Western Mah-Jongg -- Rules & Options

Western Special Hands(Many images; may be slow to load.)

Since 1920 when Joseph P. Babcock introduced the game to the United States, the American game has gone through quite an evolution, and has branched out into several different evolutionary branches. The rules used in Shanghai: Second Dynasty's Western Game are the rules which can commonly be found in Mah-Jongg books readily available in bookstores throughout the English-speaking world. You can learn about Mah-Jongg books in another chapter of this guide.

Essentially, the Western game of Mah-Jongg is a happy blend of the Chinese and American games. The Western game is Rummy-like in that the player can form any combinations of four-groups-and-a-pair (similar to the Chinese and Japanese games), or if the player so chooses, the player can choose to use the combinations found on the "card." The Western card (unlike the American card), however, remains the same, not changing from year to year. The Western game, like the American game, uses a Charleston. Flowers are luck tiles (as they are used in the Chinese game), not used in the hand (as is done in the American game). Jokers are optional.

An important hallmark of the Western game is that "Payment To All" is the rule. When a player wins, all players pay the winner. Then, non-winners compare the value of their hands, and exchange payment as appropriate. It is possible for a non-winner to win more than the winner due to this rule!

When you click on the Western option in the Mah-Jongg Game Setup dialog box, this dialog box will appear, giving you the different options you can select for the Western game.

Some players prefer to play without the Flowers and Seasons because these tiles add an element of luck (reducing the importance of strategy somewhat). A Flower (a term used to cover both Flower tiles and Season tiles) is worth four points, and a Bouquet (all four Flowers, or all four Seasons) is worth 1000 points, paid immediately upon melding it. Most Western players use the Flowers, so Shanghai: Second Dynasty normally does too. If you want to play without flowers, remove the X in this box.

Players ante up 100 points at the beginning of a hand; player can only claim the Kitty if his hand is all Pung or all Kong. Additionally, more money can go in the kitty if a Goulash (Wall Game) occurs.

As you might guess, Jokers are "wild tiles" which can be used to represent any other tile. Jokers can be used to fill out a Pung or Kong or Chow, but never to fill a pair or stand in for a single tile (such as the "8" in "1861" for the Civil War hand). Jokers add an element of luck to the game. If you want to use them, put an X in this box.

Double Dice
Some players like to increase the winnings and excitement, by doubling the score whenever the dice show a double number (both dice show the same number). If you want this feature, put an X in this box.

Special Hands (Allowed/Not Allowed)
The main characteristic of the American game that differentiates it so much from the Chinese is in the variety of special hands available for play. The Chinese game recognizes around 20 ways of going out. In the various English-language books on Western Mah-Jongg you will find many special hands described. Shanghai: Second Dynasty supports 50 special hands which are fairly widely described in those books. For more information on the Special Hands recognized in Shanghai: Second Dynasty, see the Special Hands section.

Restrictions on Winning Hands (No Restrictions/Clean With At Most One Chow)
After you have mastered the game and want to increase the challenge, you can restrict play to require that any winning hand must be "clean" (all one suit, with Honors allowed) with no more than one Chow allowed.

Clicking this button resets all options back to their "factory" settings.

Features of the Western game

One of the distinctive features of the Western and American games is the Charleston. This is a very important aspect of the Western game - the player can mold and shape the hand in this phase. After the deal, and before play begins, players exchange tiles with each other by passing three tiles to a player (and receiving three in turn, from another player) in this order: to the player on the right, across, and left. The tiles are automatically passed to that player by the computer. The game automatically passes you A.I. players' tiles - you need to highlight three tiles in your hand and press Pass.

A "blind pass" of one, two, or three tiles is permitted on the last pass of the Charleston: for example, if you have only two tiles that you want to exchange with your neighbor, then you can click those two tiles, and one of the three face-down tiles passed to you by your other neighbor. The highlighted tiles will be passed on to your exchange partner.

Jokers (optional)
When playing for Special Hands, Jokers are just about essential - unless you and your opponents are all extremely skilled and patient! Melded Jokers can be redeemed on a player's turn - if an opponent has a melded Pung of East Winds, for example (and one of the tiles is a Joker), and you have an East Wind tile, then when it's your turn (after you draw but before you discard), you can highlight your East Wind tile, then click on the melded Joker, to add the Joker to your hand. Effectively, your opponent keeps his/her melded Pung and you get a wild tile to meld into something of your own later. If you redeem a Joker you may hold it in your hand until you can use it in a meld or a win.

Discarded Jokers cannot be taken - "down is dead." When a player discards a Joker (something a player might want to do towards the end of the game, when his options are limited and he wants to make sure nobody else wins), the discard is regarded as being identical to the previous discard. For example, if West discards an Eight Bam, and North then follows up by discarding a Joker, the Joker is regarded as being an Eight Bam. If East then wishes to claim the Eight Bam for a Pung, Kong, or Chow, he may take the Eight Bam (not the Joker). Jokers cannot be passed during the Charleston. In certain cases, the computer may not recognize how you want to use a Joker, especially in Chows of special hands.

Goulash (Wall Game)
When a game is played "to the wall" (all the tiles are drawn and nobody wins), a Goulash occurs. Essentially, another hand is played (starting with a Charleston). East remains East throughout the Goulash but the deal passes after the hand is complete, no matter who wins.

A Complete Mah-Jongg Hand

Putting all of this together, a typical complete Mah-Jongg hand might look like the illustration below.

This hand contains an exposed pung of North Winds, two concealed Chows of Craks, a Pung and a Pair of Bams (you justed picked a One Bam to complete the Pung of One Bams, and the hand). Four groups and a pair, for a total of 14 tiles.

Example of a complete Mah-Jongg hand:
four groups-of-three plus a pair.

The groupings in a Mah-Jongg hand can either be exposed or concealed, depending on the rules and the kind of hand you're trying to build. A player may also choose to build a Special Hand which is a defined combination of tiles which is given a special name (see the Special Hands section).

Western Mah-Jongg Scoring

Don't forget: In Western Mah-Jongg, all players are scored when one player goes out.


Going Mah-Jongg - 20
Exposed Pung of Simples - 2
Concealed Pung of Simples - 4
Exposed Pung of Terminals - 4
Concealed Pung of Terminals - 8
Exposed Pung of Honors - 4
Concealed Pung of Honors - 8
Exposed Kong of Simples - 8
Concealed Kong of Simples - 8
Exposed Kong of Terminals - 16
Concealed Kong of Terminals - 32
Exposed Kong of Honors - 16
Concealed Kong of Honors - 32
Flower - 4
Season - 4
Pair of Terminals - 2
Pair of Dragons - 2
Pair of Winds - 2
Sweep - 2
Bouquet of Flowers - 1000
Bouquet of Seasons - 1000

A bouquet must be four flowers or four seasons.

A bouquet cannot be a mix of flowers and seasons. It earns 1000 points from each player.

Rounding before doubles - Yes
Pung of Dragons - 1
Pung of Winds - 1
Pung of Prevailing Wind - 1
Own Flower - 1
Own Season - 1
Clean Hand - 1
Pure Hand - 3
Going Out on Loose Tile - 1
Fully Concealed Hand - 1
Concealed Hand - 1
Prevailing Flower - 1
Prevailing Season - 1

Limit - 500 (East pays and receives double)
Opening stake - 10000

When any player goes Mah-Jongg, the Mah-Jongg Results box is displayed. Study the Results to learn more about how hands are scored (especially keeping in mind that "Payment To All" is the rule in Western Mah-Jongg), and you'll be on your way to developing your own strategy for playing. When the Score Display is visible, you can use the Up and Down buttons (when highlighted) to scroll up and down the list, to see how the winning hand is scored. You can use the Hide button to hide the Score Display so that you can examine the center of the table.

When the Payments Display is visible, you can use the Next and Prev buttons to see how other hands in the game were paid. In Western Mah-Jongg all players earn points for the tiles they have collected (not only the winner is paid). You can click on the player's name to see how that player's hand was scored.

Western Mah-Jongg Strategies

Because Western mah-jongg is a blend of the Chinese and American games, the strategies for those games both apply to the Western game. See the chapter on Chinese strategies and the section on American strategies.

On to the next part of this chapter:

Western Special Hands (Many images; may be slow to load.)

Or on to the next chapter:

More About Mah-Jongg