Is Mahjong for me?

I’ve agreed to meet with three other women and learn to play Mahjong – a very popular game in the retirement community where I live. I think I played it once before way back in the seventies when I lived in the South Pacific. But I can’t remember anything about it.

Back in my younger days I played all kinds of card games. I learned Bridge in high school and played it until I married my first husband in 1961. I also played Canasta in those days – I remember playing it with eight decks of cards. And, my dad taught me to play Gin Rummy when I was quite young. He was an expert player and teacher. I also played War and Go Fish as a little girl. But I haven’t played any of those games in years.

So what is Mahjong’s attraction? Probably because it’s a way to socialize and make friends where I live, though I don’t expect it will become an addiction. And now that I’ve committed to learning the game, I’ve done a bit of research. Here’s what I’ve found out:

A brief description: Mahjong or mah-jongg is a tile-based game that was developed in the 19th century in China and has spread throughout the world since the early 20th century. In traditional Mahjong, there are usually four players and 144 Mahjong tiles, based on Chinese characters and symbols. Each player begins with 13 tiles and takes turns drawing and discarding tiles until they form a winning hand.

What’s the goal of Mahjong? The goal of mahjong is similar to poker, in that the aim is to make matching sets and pairs. A set is three or four identical tiles or three consecutive tiles (also known as ‘melds’), and a pair is two of the same tiles (often called ‘eyes’). To win mahjong a player must form four sets and one pair.

Is Mahjong harder than chess? Chess is probably harder overall than Mahjong because there is no luck involved in chess. Some variants of mahjong are harder than others but the luck factor is still there. The rules of Mahjong, however, tend to be more complex and it is harder to learn than Chess.

How long is Mahjong? A session of Mahjong is three rounds––the East, South, West and then North round and each player takes turns being the dealer for each round; therefore, it is at least 16 games before a session of Mahjong is completed and that takes around two hours.

I think that’s enough pre-game tech talk about Mahjong. After I’ve played a time or two I’ll come back and let you know how it’s going.

And, please be sure to let me know your Mahjong experiences.


  1. Joyce Goldberg says

    Wow…thanks for the lesson! I’m not a card player, so maybe 2 hours is par for the course, but it sounds rather long to me. Do you get to talk or is it all business? If you talk does it take even longer? Anyway, I’m also looking forward to learning how to. play…at least I think I am. See you at the Mahjong table.

    • Madeline Sharples says

      Thanks, Joyce. I’ll find out the answers to your questions once I start playing. Two hours seems long to me too. So far I get that Mahjong playing is pretty serious and hard.

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