American Mah-Jongg

Scoring and Strategies


When a player goes Maj, he or she verbally declares a win and displays the hand to all players, laid out as displayed on the card, broken down into separate groupings (with spaces between the groupings). American Maj players appreciate the "beauty" of complete hands, sometimes even to the point of taking photographs of them.


All players pay the winner. Non-winners are not scored. It is not unusual for players to show one another what they'd been working on. Therefore we allow users to see all hands if they want (see Menus section, later in this guide). Scores in American are typically measured in nickels, dimes, and quarters. The most common hands are 25 cents (25 points), and on the 2000 AMJA card the highest-scoring hand earns a dollar (100 points).

Player earns double for the following events and circumstances:

1. Win by self-picking the winning tile from the wall (collect double from all players).

2. Win by taking someone's discard (collect double from the discarder, and single from the others).

3. Winning with no jokers displayed in the winning hand (collect double from all players).*

*The jokerless double does not apply to the hands in the Singles & Pairs section of the card.

When any player goes Mah-Jongg, the Mah-Jongg Results box is displayed. Study the Results to learn more about how hands are scored, and you'll be on your way to developing your own strategy for playing.

At the bottom of the scorebox, note that you can take this opportunity to Save, Exit (to title screen), or Continue playing. You can use the Hide button to hide the Score Display so that you can examine the center of the table. The Next and Prev buttons can be used to view the results of hands played previously in the current game.

Many American players play with a $5.00 "pie," which means that the player can never lose more than s/he brought to the table. In Shanghai's American Mah-Jongg game, however, there is no real money involved, so the score can go into negative numbers.

After players have settled up payments, the deal moves to the next player, regardless of who won.

If nobody goes Maj, a Wall Game is declared. Nobody won. Deal moves to the next player.

Game Structure and Player Rotation

The American game is not structured into "hands," "rounds," and "games" as is used in other forms of MJ. Each hand is a game in and of itself. In real life, players usually just play until a pre-arranged time on the clock, or until somebody is tired.

Since it's not desirable for players to stay in the same table position for several hours of play, therefore the first dealer is designated Pivot for the duration of the play session. When the deal moves completely around the table two times, then just before it becomes the Pivot's turn to deal for the third time, the Pivot and the player at his/her right exchange seat. The other player then becomes dealer.

Dead Hands

In real-life Mah-Jongg, it is possible to make mistakes. Make a big enough mistake, and your hand is regarded as "dead."

A "dead" player stops playing, but the game continues without him/her. At the end, the "dead" player must pay the winner just like everybody else. A dead player should wish fervently for a wall game (and then s/he won't have to pay!).

Here are the main things that cause a player's hand to go dead in American Mah-Jongg:

I. Exposures commit the player to make a specific hand, and crucial tiles among the tabletop discards indicate that the hand can not be made.
2. Illegal exposures (making an exposure that commits the player to making a concealed hand).
3. Illegal exposures (making an exposure which is not called for by any hand on the card).
4. Maj in Error. Player displays all tiles and declares Mah-Jongg, but the hand is shown to be incorrect.

Shanghai: Second Dynasty is a computer game, and one of the advantages of a computer game is that you get a friendly helper who (if you so choose) can watch over you and keep you from making a bad mistake.

Normally, the computer won't let you make an invalid declaration of Mah-Jongg (the Win button just won't light up). But you will find it very easy to make invalid exposures.

But if you want the computer to simulate real life more exactly, and open yourself up to making real-life mistakes, you can turn on the Maj In Error option in the Game Setup options box when starting a new game of American Maj. See the beginning of this chapter for more about that and other options.

American Mah-Jongg Strategies

1. As soon as you get the first deal, look for pairs and triples first, and see if they suggest a particular section of the card. If not, see if any of the singles do. If you have threes and sixes and nines, you might go for the 3-6-9 section. Look at your winds and dragons and Flowers; do they suggest any particular section of the card? But don't spend too much time thinking, the others want to move on to the Charleston.

2. During the first Charleston, pass tiles that don't help you make a hand in the section of the card you have targeted. See if the tiles that get passed to you do help.

3. During the second Charleston you'll most likely see mostly the same tiles you saw in the first one. So consider whether you ought to change your hand based on the tiles that are being passed.

4. Don't be too quick to take a discard in the early part of the game. Most likely there will be more chances later. You don't want to tip your hand too early. Sometimes one meld will tell everybody very clearly exactly what hand you are targeting!

5. Save your Jokers for later in the game. Early melding of Jokers just lets others redeem them. You don't want to help your opponents, now, do you?

6. As you near the end of the hand, watch the discards. Do not discard any "raw tiles" (tiles that are not present among the discards) later in the game.

7. If you realize you won't be able to make your targeted hand, focus on preventing others from winning. Throwing away your Jokers is a very safe move when you just don't want somebody else to win.

8. Try to keep your hand concealed. Same reasoning as described for other Mah-Jongg games, above.

9. Go for the high-scoring hands once in a while. You won't succeed most of the time, but you only have to get a few good scores to be the big winner! Lose small and win big.

10. Mentally keep track of which Jokers are available for redeeming. Don't discard a tile that could be redeemed for a Joker (as a general rule, that is, if you're working on a singles & pairs hand, you can't use Jokers anyway). AND: don't make any melds if the hand you're working on must be concealed!

11. After someone exposes a pung or kong, study the card carefully and see which hands are possibilities. If it is early in the game, discard tiles which you think they may be able to use but probably can't call because they've either used their only Joker on the first exposure or haven't collected enough tiles to make a second exposure. However, discard to a second exposure at great risk and never discard to a third exposure, even if you have to break up a good hand.

12. During the Charleston, pay attention to which tiles don't come back to you. Try to determine (without being too obvious) which tiles the recipient keeps.

13. If you play with the same people on a regular basis, try to determine their playing style (i.e., are they cautious, always playing "easy" hands? Do they take risks?)

14. Try to find one hand and stick with it. Remember what the wise lady said: "You can't play everything."

15. Study the card at a time when you're not playing. Knowing which way to go on the fly can give you an advantage.

16. Redeem a Joker from someone else's hand even if you don't need it. You can always throw it out and prevent someone else from getting it. Balance that notion against the notion that you don't want to make anyone jokerless.

17. Remember that the pairs are the most difficult to get since they cannot be exposed. It's better to play a hand where the pairs are in place and you need a Kong or pung rather than the reverse.

18. When you have a pair that you can't use, try saving it until the middle of the game. When you throw the first one, somebody might grab it for an exposure with a joker. Then, on your next turn, you can redeem the other one and get a free joker!

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