Let's Play Already!

The Tabletop Display

When the Mah-Jongg game begins, the game table is displayed. The setting-up process happens automatically (as described in the chapter "Mah-Jongg Basics" elsewhere in this guide) and "transparently" to you. Your name is at the bottom left corner; your opponents' names are arranged across the top of the screen. Each player starts with 500 points ($5.00). The Pivot marker is placed in front of the dealer. The dice are placed by the Dealer's name.

At the bottom of the screen are your tiles and your Action bar. The Action Bar is explained in the chapter "Mah-Jongg Basics."

The player at your left immediately passes you three tiles for the first pass of the Charleston. Let's prepare to play American Mah-Jongg.

Choose a Hand

Get your American Mah-Jongg card. If you are using the laminated card that comes with Shanghai Second Dynasty, get it and place it in front of you while you play (you can lay it on the keyboard or lean it against the bottom of the monitor). Make sure that the actual printed card that you use while playing is the same as the card file which is listed on the Options dialog box you saw before starting the current game.

There is a way to view the hands in the card if you can't find the printed card, or if you just want to view the hands on your computer monitor. Go to the Help menu and select "View Current Card." Use the Next and Prev buttons to view the hands, or use the down-arrow button to view and select hands from the list.

Examine the tiles you have been dealt. Compare them with the sections on the American card you are using. Look for pairs and triplets and Flowers. Look to see which section(s) of the card your pairs and other tiles seem to suggest.

If you need help, the computer can suggest some hands on the card for you. Go to the Help menu and select "Suggest A Hand." (Note: this feature is only available when playing against A.I. opponents; it is not available when playing against real people over the Internet.)

Here's an example -- let's say you are dealt the following tiles:

The above tiles are not the greatest set of tiles to be dealt. There are no pairs, except for the two Jokers - but the pair of Jokers will possibly make up for the hand's other shortcomings. Consider this hodgepodge of tiles:

* Only one Flower.
* Four even-numbered tiles. The Evens section is difficult anyway.
* Five odd-numbered tiles. Odds section is a definite possibility.
* Hand does not suggest a sequential hand, a 3-6-9 hand, a 1999 hand, or a 2000 hand.
* No Winds.
* One Dragon.
* Very nice amount of Jokers (it's more usual to receive none).

Your best bet with such a hand is to discard the dragon and the even-numbered tiles in the Charleston. Go for something in the Odds section.

Go ahead and start a game, if you have not done so already. As you make your way through the Options screen, make sure the card file matches the printed card you are using. Press the OK button.

Examine your tiles. Compare them against the sections of the card as was done in the example above, and decide which tiles to discard during the Charleston. Be prepared to change your strategy during the Charleston, depending on what tiles tend to go around during the passes.

What's the Charleston? Since Mah-Jongg became popular in America during the Roaring Twenties, this intricate special move took on the name of a dance which was also popular at that time. Since Western and American Mah-Jongg both evolved from common beginnings, both games incorporate this feature.

Let's do it, then. Got your dancing shoes on?

The Charleston

The Charleston consists of three passes of three tiles each:

1. Each player passes three tiles to the player on his/her right.
2. Then pass three tiles to the player opposite.
3. Then pass three tiles to the player on the left.

Any player is allowed to "blind pass" on the left pass; that is to say, s/he can choose to use any of the tiles passed from the right player, blindly (without looking), instead of passing three tiles from the hand.

Those three passes (right, across, left) constitute the "first Charleston." The first Charleston is mandatory, even if a player has drawn a complete hand.

After the Charleston, there is an optional second Charleston.

You may, if you choose, decline the second Charleston. Declining the second Charleston would, of course, stop all other players from further tile passes. Because you can stop the Charleston at this point, the Action bar lights up a button (it says Decline) for this purpose.

The second Charleston consists of three passes, in opposite order from the first:

1. Pass three tiles to the player on the left (these tiles are stacked in a pyramid).
2. Then pass three tiles to the player opposite.
3. Then pass three tiles to the player on the right.

The first pass of the second Charleston is stacked like a pyramid so that players will clearly see that the second Charleston has begun. When passing tiles back and forth, it is easy to get confused. Confusion can ruin the entire Charleston. This is a computer game, however, and the computer does not get confused during the Charleston-but the tiles are still stacked in keeping with the traditional real-life practice.

Jokers may not be passed in the Charleston. If you try to pass a Joker in the Charleston, the computer will not allow you to do it.

It is discouraged to pass matching tiles in the Charleston (multiple Flowers, same numeral, all dragons, etc.). If you make an ill-advised pass, the computer will display some warning text at the bottom of the screen, in the white text box. You are allowed to go ahead with the pass nevertheless.

After the second Charleston, there is a courtesy pass. Zero, one, two, or three tiles may be exchanged with the player opposite. Highlight as many tiles as you are willing to exchange. If you and your opposite desire to exchange a different amount of tiles, then the exchange will be the lower number of tiles (if you want to exchange three tiles but your opponent wants to exchange one, you will exchange only one tile).

If you turned on the Mish option, you will finish up this phase of the game with an additional exchange of tiles after the second Charleston and courtesy pass. All players throw their unwanted tiles into the center of the table and they get mished around. Then all players take back the same number of tiles they'd put into the pot.

If you did a good job in the Charleston and Courtesy and Mish, you should now have a better hand than you started with.

Examine the hand and the printed card once again. Target one or two or three hands on the card that you think you can make. Now you're ready to play. The pressure is mounting...!

Let the Game Begin

The preliminaries are now over. The dealer discards the first tile, calling its name. American players always call the name of the tile as it's discarded. You will hear voices calling the tile names. Most players of the American game are women, so all the American voices are female.

On your turn, you will draw a tile from the wall (bringing your tile count to 14), and discard a tile from the hand (bringing your tile count back to 13 again).

The goal is to form one of the hands on the card-on your turn, discard a tile that does not help form the targeted hand. If at any time you are holding 14 tiles that form one of the hands on the card, you should declare a Win. But most of the time, you need to discard one of your 14 tiles to end your turn.

To discard a tile, click once on the tile to select it. Then click on the Discard button in the Action Bar. The tile will then be moved from your hand to the center of the table and laid down, face-up for all to see. The discarded tile is highlighted with a flashing highlight so all players can easily see it. "Your" voice is heard calling the tile's name. Once a tile is down and its name called, you cannot take it back, unless you are playing offline (against A.I. opponents only) and you have the Take-Back option activated in the Preferences menu. In real life, you would never be allowed to take back a discard, but this is a computer game -- so you can have a more beginner-friendly rule, if you so choose.

When a discard is not claimed by anyone (including the next player in turn), then the next player in turn draws a tile from the Wall. Draw a tile by pressing the Draw (Pass) button. A new 14th tile appears in your hand, raised and highlighted. The previous player's discard is now no longer highlighted (that tile is now dead, and can never be used by anyone). On your turn, your name is highlighted so all players know whose turn it is (and, if playing online, who's holding things up, if you take too long).

Claiming Discards

If the discarded tile can be used by any player to form a Pung, Kong, or a win, that player can claim the discarded tile at the time that it is discarded, only. (Once the next player has drawn a tile into the hand and the discard is no longer flashing, it is too late). If a player other than the next player in turn claims a discard for a Pung, Kong, or Quint, the order of play is interrupted-the player who claimed the tile discards, and play proceeds counter-clockwise from that player (skipping the turns of any players in between).

If a player wants to claim a tile, s/he must announce it. S/he might say, "Call," or "Take," or "I want that." S/he need not announce the size of the grouping being exposed. S/he need not say "pung," or "Kong," for instance, as is done in other forms of Mah-Jongg.

Conflicting Claims

When two different players want to claim a discard, there are rules for how such a conflict is resolved. When there are conflicting claims for the purpose of making an exposure, the player closest in order of play gets it. (A tile claimed by two different players for the same purpose goes to the player who would be "in line" to take it.) A claim for Maj outprioritizes a claim for an exposure. Conflicting claims for a win is handled the same way as conflicting claims for an exposure (the player next in order of play gets the tile). The computer handles these conflicts automatically.


Jokers can only be used in pungs, Kongs, or Quints. They cannot be used as a single tile, nor as part of a pair. The nines in "1999" are not regarded as a pung-Jokers cannot be used to make "1999" or "2000". Jokers can be redeemed on a player's turn only, after making a draw (or after taking a discard) and before making a discard.

When a Joker is discarded in Shanghai: Second Dynasty, the discarder announces "Joker." Many American players announce "same" or the name of the previous tile, but this sometimes leads to confusion about the rules, so it is not done this way in Shanghai: Second Dynasty.

When a Joker is discarded, it's dead and nobody can take it.

Jokers are wild. If your hand requires a pung of Red Dragons, for instance, and you have a Joker and a Red Dragon (or two Jokers), and someone discards a Red, you can claim it and meld the pung.

You need not have the actual tile called for on the card to make a pung, Kong, or Quint in the hand - it can be made entirely of Jokers. Obviously, you would not expose it until such time as you win. If you have a Kong of Jokers representing some other tile, that Kong is concealed in your hand - there is no reason to expose it to other players unless you declare a win. Accordingly, Shanghai: Second Dynasty does not provide a way to expose a fully concealed complete grouping. Don't even try.

When someone makes an exposure with Jokers, the Jokers are available for "redemption." For example, if someone melds a Kong of Five Dots (using a Joker), and you come into possession of a Five Dot, then when it is your turn you may redeem your Five Dot, taking a Joker from that other player. This move can only be done at the moment that you hold 14 tiles in your hand. To redeem a Joker on your turn, just click the tile in your hand, then click the Joker in the melded exposure. You can redeem a Joker in your own exposure as well!

If someone discards a tile which could have been used to redeem a Joker, that tile is dead (the thrower cannot take it back). No other player can take the tile and redeem it for a Joker-a discard can only be taken to make a meld or to win.

If redeeming a Joker results in your winning a game, the win is regarded as a self-pick win. Even if you got the Joker from someone else's exposure, you still picked the redeemable tile yourself.

If you make a hand with no Jokers at all, your hand scores double. Unless the hand is made of singles and pairs (usually in the lower right section of the card), that is.


Note for players of other forms of Mah-Jongg: Flowers are not treated the way they are in Chinese and Western Mah-Jongg. Flowers are instead kept in the hand. They can be used to make pairs, pungs, Kongs, or Quints. Seasons and Flowers are interchangeable (so there are eight "Flowers" in a set). Flowers can be discarded and claimed just as other tiles can.

Dragons (especially White Dragons)

White Dragons can be used as Zeroes in American Mah-Jongg. Depending on the card you use, a hand on the card may call for a 10, 20, or 30. In such a case, the number tile in that non-identical grouping does not need to be a Dot tile. When the White Dragon is used as a Zero, it is no longer regarded as a dragon (so is not part of the Dots suit). In other words, "Zeroes" are suitless.

As in Western Mah-Jongg, each suit is associated with a dragon. The Red Dragon is associated with the Craks (and, in the case of Ruby hands, with the Red Bams), the Green Dragon is associated with the Bams, and the White Dragon is associated with the Dots.

Red Dragon is associated with Craks ("Ruby").

Green Dragon is associated with Bams ("Jade").

White Dragon is associated with Dots ("Pearls")

Click on the underlined part of this chapter you want to read next:

American Mah-Jongg Part 1: Basic Info

American Mah-Jongg Part 2: Options

American Mah-Jongg Part 3: Let's Play Already!

American Mah-Jongg Part 4: Scoring and Strategies

American Mah-Jongg Part 5: How To Make Your Own Custom Card