all players have beenthe East Wind. This means there is a minimum of 16 games per complete game of Hong Kong Mahjong.

Also see

  • Rules of American Mah Jongg
  • Rules of Japanese Mahjong
  • Rules of Filipino Mahjong
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