British Rules

The Game


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, but without the photographs and other graphics found in the full graphics version.


Further Information


Mah-Jong  (Know the Game)  by Gwyn Headley and Yvonne Seeley

Written in collaboration with the British Mah-Jong Association. It gives the official BMJA rules. It also contains a short history of the game, something on tactics and etiquette and - for the more serious player - tournament play rules and penalties.

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The Complete Book of Mah-Jongg  by A. D. Millington

Considered to be an authoritative, but perhaps over wordy, guide to classical Chinese Mah-Jongg.  Besides delving into the minutia of these rules it covers the history, philosophy and symbolism of the game and assesses its various rival forms.

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The Great Mahjong Book: History, Lore and Play  by Jelte Rep

Beautifully illustrated and well written book about the history of Mah-Jong and the rules that it is played by in various countries.

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Web Sites

Sloperama’s MAH-JONG Zone                                                       Wikipedia                     

Gareth and Jane Saunders Mah Jong web site                          Mah Jong - History and Useful Information     

Mahjong - The Ultimate Mahjong Resource                                Mahjong News

Four Winds Mah Jong                                                                      Mahjong Time

Board Games with Scott                                                                 Charli’s Mah Jong Museum


© 2008   Peter Gregory

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