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FAQ 13A. How to play American mah-jongg with fewer than 4 (or more than 4) players

American mah-jongg, with 3 players --

  • Build 4 walls as usual. Do not deal tiles to the empty seat.
  • Each player in turn takes 4 tiles from the wall (just as is done in the 4-player game), until each player is holding 12 tiles.
  • Then one of the following procedures is used:
    1. The dealer takes the next 2 tiles, and then the other two players take their last tile. (January 2024 newsletter), or:
    2. Each player takes a tile and then the dealer takes one more. (2020 edition of MJME), or:
    3. The dealer takes the top tile from end stacks "one and three," just as is done in the 4-player deal, and the other players take one. (This is the way 3 players dealt, prior to the 2020 ruling).*
  • After the deal, skip the Charleston,** just go straight to the dealer's first discard.

    American mah-jongg, with 2 players -- Same as above. Sit opposite each other. Build 4 walls. Dealer has 14 tiles, opposite player has 13 tiles (as usual). No dummy seats (deal tiles to 2 players only). No Charleston -- after the deal, just begin with the dealer's first discard*.

    American mah-jongg, with 5 players.
    If you have five players, the normal thing is for the 5th player to sit out.
    At the outset (all 5 players being present), everyone roll the dice. Low roller sits out first hand. At the end of the hand, dealer steps away from the table and 5th player takes her seat. At the end of the next hand, dealer steps away and the out player steps in. And so on.
    There's also the popular "bettor" method. 5th player reviews all players' hands after the Charleston is complete, to determine who she thinks will win the hand. On a separate table removed from the game table, she writes the name of her "bet-on" player. She is not permitted to make ANY comment else her bet is voided. After the hand is finished, she collects just as the bet-on player does, if the bet-on wins. Or she pays just as the bet-on player does, if the bet-on loses.

    American mah-jongg, with 6 players
    If you have six players, two players sit out. When the previous dealer gets up from the table, one of the sit-outers sits in. When next dealer gets up, the next sit-outer sits in. It's an orderly rotation, not hard to figure out.

    This is the League's official rulebook.
    Every table should have a copy!

    Got a question about American 3-player rules not mentioned here? Email your question to me ( and I'll answer your question on the Mah-Jongg Q&A Bulletin Board. Like this, for example:

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