Mah-Jong (variously known as Mah-Jongg, Mahjongg, Majong and Mahjong) is a charming
Chinese game played with engraved tiles. Traditionally, the tiles have been made
from ivory or bone dove-tailed into bamboo. But a variety of other materials has
also been used including wood, Bakelite, resin and modern plastic.
The exotic tiles, the oriental associations and the rituals which surround the game
lend it a certain mystique and perhaps make it somewhat forbidding. However, although
the rules are quite intricate, the rudiments of play are surprisingly easy to master
and it is not unusual for a beginner to do quite well.
Origins of the game
Although there have been claims for its antiquity, it seems most likely that the
game originated in the Nongpo area of China in the latter half of the nineteenth
century. It quickly spread to other countries in the early part of the twentieth
century, becoming popular in the West in the 1920’s.
Forms of the game
Along the way the rules mutated into a variety of national forms; Hong Kong, Japanese,
Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Western Classical, American, etc. Even within one country
there are home grown variations.
This lack of standardisation is reflected in the many books which have been written
on the subject. And it’s shared by the, often obscure, rule books that accompany
Mah-Jong sets. It’s a confusion that can be quite frustrating for the newcomer trying
to learn the game.
Which rules to play by ?
I first met this difficulty when I joined a local “University of the Third Age” (or
“U3A”) Mah-Jong group in Peterborough, England which - with little previous knowledge
of the game - was struggling to find a set of rules to play by. I discovered that
the game I had enjoyed for some time, thought I knew and had documented for others,
was not the only Mah-Jong around.
After a brush with the “Chinese Official International Rules” we settled on those
produced for the British Mah-Jong Association (BMJA). Unlike certain other versions,
the British game is quite close to the original Chinese gambling game, but it is
played differently and with only notional money.
Charged with explaining the rules to the group, I modified my documentation so that
it conformed with the BMJA rules. I have set it out here in web form using many