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FAQ 7i. Mah-Jongg Cards... and "Kards"

I am occasionally asked where one can obtain a deck of MJ cards so the game can be played while traveling (without having to lug a heavy set of tiles around). The NMJL calls such cards "kards," with a K -- this is to differentiate from "The NMJL Card" which is simply a list of hands.

I think that's a good idea, so I use that nomenclature here.

Above: Mah-Jongg CARDS (left to right: Marvelous card, NMJL card, AMJA card).

Below: a deck of mah-jongg KARDS, suitable for playing American-style mah-jongg.

See? "cards" (the upper picture above) are a completely different thing from "kards" (the lower picture above).

Sometimes someone will ask me "where can I get mah-jongg cards?" And I think she means kards with a K (in other words, "where can I get a deck of kards"). But she may have really meant cards with a C (that is to say, she was just looking for more than one NMJL card). (Confusion?? In the Mah-Jongg universe?? Quelle surprise!!)

So... here is the information about where to get Cards and Kards both (respectively):


Here's how to order a card (with a "C") from the National Mah Jongg League:

The NMJL Card can be obtained from:

When you get to their website, click "The Store". Although the NMJL card is available from other vendors, the best place to get the card is directly from the League -- then at the end of the year you'll get the yearly bulletin as well. Believe you me, you need to get and keep these bulletins in order to stay on top of the rule changes! The NMJL card is the "standard" card used by the majority of American players.

The NMJL card alternates between red and blue each year. In odd years it's blue. In even years it's red. The NMJL offers both a regular-size card and a larger card for those whose vision needs that extra little help.

The NMJL card is updated every year and is mailed out in March and April (around April 1st, no foolin'). Note: if you already have an NMJL card and were hoping to ask a question about it, see FAQ 16. Or if you have a question about the NMJL rules (which are also used by the Marvelous, DestinationMahJongg, and AMJA cards, below), see FAQ 19.
Tom Sloper answers questions about the NMJL card in FAQ 16.

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Here's how to order a card from the American Mah-Jongg Association:

The yearly AMJA card comes out in January. The AMJA card is played using NMJL rules (with a couple of differences). Many AMJA members use both the AMJA card (for a "change of pace") and the NMJL card (for regular play and tournament play).

The AMJA makes just one size card - it's large and easy to read.
Tom Sloper does not answer questions about the AMJA card. Call or email the AMJA directly with any questions.

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Here's how to order the Marvelous Mah Jongg card:

The Marvelous Mah Jongg card is played using NMJL rules, and comes out in January. The card is large and easy to read.
Tom Sloper does not answer questions about the Marvelous card. Call or email Marvelous Mah Jongg directly with any questions.

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If you play Gladys Grad's Siamese Mah Jongg, you may want to purchase the card she designs specifically for that game.

The Siamese card is issued in January.
Tom Sloper does not answer questions about the Siamese card. Call or email Gladys Grad directly with any questions, at

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Philippe and Julie's online game, I Love Mahj, offers a free custom card for use in the online game or for printing yourself and using in home play.


As stated above, the spelling "kards" is used to refer to a deck of cards emblazoned with mah-jongg symbols so that one can play mah-jongg with cards instead of tiles. You can buy kards suitable for the American game from the NMJL.

In Los Angeles' Chinatown, I was able to find both high-quality playing-card sized kards and also low-quality long slim kards here.

Above: high-quality kards from Taiwan.

Below: low-quality slim kards from China.

Why do I call these kards "slim?" Here's why -- these cards fit endwise into the box, not sideways as you expect! Check this out:

These decks come with 148 kards: all the dots, bams, craks, winds, dragons, and flowers, plus four "kings.".

Here's a closup of the kings:

These decks are very cheap (around $2 per deck here in L.A.), so in order to make a deck suitable for the American game (with 8 Kings, useable as Jokers), I bought two decks and took the Kings from one deck and put them in the other deck.

As it turns out, this type of deck is very cheap and also unfortunately also is very low quality. There are kards with ink smears, ripped off surfaces, and bad registration:

So, it's actually a good idea to buy two decks. That way the really bad kards can be discarded and you don't have to deal with them at all. However, the length of the kards can vary from deck to deck! (+_+)

These slim Chinese kards are made cheaply because they're intended for sale in China, and since Mah-Jongg was illegal until just recently, the cards had to be disposable.

Both of the above-described Chinese decks come with Western indices (Roman letters and Arabic numerals readable by people who are not able to read Chinese characters). But due to the poor quality of the slim kards and the fact that neither deck comes with 152 kards suitable for playing the American game (in case you're interested in playing the American game), you're probably better off to just buy a deck from the NMJL, or from one of the other sources listed below.

How to Play with Kards

Obviously, you can't build walls when using kards instead of tiles. But guess what? I usually teach newbies that "mah-jongg is a lot like rummy, but you can't just make a stack, so you have to build walls instead."

So... to start, you have to shuffle the kards. The easiest way to do that is to divvy up the stack into 4 parts - each player shuffle a part, then stack them up in front of the dealer.

Dealer deals the kards. 4 to each player until each player has 12. Then 2 to the dealer and 1 to the other players. Put the stack in the center of the table.

As you play, you have to line up the diskards so that they don't get hidden underneath each other. Any way you want to line'em up is fine. I recommend overlapping them some, so you can see the corner markings.

Obviously, you're not using racks either. Just fan the kards in your hand. And when you make exposures, lay'em down in front of you so everybody can see'em.

That's all there is to it. You were expecting maybe a whole treatise or something? Oy. Don't be fershlugginer! (I don't know if that's really a Yiddish word - it's a Mad Magazine word from when I was a kid.)

Other sources for kards

Check the online vendors listed in FAQ 4a, Selected Maj Links. Several of them offer NMJL-style kards.

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And there is also an American-made MJ deck called "Mhing."

Mhing is manufactured by...

I found my Mhing deck at the Game Keeper store down at the local mall! The deck can be used to play any form of Mah-Jongg. It comes with 6 "Mhing" cards and 6 score cards (you could just use 2 of the score cards and all the Mhing cards as 8 jokers to play American). All the suits, winds, dragons, and flowers are there -- but the flower cards are not numbered (if you wanted to play a Chinese game with "own flower" you'd have to number the flower cards). Mhing is sometimes available for auction at eBay.

You can also get the book THE FORTUNE TELLER'S MAH JONGG, by Derek Walters, Eddison-Sadd Edition, Viking Penguin, 1994, ISBN 0-670-85640-1. The book comes with a deck of kards which are not suitable for the American game since there are not enough cards (no jokers).

There are enough flowers/seasons (actually flowers/trades, but that doesn't make a big difference), but there are no jokers. It's a 144-kard deck, with only 3blanks added (total: 147). The kards are highly stylized (Tarot influences abound) and beautiful.

The book focuses on fortune-telling; there is only a 2-page description of how to play Mah-Jongg (an abbreviated version of classical Chinese).

You can see the book and kards listed at and you can find out more about them at I found these sites by using Google. It's easy and quick! For more about how to search the internet, click here.

The book and kards are out of print in the U.S. Although they're listed on Amazon, I suspect that if you order them they won't be able to dig up a copy for you. However, on June 24, 2003 I got this encouraging email from Ulrich M. Schwarz in Germany:

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Here's a new addition to the collection - PANDA CARDS from Japan!

The deck is intended for kids, and includes 144 cards. In addition to the standard 136 (the 3 suits, winds, and dragons), there are 4 season cards, and 4 double-sided cards. In my opinion, cards that look the same on front and back are generally a problem. The player tends to turn them over to make sure the card isn't just backwards, giving away a clue about the hand!

This particular deck is most suited for playing Japanese-style, else players could use only 4 flowers, and perhaps call the P cards "jokers."

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Not all decks are suitable for the type of mah-jongg you play. As with buying tiles... you should know what you're buying before you puts down your money.

Like kards? Then check out the Hanafuda page on this website. Even more fun decks of playing cards from Japan!

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