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FAQ 17. Hong Kong Old Style Mah-Jongg

(Formerly: "3 FAN Mah-Jongg Explained")

Note: This FAQ was originally written to help Yahoo mah-jongg players who were finding themselves befuddled by other players' demands that "3-fan" rules must be obeyed. Yahoo's mah-jongg game no longer exists, but this FAQ is still useful as a guide to HKOS, which remains a very popular mah-jongg variant. Please just ignore all the Yahoo references and dead Yahoo links herein.
Originally written in 2003. Latest update: 2016

"Can somebody explain the Hong Kong scoring system please? What the heck is a 'fan'?"

"Fan" is the Chinese term that in the West is usually termed "a Double." So if players agree that the minimum score is "3 Fan," that means the hand does not qualify to go mah-jongg unless the hand earns a minimum of 3 Doubles - no chicken hands allowed! (A "chicken" or "KFC" hand is one that scores no doubles - i.e., 0 fan.)


If you're new to HKOS mah-jongg (and/or you're finding yourself puzzled by someone's demand that you play "3-fan"), you can most easily begin by playing just two types of hands: (1) Clean/Pure, and (2) All Pungs.

But there is much more to the "3 fan" game than just clean/pure and all pungs. You can also earn a fan for having your own flower, or for having a pung of dragons, for example (these fan are supplemental to other scoring elements in the hand - if your hand is clean and has a pung of dragons, you get 3 fan for being clean, plus 1 fan for the pung of dragons - and I haven't even mentioned winning-tile situations yet!

When you are ready to go beyond the BEGINNERS' BASIC STRATEGY outlined above, you are ready to continue reading below. Have fun, and may the tiles be with you!

HOW TO COUNT FAN (Beyond Beginner Basics)







These hands are worth the maximum score. No fan counting required!

NOTE: The italicized hands above are a subject of controversy - their values and usage are not universally recognized by all Hong Kong players. You have to inquire about the table rules whenever joining a table with strangers.

STRATEGY for 3-Fan

Your best beginning strategy if your opponents insist on a 3-fan minimum is to just go for one-suit hands (pure or semipure), all-pung hands, or all-honors hands.
If you have chows, then focus on one suit.
If you have pungs, then you can mix the suits.
You may need to switch suits if you aren't picking them, or the player at your left is not discarding them.
Go for your own wind whenever feasible.
Learn how to tell what's dangerous to discard - be prepared to kill your hand if there is high danger and/or if it appears that you can't mah-jongg.

Please see FAQ 8 for more in-depth strategy tips.


For information on books describing Hong Kong Old Style mah-jongg, see FAQ 3. The hands described in books vary somewhat (some writers list hands not listed by other writers; some writers award more fan for certain hands than other writers do; some writers apply different base scores or multipliers). When joining a table, inquire about the table rules in use.

Another resource here on Sloperama is FAQ 20 (frequently misunderstood rules of Asian forms of mah-jongg).


Above we covered how to count fan. But when playing in real life games (I mean "as opposed to online" - you know, at a physical table with actual tiles and you can actually reach out and touch a human player), there's more to it than that. Fan must be converted to points, which are used to determine payments when playing for money. And what if the players permit winning on a "chicken" (sometimes called "KFC") hand - one that scores zero fan - how do the other players pay you then? Discuss beforehand if playing with real folks at a real table, make sure you know how their game works as well as you can.
The main purpose of this FAQ is to answer the Frequently Asked Question, "What the heck is this '3fan' thing the Yahoo players keep beating me over the head with?" If you are interested in more fine points about actual scoring, get the Amy Lo book or the Perlmen & Chan book ( see FAQ 3). There are actually several different scoring methods extant, and they go beyond the purview of this FAQ.


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