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Origins of Mah-Jong

Surprisingly, Mah-Jong is among the most recent of the world’s major table games.

 

Unlike chess, Go, dominoes, backgammon or draughts, Mah-Jong in its present form can only be traced back to the end of the nineteenth century.

 

When the game was first introduced into the Western world, a great selling point was the game’s antiquity, its origins being shrouded in the mists of time.

 

Most evidence, however, points to the game being developed in the Ningpo area of China in the 1870s, and most manuals on the game published in the 1920s confirm this.

 

Its origins seem to be based partly on Chinese forms of dominoes and a card game called ‘108 Brigands’, popular since the seventeenth century.

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BMJA

The rules explained in this web site are those of the British Mah-Jong Association.  

 

Here is some more information about them.

Clubs

© 2010   Gwyn Headley and Yvonne Seeley

List of UK clubs and how to contact them
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Arrival of Mah-Jong in the West

Although there are records of British Mah-Jong players in China before the First World War, the game did not reach the West until it was launched in the United States in the early 1920s.

 

Joseph Babcock, who claimed to have developed it himself, helped popularise Mah-Jong and with the aid of astute promotion, it grew into a craze.

 

The great English eccentric Edith Sitwell rapidly embraced the game, setting up her Mah-Jongg League in London’s Knightsbridge. But, like all crazes, it died after a few years. 

National Differences

The BMJA rules differ from the Chinese gambling game in that a few more “special hands” are included and that only one chow is allowed per hand.

 

The BMJA rules differ from the American style of play in the rejection of the extraordinary proliferation of newly devised limit hands and their insistence on “cleared hand” play, that is, refusing to allow a player with more than one suit in his hand to go Mah-Jong.

 

The BMJA rules differ from Japanese “sudden death” rules by removing the need to be the first to go Mah-Jong at any cost.

 

In Japan only the player who goes out first may be paid, which results in players going out with three chows and a pung within five moves for a score of 22. This affords no opportunity for strategically planning through the length of a close game.

Advice about the Game

Currently the main function of the BMJA is to propagate its rules and to answer any queries that people may have.

The British Mah-Jong Association logo

BMJA Rules

The British Mah-Jong Association was established in 1978 and was responsible for the BMJA rules set out in

“Mah-Jong  (Know the Game)”.  

 

It was written by Gwyn Headley and Yvonne Seeley.

 

First published in 1978, the book is now in its 3rd edition and has sold over ¼ million copies.

Picture of book

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Until the BMJA was established, the game’s rules in Britain were a jumble of different approaches that were confusing to beginners.

 

The BMJA rules closely follow the traditional methods of play, although some additions to the original game made on its introduction to the West in the 1920s have been retained.

 

Nonetheless, the BMJA rules are a distillation of the way Mah-Jong has been played over the last 90 years.

Last updated on 14th October 2011

Contact BMJA

If you have a genuine query after reading the BMJA rules and/or “Mah-Jong  (Know the Game)” then you can send an email from here.

But please note that this is not an open-all-hours general help desk!