Introduction to Mahjong: A Fascinating Game of Strategy and Luck

March 26, 2024

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What is Mahjong?

Mahjong is not just a captivating board game; it is also associated with gambling due to its betting and points system. Similar to keiba, keirin, and other gambling sports, Mahjong is enthralling and played by four individuals around a square table. Additionally, it can be enjoyed solo against a computer opponent on arcade machines or through online platforms. Combining elements of strategy and luck, Mahjong provides a balanced playing field where newcomers can triumph over seasoned professionals. With increasing experience and honed skills, you'll notice a remarkable improvement in your gameplay. Let's delve deeper into the world of Mahjong to gain a clear understanding of its nuances.

Tiles: The Building Blocks of Mahjong

In Mahjong, the game revolves around tiles. There are three types of tiles with numerical values and seven types with Chinese characters. The numerical tiles range from 1 to 9, and each tile has four identical copies, resulting in a total of 108 pairs (3 x 9 x 4 = 108 pairs). Additionally, there are four tiles for each of the seven types of Chinese characters, amounting to 28 tiles (7 x 4 = 28). Hence, the total number of tiles used in Mahjong is 136 (108 + 28 = 136).

The objective of Mahjong is to arrange the 14 tiles in your hand into a specified pattern, aiming to be the first to complete the pattern. The pattern generally consists of four sets of three tiles and one pair of two tiles.

At the beginning of the game, each player is dealt 13 tiles. To achieve the desired pattern, players draw a tile and discard one they don't need. A point bar keeps track of each player's score, and it is typically denoted by plastic bars representing different values, such as 100 points, 500 points, 1,000 points, 5,000 points, and 10,000 points. The starting score is usually 25,000 points, which can increase or decrease based on the outcome of each game.

Exploring the Types of Tiles

1. Number Tiles

  • Characters: These tiles display numbers written in Chinese characters, allowing easy identification.
  • Circles: Tiles with a distinctive "●" design representing circles.
  • Bamboos: These tiles feature a motif of a bamboo with a hole through which an old coin (such as a Japanese 5 yen or 50 yen coin) can be threaded. They may appear slightly more complex compared to the characters and circles.

2. Honor Tiles

  • Wind Tiles: Among the honor tiles, those marked with directions (East, West, South, or North) represent the wind tiles.
  • Three-Way Tiles: These tiles include "White," "Hatsu," and "Zhong." The "white" tile is blank, devoid of any markings.

The Flow of a Mahjong Game

1. Parent and Children

A Mahjong game starts with a parent player, and the game is divided into three children rounds with one parent. The point value for the parent's victory or defeat is 1.5 times that of the children's rounds, emphasizing the significance of winning the parent position. Once a player becomes a parent, they retain this role until they lose the game. When the parent loses, the position shifts to the next player in a clockwise direction.

2. Battle for Completion

At the beginning of the game, each player has a pile of tiles in front of

them. These tiles are stacked in a double-tiered arrangement, with their patterns facing down. When it's a player's turn, they draw a tile from the tile deck into their hand. This action, known as "self-draw" or "tsumo," increases the number of tiles in their hand to 14. The player then discards a tile they don't need, placing it in front of them, visible to other players.

Drawing a tile and discarding another is called "groping." Notably, the parent starts with 14 tiles in hand and only discards during the first round.

3. Winning with Precision

The winner of a Mahjong game is the player who completes their tiles into the specified pattern the fastest. At the end of the game, scores are calculated, and the exchange of bets takes place before proceeding to the next game. The score is determined based on the composition of the hand and other factors.

Achieving Completion in Mahjong

1. Run

A "run" is a collection of three consecutive number tiles. This implies "1-2-3" for characters, "4-5-6" for circles, and "7-8-9" for bamboos. However, it's important to note that a sequence like "8-9-1" is not allowed. Additionally, using different types of tiles to form a sequence, such as characters, circles, and circles, is also not permitted.

2. Triple

A "triple" involves collecting three identical tiles. Since there are four identical tiles of each kind in Mahjong, obtaining three out of the four identical tiles constitutes a triple. These tiles can be either number tiles or honor tiles. For example, you can have three 6's of characters, three 8's of circles, or three South wind tiles. Completing the game requires four sets of three tiles, which can be runs or triples.

3. Head

A "head" refers to a combination of two sets of the same tile. In the complete Mahjong system, the structure is "3 tiles in 1 pair (run or triple) x 4 + 2 tiles in 1 pair." While there are a few exceptions, this overview provides sufficient knowledge for now.

Understanding Mahjong Hands

In Mahjong, having a completed pattern alone is not sufficient to win. You must possess a Mahjong hand to make a valid declaration. A Mahjong hand consists of four patterns, one head, and one hand. With a wide variety of 37 different types of hands in Mahjong, it might seem daunting to learn them all at once. Let's focus on three frequently encountered hands that you should learn first. As you gain experience through practice, you can gradually expand your repertoire.

1. Reach (43% Rate of Appearance)

The "reach" hand is the most commonly played hand in Mahjong, accounting for a 43% rate of appearance. Before delving into the details, let's introduce another term: "tenpai." Tenpai refers to the state where you need only one more tile to complete your hand pattern. When you declare "reach" during this state and place 1,000 points on the table, you can obtain the reach hand. This hand is relatively easy to achieve and frequently employed by players.

In Mahjong, there are two ways to win: tsumo-win and ron-win. A tsumo-win occurs when you draw the tile you need for your pattern during your turn, after declaring reach. Conversely, a ron-win happens when another player discards the tile you need, and you declare a win with it. Therefore, if someone other than

yourself declares reach, you must be cautious about the tiles you discard.

2. All Simples (21% Rate of Appearance)

The "all simples" hand accounts for a 21% rate of appearance. To achieve this hand, you must complete the pattern using only middle tiles, i.e., tiles numbered from 2 to 8. The patterns can be either runs or triples.

3. All Runs (20% Rate of Appearance)

The "all runs" hand is formed by arranging four tiles into runs. However, there is an additional requirement: the head tile must differ from the hand tiles. Furthermore, the hand must be in a double-sided waiting style. A waiting pattern denotes a pattern that can be completed with only one more tile. While the details of waiting styles are not crucial, understanding double-sided waiting is beneficial. For instance, if you have a 4 and a 5, and you desire to form a triple, you should wait for tiles on both sides.

Mahjong Parlors: Where the Game Comes Alive

A Mahjong parlor is a dedicated establishment where individuals can pay a fee to play Mahjong. These parlors offer all the necessary equipment, including tables and tiles. Additionally, they serve as vibrant communities where Mahjong enthusiasts gather, providing excellent opportunities to study the game and make new friends.

1. Free Mahjong Parlor

If you are eager to play Mahjong but lack friends who share your enthusiasm, a free Mahjong parlor is the perfect solution. These parlors welcome solo players and advertise phrases like "Free Mahjong, everyone welcome" or "Solo players welcome." Each game requires a fee, the amount of which depends on the rate established by the members.

2. Set Mahjong Parlor

A set Mahjong parlor is frequented by a pre-formed group of four friends who play together. Players pay for each hour of play, but some parlors offer both set and free Mahjong tables.

3. No Rate Mahjong Parlor

A no rate Mahjong parlor also operates on a free basis, but without betting involved. This type of parlor is an excellent starting point for individuals looking to try Mahjong independently. However, caution is advised, as playing Mahjong as a novice can potentially expose you to exploitative situations.

4. Healthy Mahjong Parlor

A healthy Mahjong parlor caters to players seeking a smoke-free and alcohol-free environment. These parlors are particularly popular among seniors. Payment options include per-game fees or a half-day/full-day free time system.

Considering the various types of Mahjong parlors, let's briefly examine the associated fees. You can choose between paying per game (which is usually free) or per hour (set fee). The cost for a free game ranges from 250 to 500 Japanese yen, while the price for a set game is typically between 200 and 400 Japanese yen. Many places offer student discounts, making Mahjong an affordable choice.

The Appeal of Mahjong

1. Accessibility for Amateurs

Mahjong offers an inclusive environment where even amateurs can achieve victories. The game requires players to swiftly arrange their tiles, including the hand, into a complete pattern. In some instances, luck may favor beginners, leading to impressive wins against seasoned professionals. However, as one gains experience and the distribution of tiles evens out, differences in skill become more apparent.

2. Engaging Social Interaction

While Mahjong is a game, one of its remarkable attractions lies in the opportunity to engage in lively conversations with friends around the table. Whether it's in a set Mahjong parlor or a free Mahjong parlor, you can forge meaningful connections and enjoy the company of

fellow players. This social aspect adds an extra layer of fun to the game. Furthermore, Mahjong transcends age barriers, allowing individuals of all ages to participate and enjoy the game. It's never too late to start playing Mahjong and cultivate it as a lifelong hobby.

3. Professional Aspirations

For those passionate about Mahjong, there is a path to becoming a professional player. By passing practical and written exams and achieving the required results, individuals can join professional Mahjong organizations. Exam sites are accessible nationwide, enabling aspiring players from both urban and rural areas to pursue their dreams. Major tournaments offer substantial prize money, with the potential to win up to 3 million Japanese yen. While local tournaments may offer smaller prizes, such as 100,000 Japanese yen, some professionals supplement their income by operating Mahjong parlors or teaching Mahjong classes. Although making a living solely from Mahjong is challenging, a select few professionals earn over 10 million Japanese yen.

Who Should Play Mahjong and Who Shouldn't?

Mahjong is well-suited for individuals who enjoy immersing themselves in challenging games and possess self-discipline. While luck does play a role, Mahjong is primarily a game of skill. Reflecting on your gameplay, analyzing losses, and learning from mistakes are essential steps in improving your abilities. As the game involves betting, it is crucial to exercise self-control and responsible gambling practices.

Conversely, if you lack self-discipline and easily become upset or frustrated, Mahjong may not be suitable for you. Additionally, since Mahjong is a four-player game centered on social interaction, those seeking a solitary gaming experience may not find it enjoyable. Ultimately, the best way to determine your compatibility with Mahjong is to give it a try.

In Conclusion

How was your journey through the fascinating world of Mahjong? Are you inspired to give it a try? While there may be a learning curve, once you grasp the game's intricacies, Mahjong can provide a lifetime of enjoyment. In Japan, where countless games vie for attention, few can match Mahjong's affordability and depth. With enough skill, you may even forge a path from Mahjong parlors to the bustling nightlife scene.

We hope to see you soon at a Mahjong parlor, where camaraderie and excitement abound!

PIJ Writer
PIJ Writer
PIJ Writer, a seasoned connoisseur in his 40s based in Japan, boasts an unparalleled depth of knowledge and experience within the vibrant landscapes of both drinking and gambling, alongside his well-documented ventures into various red-light districts. This extensive exploration encompasses not just the nocturnal delights of Japan's red-light areas but also its myriad of bars, horse racing, pachinko, and many others. Drawing on his firsthand experiences, he conveys the appeal and characteristics of Japan's diverse adult entertainment districts and his enjoyment of the nightlife scene through his writing for PIJ.

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