Three player mahjong

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Three player mahjong
Mahjong in Hangzhou.jpg
A game of mahjong being played in Hangzhou, China
Three Player Mahjong
Setup time2–5 minutes
Playing timeDependent on variation and/or house/tournament rules. Fast. 5-15 min.
Random chanceYes
Age range12 years and older
Skill(s) requiredTactics, observation, memory, risk analysis

Three-player mahjong is a variation of mahjong for three players rather than the more common four-player variations. It is not a mere adaption of four-player mahjong to suit only three players but has its own rules and idiosyncrasies that place it apart from the more standard variations. The equipment used and the basic mechanisms are much like four-player variations though some tiles are removed, certain plays are prohibited and the scoring system is simplified. [1] The game is embraced in some Asian countries while ignored or snubbed in others.


Three-player mahjong is played mostly in Japan, Korea and Malaysia. This article focuses on rules from the earlier two (Japan/Korea) while other variations are covered in the following section. The rules given below are the most commonly used rules in Korean/Japanese three-player mahjong while optional house rules (extra rules which groups may opt to use) are listed afterwards. There are numerous possible house rules meaning three-player mahjong can be as simple or complex as players prefer.

Vanilla three-player rules

There are basic rules common among the various three-player Mahjong, [2] variations played in Korea and Japan. [3] The following presents the most commonly used rules with a list of variations afterwards. For those most familiar with common versions of four-player mahjong will note the removal of several tiles (most notably most of the bamboo tiles), chows cannot be melded on a discard, discards are placed in front of players, a player cannot win on a discard they have already previously discarded themselves and a notably different scoring system.


Three-player mahjong is played with a standard mahjong set with several tiles removed. First, the north wind is removed. The 2-8 of bamboo is also removed. The four season tiles are also removed, but the four flowers are kept. There are no jokers or any other extra tiles [4]

MJt1-.svg MJt2-.svg MJt3-.svg MJt4-.svg MJt5-.svg MJt6-.svg MJt7-.svg MJt8-.svg MJt9-.svg

Circles or Dots Numbered 1 to 9

MJw1-.svg MJw2-.svg MJw3-.svg MJw4-.svg MJw5-.svg MJw6-.svg MJw7-.svg MJw8-.svg MJw9-.svg

Characters Numbered 1 to 9

MJs1b-.svg MJs9-.svg

All four of 1 and 9 bamboo are used with 2–8 removed

MJf1-.svg MJf2-.svg MJf3-.svg

The East, South, and West (North is omitted)

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The White, Green, and Red Dragons

MJh5-.svg MJh6-.svg MJh7-.svg MJh8-.svg The four flowers (there is only one of each)

The circles, characters, and bamboo are called simple tiles (they are numbered 1 to 9 and only tiles 1 and 9 are used in the bamboo suit). Of the dragons and winds (called honours), there are three kinds of each with no numerical value. Of both simples and honours, there are four matching tiles for each value (i.e. there are four red dragons and there are four II dots).


Tiles are dealt just like other variations of mahjong only the walls are made of only thirteen tiles long and only two dice are used. For those unfamiliar with stacking the wall the following explains it for three-player mahjong.

Shuffling tiles

All tiles are placed face down on the table and are shuffled. By convention all players should participate in shuffling using both hands moving the pieces around the table rigorously and loudly for a lengthy period. Tiles may get flipped up during this process and players should flip them facing down as soon as possible to avoid identifying the location of the revealed tiles.

Stacking tiles

Walls with cardinal directions, including the dealer (E), along with counting order Three player version of mahjong table diagram.png
Walls with cardinal directions, including the dealer (E), along with counting order

Each player then stacks a row of 13 tiles, two tiles high in front of them (for a total of 26 tiles). Players then push each side of their stack together to form a square wall. One of the three players has to create the fourth wall.

Drawing tiles

The dealer throws two dice in the square wall and sums up the total. Counting anti-clockwise so that the dealer's wall is 1 , 5 or 9 while south is 2, 6 or 10 and west is 3, 7 or 11. All other numbers represent the fourth wall (technically the North wall). This determines which side of the wall the tiles will be dealt from.

Using the same total on the dice dealer counts each stack of tiles on that wall from right to left. Starting from the left of the stacks counted, the dealer draws four tiles for himself (two stacks of two tiles) and players in counter-clockwise order draw blocks of four tiles until all players have 12 tiles, so that the stacks decrease clockwise. Each player then draws one last tile to make a 13-tile hand.

Dealing may be done more informally (without using dice and the dealer randomly breaking the wall wherever they choose). Players may also more informally put the wall into a triangle for easier three player usage. In some table rules the dealer deals out all of the tiles.

While drawing the 13th piece to complete the initial hand, the dealer (E) will typically also draw a 14th piece (both highlighted in blue) to initiate the game. Three player version of mahjong diagram.png
While drawing the 13th piece to complete the initial hand, the dealer (E) will typically also draw a 14th piece (both highlighted in blue) to initiate the game.


Each players hand consists of 13 tiles. In sequence, players pick up a tile from the wall and discard one until a player has a legal hand. The majority of legal hands consists of 4 melds of three tiles and one pair of identical tiles. Melds can also consist of four tiles under certain conditions and there are a few uncommon and very specific winning hands that have a unique composition that break all the rules. These game rules are commonly interrupted by specific plays which include stealing a players discard, forming a kong, putting a flower tile to the side, and a few other special rules.

Composition of Hands

Hands consist of four melds and one matching pair of tiles.



A chow is a set which consists of three pieces in one suit (either circles or characters) in numerical sequence (i.e. 5-6-7 of characters or 2-3-4 of dots). It can only be made of circles or characters as the remaining bamboo suit allows for no consecutive numerical sequence anymore. Chows must contain three tiles; two or four tile chows are not permitted. Unlike in four-player mahjong, chows can only be created by the player (not formed through other players discards).

MJw2-.svg MJw3-.svg MJw4-.svg

MJt1-.svg MJt2-.svg MJt3-.svg


A pong is a set which consists of three identical pieces of any tile (except flowers which are bonus tiles and are always set aside). Examples would be three red dragons or three 2 of dots.

MJd1-.svg MJd1-.svg MJd1-.svg

MJt2-.svg MJt2-.svg MJt2-.svg


A kong is a special type of pong which consists of all four pieces of any tile. See below for the procedures for declaring a kong. It is the only set that permits four tiles.

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On top of the 4 melds (chows and or pongs/kongs) a winning hand must also include an eye. The eye is a pair of tiles (two matching identical tiles) such as two Green Dragons or two 9 of bamboos. Any simple tile or honour tile can be used.

MJd2-.svg MJd2-.svg

MJs9-.svg MJs9-.svg

General play


Three players start with 13 tiles and the dealer with fourteen. The dealer begins by discarding one tile. All players must have only 13 tiles in their hand, not including flowers which are set aside nor the 4th piece of any kong they might have (which is considered an extra tile). Any Kong declared or flower set aside, is replaced by a tile from the wall. After the dealer discards, the next player picks the next available tile from the wall (going clockwise) and discards a tile. Play continues until a player forms a legal hand with the 14th tile drawn from the wall. Play may be interrupted for any of the following reasons

Stealing a pong

If a player can use an opponent's discard to complete a pong the player calls this out (before the next player in turn has a chance to draw from the wall). He or she picks up the discarded tile, reveals the two matching pieces in his or her hand and sets them down face up on the table in front of his hand and then discards a tile. Play continues with the next player (clockwise to the player who stole the pong) taking his turn and drawing a tile from the wall. A previously discarded tile cannot be used to make a pong (nor for any other reason) after the next player draws a tile from the wall meaning all discarded tiles beforehand are untouchable.

Stealing a kong

At any point during a players turn they may add a piece in their hand to a declared pong (a pong which was formed by stealing it from another player's discard). The player adds it to the pong (placing three in a row and one on top of the one in the middle) and takes a tile from the wall to compensate for the extra fourth tile of the kong. If a player has four identical tiles, during his/her turn, they may reveal it to the other players in what is considered a concealed kong (placing two tiles upside down) and draws another tile from the wall to compensate for the fourth tile in the kong.

Robbing the kong

If a player declares a kong and another player needs that piece to make a chow and win the game, the player may declare so and "go mahjong" (win). It is called robbing the Kong. This does not occur often.

Winning from a discard

A player, lacking only one piece to form a legal hand (whether completing a chow, pong, eye, or special hand) may steal the discard and wins (this takes precedence over any other players' attempt to steal the tile. If two players can use the tile to go mahjong, the player with the most hand-points takes the tile. If their hands are equal, the player closest to the player who discarded the tile wins the hand.

Revealing kongs and flowers (clarified)

Revealing a kong

During a player's turn (as mentioned above), at any point if they have all four of one tile, they may declare a hidden kong (meaning the 4th piece wasn't stolen). The player reveals the pieces to the opponents putting all four in a row with two face down and the middle two face up (as the other players have the right to know which tile there are now none left of). The player takes an extra piece from the "end" of the wall to make his hand complete and then may discard.

Turning a pong into a kong

During a player's turn, if a pong has been stolen and they now have the fourth piece, they may add the fourth piece to the pong to form a kong. The player take an extra piece from the end of the wall.


The moment a player picks up a flower they should announce so, put it to the side, and take a replacement piece from the middle.

Irregularities (clarified)


No changes can be made to a pong or kong which has already been declared (it cannot be taken back to form anything else).

Stealing kongs

A discard cannot be stolen to add the fourth piece to a pong which has already been declared (stolen and revealed to the other players). This can only be formed by the player him or herself taking the 4th piece from the wall on his or her turn.

Two players claiming a discard to win

If two players both need a piece to win (or from robbing the kong which would be unspeakably rare) then the player who can form the hand with the most hand-points takes it and wins. If both players have the same hand-points, then the player with the most bonus-points takes it and wins. If this is also equal, then the player first clockwise to the player who discarded takes the tile and wins. Winning always takes precedence over forming a pong or kong. Two players cannot both steal a piece to form a pong or kong.

Stealing chows

Stealing chows is allowed in some versions of mahjong but not in this version nor in Korean mahjong. You cannot meld a chow from another player's discard.


If it is noted that a player has 14 pieces in their hand (not including flowers or the 4th piece of a kong) after a discard (when it is not their turn) or for that matter more than fourteen or having 12 or less, if a player robs a piece but cannot form the right set, forgets to put aside a flower, or has any other irregularity they are usually heavily punished. It depends on the house rules of each group of players. Serious flaws like having 14 pieces should involve having points deducted. Claiming to win mahjong while not having a legal hand should be seriously punished. Knocking over another players tile should be punished. Calling out the wrong name of a tile (while discarding) may be one of the worst offenses possible, especially if another player reveals that they could have stolen it.

Sacred discard

Unlike many variations of mahjong, a player may not win on a discard if they have already discarded that piece previously. In order to keep track of discards, tiles are not thrown into the centre as in other versions of mahjong but are placed directly in front of their hand so that their discard history is easily seen. It is usually done in neat rows of seven to ten pieces (depending on table preferences).


At the end of each hand, the dealership passes to the player clockwise. The dealer is always known as the east player and to his or her right as the south and the third player as west. These directions alternate with the dealer. Three games are known as a round. Each round is also named after a wind. The entire match last 3 sets of 3 hands (9 hands in total): The East round (three hands), South round (three hands) and west round (three hands). In each round, each player is dealer once playing in the East position (as dealer) once and the other players taking the south and west positions.

Example of a 9-hand game
Hand NumberPrevailing WindPlayer 1Player 2Player 3
1EastEast (dealer)SouthWest
2EastWestEast (dealer)South
3EastSouthWestEast (dealer)
4SouthEast (dealer)SouthWest
5SouthWestEast (dealer)South
6SouthSouthWestEast (dealer)
7WestEast (dealer)SouthWest
8WestWestEast (dealer)South
9WestSouthWestEast (dealer)

Whether the dealer wins or not, or if there is a winner or not, wind position changes each time. Unlike other versions of mahjong being East does not give any special bonuses, it does not double the players scores in any way. If a hand ends in a draw (goulash hand), the winner of the next hand first takes the proper points from his opponents and then an extra 5 points from each player. The dealer passes to the next player, even on a goulash hand. If there is a second draw (two goulash hands in a row) the winner of the next round takes 10 points from each player in addition to their other points.

The wall is usually four sides but can be three in informal play. Players may choose to continue playing a second match after the first one ends (accumulating the points into a double match) or even a triple match meaning a total of 27 hands.

Minimum hand-points

Only the winners hand is scored (the other players' hands take no points). Points are counted based on the individual sets a player has, if they are made of simples or honours (e.g. circles or dragons), if these sets match the players seat (wind tiles), how the hand is composed as a whole (e.g. only one suit or all pongs and an eye), and special patterns. As well bonus-points are scored for having kongs, flowers and other criteria mentioned later. When being introduced to a game, the mechanics may be so overwhelming that no points may be scored and players simply try to win with any legal hand (0 points) until the mechanics of the game are understood. Once this is achieved, the player should be introduced to the minimum point chart and should be encouraged to form hands of at least three minimum points (passed on sets and or overall composition of hand and or special patterns). The scoring chart below gives all possible points. Experienced players will play for a higher minimum.

Melds and point settlement

Even if a player has a legal winning hand, most house rules requires that a player has a minimum number of hand-points first. Typically they are three points for novice play, six points for intermediate play, and 7+ points for advanced play. Bonus-points are included in the winner's final score but do not count towards the minimum hand-points a player needs to go mahjong (that is a player must have a minimum of hand-points and not a minimum of hand-points plus bonus points).

Discarder pays

If a player wins by stealing a discard, the player who discards has to pay the winner double the winners hand-points (the other player pays nothing). Both players pay the winner bonus points.

If a player wins from the wall, both players pay the winner hand-points plus bonus points.

Sacred discard

The sacred discard is in effect. It means that players must place their discards in front of them in neat rows showing the history of their discards (usually in rows of 6). A player cannot use a discarded tile from another player to win based on a previously discarded tile by him/herself.

Declare ready

A player with a concealed hand may declare ready. They can only do so if they are waiting for a single piece to complete a legal hand. The player puts his/her pieces face down and on their turn will take a piece from the wall and must discard it if it doesn't complete a legal-hand. The player gains points if they win though they become completely unable to change their hand.


The point system is straight forward though may require some time to memorize the various elements. There are two classes of points which are hand-points and bonus points. There is a special class called limit hands which is treated later. In order to win a player needs to have a legal hand which scores the minimum or higher hand-points that players agree on before play (3 hand-points, 6 hand-points, 7 hand-points, etc.)

Unlike many other mahjong variations, only the winner scores and the other players take no points regardless of the content of their hands. Once a player wins he/she adds up all of his/her hand-points. If they meet the minimum hand-points they receive that number of points from the other two players. If they won from a discard then the person who discarded that piece pays for both players (the discarder pays double and the other player pays nothing). The winner then counts his/her bonus points and collects them from both players (even if the game was won on a discard). If a player was waiting for one tile to win, they pay two bonus points less.

Limit hand

If a player wins on a limit hand, the player scores either the agreed limit (usually 40 points) or a half limit (usually 20 points) and there is no need to total the other points. Limit hands can make or break a match.


A winning hand must have the minimum number of hand-points agreed on before the match starts. Points are based on specific melds (i.e. chows, pongs) a combination of melds (i.e. two matching pongs, three concealed pongs) or the entire hand (pure hand, seven pairs). Some melds/hands can score more than once (a kong of green dragons score 1 point for being green dragons and another point for being a kong).

Hand-points based on melds

  • 1 point any Dragon Pong
  • 1 point extra for having two dragons (three points in total)
  • 1 point any Wind Pong
  • 1 point more if the wind is players seat wind (two points in total for relevant winds)
  • 1 point More if the wind pong is the prevailing wind or round wind (two points in total for relevant winds)
  • 1 point every Kong
  • 3 points extra for 3 kongs (6 points in total)
  • 1 point Pong of 1 or 9 bamboo
  • 4 points extra for having both 1 and 9 bamboo (6 points in total)

Hand-points based on two or three melds

  • 2 points for having two identical chows
  • 3 points for having 3 concealed pongs/kongs

Hand-points based on the complete hand

  • 3 points for having all pongs/kongs and any pair
  • 6 points extra if player has all terminals (1s and 9s) and honours
  • 3 points for having a clean hand (hand is made up only of circle tiles and honour tiles or is made of only character and honour tiles)
  • 3 points extra if the hand is pure without honours (the hand consists purely of circle tiles or purely of character tiles)
  • 3 points for having 7 pairs (special hand consisting of seven different pairs)
  • 3 points for having three chows of 1 to 9 in circles or 1 to 9 in characters
  • 1 point for having all simples (no honours)
  • 2 points extra for having all chows and a pair of simples (three points in total)

Hand-points based on revealed/concealed hand

  • 2 points for having a concealed hand (player did not take an opponent's discard before going mahjong)
  • 2 points extra if the concealed is completed by a piece from the wall (four hand-points in total)


The winner adds his/her hand-points to all the following bonus points which may apply. (Both opponents pay)

Optional rules and optional scoring

Playing with all the points above and all possible variations is impracticable and complicated. Players chose which points they want to use and will periodically change or add some as long as there is a full consensus. The following variations can be regional. All variations can be incorporated into the basic game.

Experienced players will raise the minimum hand-points needed to four points or more (each time becoming exponentially more challenging). There are a few limit hands. Limit hands are special hands that a player may have which score a set number of points. The amount is high and depends on whatever limit the players set. If playing for stakes, the limit may be low to avoid having to pay large amounts to each other. A couple patterns (13 orphans and heavenly gates), much like seven pairs, are special hands. They are the only three hands a player can have which do not fit the pattern of four melds and an eye (pongs/chows and a pair). They must be concealed hands though may be won on a discard or from the wall. They are optional and players do not need to include them in their game if not desired. A limit hand may effectively end a match if not playing for stakes as players may not be motivated to continue as beating a player who has won a limit has is incredibly difficult as winning limit hands (full limits especially) are exceedingly rare.

Only the winner of each game scores points for his/her hand (other players do not score any points but pay points to the winner). The winner will collect his/her total points from each player if he/she wins from the wall (unless a player was declared ready [see below]). If the winner wins on the discard of a player, that player pays the winner and the bonus points for the other player (the other player pays the winner only the hand-points). There are no doubles nor fan systems as in continental versions of mahjong. Points are never doubled for any reason. In the case of a player winning a half limit or limit hand, both players pay the winner (regardless of if there was a discard or not) either the limit or half of the limit (the limit depends on the players though it should be at least 40 points) and if he/she wins on a discard, the player who discards pays double.

Players may place a limit on how many points may be awarded for consecutive goulash hands.

Players in Western countries (in casual play only) may shift the winds from E, S, W to N, E S (removing the West wind instead of the North wind and having the dealer as North) to align with Western culture centering their compass on the North.

Limit hands

Hands are optional and players may use all hands or choose based on consensus which ones to use. As all are difficult and the limit hands being very rare, all hands are included by most experienced players.

Half limit

  • Two dragons and a pair of the other dragon (little dragons)
  • Two winds and a pair of the other winds (little winds)
  • All bamboo and honours
  • At least one terminal in all sets and honours
  • Pure hand with pong of seat dragon or wind (concealed)
  • Four concealed pongs
  • Three kongs and a pair of honours
  • Little Jade Dragon (pair of five bamboo with the green dragon)
  • Three concealed Kongs
  • Four Kongs (concealed or not)

Full limit

  • All honours and or Terminals
  • Great Dragons (all three dragons)
  • Great Winds (all three winds)
  • Pong of 1 and 9 bamboo and pair of five bamboo
  • Four concealed kongs
  • Thirteen orphans (1 and 9 of each suit, one of each dragon, one of each wind and a pong of any one of these elements)
  • Nine gates is a concealed hand of 1112345678999 tiles in one suit, and winning on any extra tile of the same suit
  • Pearl Dragon (all circles and a pong/kong of the white dragon, note pair must also be circles)
  • Ruby Dragon (all character tiles and a pong/kong of the red dragon, note pair must also be characters)
  • Great Jade Dragon (pong of 1 and 9 bamboo with the green dragon)

Dead wall

Thirteen tiles are not used in the game and are placed to the side. The dealer turns over one piece. The next tile in sequence is considered a dora (having any of those pieces in a hand will give a bonus point). For example, if the tile turned over is a 3 circle, then all 4 circles will be considered dora and having a pong of 4 circles will score 3 bonus points. If a 9 is turned over then the 1 circle is considered a dora. The sequence of dragons is green, red, white, green (i.e. if a red dragon is turned over, the white dragons are dora tiles). The sequence of winds is north, east, south, north. If a flower tile is turned over then all flower tiles score two bonus points in total and having all three (as the flower turned over is considered a part of the dead wall and not used during the game) then the usual eight bonus points in total are given.

North Wind as normal piece

The North wind is kept in play but can only be used as a pair (scoring two points) or as a kong (scoring six points). A player cannot call mahjong if they have only a pong of the North. Winning a hand by drawing or stealing a North win scores two extra bonus points. The North wind is considered an honour tile but there is no round of North nor a North prevailing wind or a North seat position. North Wind is not part of the three little or three big winds limit hand but is part of the 13 orphans limit hand as well as the all-honours hand.

All bamboos removed

All bamboo tiles are removed

Three declared ready

If all three players declare ready, depending on the variation, either that particular game is considered a draw, or the winner only wins his hand-points from the other players.

Dora Tiles

There are two forms of dora which may optionally be used in three-player mahjong.

Red Dora Tiles

In some Japanese mahjong sets, one five circles tile is coloured red and one five characters tile is coloured red (the other matching three of each tile is the normal colour). There are thus only two of these tiles. A player who has one red dora tile in their hand scores one bonus point, and if they have both red dora tiles they score six bonus points (in total). These dora tiles count as bonus points and do not count as hand-points nor towards the minimum hand-points needed to go mahjong.

Revealed Dora Tiles

The second form of dora which is distinct from the first, is the revealing of one tile from the wall before the game begins. If a simple tile is revealed, then the next tile in order becomes a dora tile (i.e. if the 5 circles is revealed, then all 6 circles become dora...or if the 2 character tiles are revealed, then the 3 characters become dora). If a nine is revealed then the 1 of the same suit becomes dora. If a 1 bamboo is revealed then a 9 bamboo becomes dora. If a wind is revealed then the next wind in compass order becomes dora. If a dragon is revealed then the next dragon in alphabetical order becomes dora: Green-Red-White-Green.

A player scores one bonus point for each of these dora tiles used in the winning hand. The player scores one extra point if the player forms the eye using these tiles, two extra points if the player forms a pong, and scores six extra points if the player forms a kong using these tiles.

The red dora tiles are considered distinct from the revealed dora tiles and they should not be confused with each other. Table rules might include the red dora tiles but not the revealed dora tiles or the reverse. If table rules include both dora tiles, care should be taken not to mix the points scored for having them in their winning hand but to do so separately.

Dummy hand

The last thirteen tiles of the wall are not used in the game (considered an invisible fourth player).

Variations from specific regions

Honshū and other parts of Japan

Popular in the western part of Honshū, three-player Japanese mahjong incorporates a few changes which make it more suited to three players and simplified from four-player mahjong. There is no ghost player. Players need a minimum of one yaku to win. Refer to the article on Japanese Mahjong for unique Japanese playing concepts such as dora and furiten.

Tiles 2 through 8 are removed from the character suit. Chows cannot be melded. All four winds are used. Flowers are optional and not normally used. A dora tile is revealed at the beginning of the round, with more dora (such as uradora, kandora, and red fives) used or revealed later on as popular additions. The North wind also acts as a dora (Pei-dora) when it is exposed and set aside, or it may also be discarded as a safe tile (although an opponent may rob a concealed kong or a declared / discarded North tile to win with kokushi musou). Once all North wind tiles are exposed another dora tile is revealed in the dead wall, which consists of fourteen tiles as in four-player mahjong. A player cannot use a discard to win if his hand, prior to using the discard, does not contain a yaku (atozuke-nashi).

One-Han Yaku

Two-Han Yaku

3-Han Yaku

4-Han Yaku

5-Han Yaku

6-Han Yaku

Yakuman (Limit)

Double Yakuman

Triple Yakuman

Bonus Han

Scoring, though simplified, is somewhat complex. [6]

Scoring Table
HanRon (payment to ko)Ron (payment to oya)Tsumo (payment to ko from ko / oya)Tsumo (payment to oya from ko)
310001500300 / 500500
420003000500 / 10001000
5400060001000 / 20002000
6-7 (Mangan)8000120002000 / 40004000
8-9 (Haneman)12000180003000 / 60006000
10-12 (Baiman)16000240004000 / 80008000
13-15 (Sanbaiman)24000360006000 / 1200012000
Yakuman32000480008000 / 1600016000
Double Yakuman640009600016000 / 3200032000
Triple Yakuman9600014400024000 / 4800048000


Malaysian 3-player mahjong is played with only circles and honours, as well as the extra eight flowers in a Malaysian mahjong set ("face" and "animal" tiles) and jokers, for a total of 84 tiles. [7]


The following is an overview of set up, game play and scoring. Experienced players should be able to understand the game based on the following and using the scoring table further below. Each element however is detailed in the following sections.

The North wind is removed. Walls are formed as walls of 13 for dealer and the wall without a seated player and 12 for opponents, or in informal play, dealer with a wall of 19 and opponents with walls of 18 having no fourth wall. Each round includes three matches of three hands and there is no North round. Chows cannot be melded by discards, only pongs and kongs. Seasons are not used. 2-8 of bamboo is removed from the game with the option of using two 5 bamboo pieces which can only be used as a pair (which when successful scores many points). Sacred discard is in effect (you cannot win on a discarded tile if you have discarded it yourself earlier that hand). Discards are placed in front of players in rows of 6. There is not doubling and dealer passes to next player in all cases. In the case of a goulash game (no winner) the next winner takes one point from each player extra. Limit hands are optional and the limit starts at 40 points. Half limit hands in such a case being 20. Limit hands must be concealed. There is a distinction between hand-points and bonus points. A minimum of 3 hand-points is necessary to win (with experienced player playing with 4 and advanced players 5 minimum hand-points or more). Only winner scores, taking his total score (hand-points and bonus points) from each player with no doubling of any kind. Discarder pays the other player's score and only the bonus points if the player was ready to win (waiting for one piece with a legal minimum hand-points hand to be acquired). Seat dragons match seat winds (east is green, south is red and west is white). Seasons are omitted. Flowers score one bonus point each regardless of which numbered flower it is.

Changes in dynamics

The game dynamics in three-player mahjong, regardless of the rule set vary based on speed, the use of tiles, point keeps, using ghost players or not and how the lack of a fourth seat wind is dealt with.


The game is always faster. With one less hand and more tiles available to the other players, the game is speedy. [8]


The wall remains the same, though playing with dead walls depends on the variation and the players. In very casual play the wall can consist of three sides. [9]


In some variations an entire suit is removed. [10] In Malaysian mahjong only the circles and honours are used. In Korean mahjong one suit is removed or in other variations as well as in Japan, numbers 2-8 is removed from one suit. This radically changes the dynamics making certain hands more common such as single suited hands and hands without chows. [11]


In many versions east scores or pays double (a little more complicated in Japanese scoring), however in Korean scoring and Korean/Japanese scoring, there is no doubling of any kind. [3]

Ghost player

In some versions there is a ghost player, [4] meaning 13 tiles are not used in the wall to mimic the lack of tiles in 4 player versions. This player also takes one of the four winds, (though no tiles are dealt out to any ghost player nor are points given). In Korean, Japanese and Korean/Japanese mahjong, there is no ghost player and all tiles are used during the games.


In some variations, each player has a seat dragon as well as a seat wind which changes the point structure. There is however never a prevailing dragon even if there is a prevailing wind. When there is a seat dragon, East is green, South is red and West is white (fortunately it follows in alphabetical order in English from dealer to last player).

Melded (or declared) chows

In some variations these are not allowed. Only pongs and kongs in three-player games can be melded (or declared) meaning a chow can only be formed by a discard on winning. [12]

In Korean mahjong, three-player Japanese mahjong and in Korean/Japanese mahjong, melded chows are never allowed except if done to complete a hand.

Social nature

It is far more social and less likely to be played for stakes as it is looked down on as a less serious version of mahjong. However, in some versions such as Korean/Japanese three player, the rules can be intricate or complex and playing for small or large stakes forces the players to try to make more complex hands.

Point systems

The point system may or may not change depending on the variation of mahjong. In some variations a higher minimum point is expected or less points are given for certain hands. Table rules are common in three-player versions and a comprehensive list of variations or versions would be a massive undertaking not in the known works in any. [13] In Hong Kong Mahjong, the doubling system is used in which certain points pay off a certain amount of money which doubles each subsequent level. For instance 1 or 2 points pay nothing. 3 or 4 points pay one unit, 5 or 6 points pay two units, 7 to 10 points pay 4 units and anything more pays 8 units. The Japanese system is rather complicated, though is simplified in the three-player version. The Korean system and Korean/Japanese system is a simple 'pay a unit per point' to the winner. country. [14]

Rule agreement

The best rule set to use is the one you are familiar with, adapting them to three players as you are comfortable. [14] Korean/Japanese mahjong has a comprehensive set of rules well attuned for three-player gaming, for those with some experience in mahjong. The Malaysian version is a very simplified way for social playing. House rules of are the essence and players will decide their own rules over time. [9]


Three-player mahjong is probably as old as mahjong itself, though it is speculated that mahjong originated as a game for only two players. [12] Korean/Japanese three-player mahjong, played in east Asia is an amalgamation of Old Korean mahjong rules (which traditionally omitted the bamboo suit and did not allow melded chows and had a very simple scoring system) with some elements of Japanese rules including sacred discard (a player cannot rob a piece to win if he discarded it before) and many bonus points. Korean mahjong in the past included many elements of both traditional Chinese mahjong and the Japanese scoring system. The rules have changed and there are no standard rules, though this variation shown here reflects the old rules though adapted for modern three player play (as Koreans include some or all bamboo pieces now). An experienced player should be able to read the recap at the bottom of this section and understand the rules well. Inexperienced players would need to read the following to understand the game.


One of the motivations for playing with three players, is that finding a fourth may be difficult or that having one cancelling player (for a four-player game) ruins the possibility of playing at all and thus knowing how to play three-player mahjong means players can play, or always playing three-player mahjong limits the likelihood of someone cancelling. [9] However, the dynamics of playing with three players is also a good motivation, especially when playing traditional Korean rules.

Related Research Articles

Mahjong Tile-based game

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. It is commonly played by four players. The game and its regional variants are widely played throughout Eastern and South Eastern Asia and have also become popular in Western countries. The game has also been adapted into a widespread online entertainment. Similar to the Western card game rummy, Mahjong is a game of skill, strategy, and luck.


Pinochle, also called pinocle or penuchle, is a trick-taking, Ace-Ten card game typically for two to four players and played with a 48-card deck. It is derived from the card game bezique; players score points by trick-taking and also by forming combinations of cards into melds. It is thus considered part of a "trick-and-meld" category which also includes the game belote. Each hand is played in three phases: bidding, melds, and tricks. The standard game today is called "partnership auction pinochle".

Gin rummy two-player card game

Gin rummy, or simply gin, is a two-player card game created in 1909 by Elwood T. Baker and his son C. Graham Baker. It is a variant of rummy. It has enjoyed widespread popularity as both a social and a gambling game, especially during the mid twentieth century, and remains today one of the most widely-played two-player card games.


Canasta is a card game of the rummy family of games believed to be a variant of 500 Rum. Although many variations exist for two, three, five or six players, it is most commonly played by four in two partnerships with two standard decks of cards. Players attempt to make melds of seven cards of the same rank and "go out" by playing all cards in their hand. It is "the most recent card game to have achieved worldwide status as a classic".

500 rum

500 rum, also called pinochle rummy, Michigan rummy, Persian rummy, rummy 500 or 500 rummy, is a popular variant of rummy. The game of canasta and several other games are believed to have developed from this popular form of rummy. The distinctive feature of 500 rum is that each player scores the value of the sets or cards they meld. It may be played by 2 to 8 players, but it is best for 3 to 5.

Mahjong tiles Tiles used in mahjong game

Mahjong tiles are tiles of Chinese origin that are used to play mahjong as well as mahjong solitaire and other games. Although they are most commonly tiles, they may refer to playing cards with similar contents as well.

Japanese Mahjong scoring rules are used for Japanese Mahjong, a game for four players common in Japan. The rules were organized in the Taishō to Shōwa period as the game became popular.

Scoring in Mahjong, a game for four players that originated in China, involves the players obtaining points for their hand of tiles, then paying each other based on the differences in their score and who obtained mahjong. The points are given a monetary value agreed by the players. Although in many variations scoreless hands are possible, many require that hands be of some point value in order to win the round.

Rummy Group of matching-card games

Rummy is a group of matching-card games notable for similar gameplay based on matching cards of the same rank or sequence and same suit. The basic goal in any form of rummy is to build melds which can be either sets or runs. If a player discards a card, making a run in the discard pile, it may not be taken up without taking all cards below the top one. The Mexican game of Conquian is considered by games scholar David Parlett to be ancestral to all rummy games, which itself is derived from a Chinese game called Khanhoo. The rummy principle of drawing and discarding with a view to melding appears in Chinese card games at least in the early 19th century, and perhaps as early as the 18th century.

Hong Kong Mahjong scoring rules are used for scoring in Mahjong, the game for four players, common in Hong Kong and some areas in Guangdong.

Singaporean Mahjong scoring rules

The Singaporean Mahjong scoring rules are similar to that of the Chinese Old style / Hong Kong system, but accounts for the different set of tiles used.

Four Color Cards

Four Color Cards is a game of the rummy family of card games, with a relatively long history in China. In Vietnam the equivalent game is known as Tứ sắc.

In Japanese Mahjong, yaku is a condition that determines the value of the player's hand. It is essential to know the yaku for game strategy, since a player must have a minimum of one yaku in their hand in order to legally win a hand. Each yaku has a specific han value. Yaku conditions may be combined to produce hands of greater value. The game also features dora, that allow a hand to add han value, but that cannot count as yaku. Altogether, a hand's points value increases exponentially with every han a hand contains.


Khanhoo or Kanhu is a non-partnership Chinese card game of the draw-and-discard structure. It was first recorded during the late Ming dynasty as a multi-trick taking game, a type of game that may be as old as T'ienkiu, revised in its rules and published in an authorized edition by Emperor Kao Tsung in 1130 AD for the information of his subjects. Meaning "watch the pot", it is very possibly the ancestor of all rummy games.

Ponytail Canasta

Ponytail Canasta is a variation of the card game Canasta. The rules for Canasta were standardized in North America around the 1950s, it was this version of the game that gained worldwide popularity. In many countries, Classic Canasta is still played in more or less its original form, sometimes alongside a number of variations.

Buraco is a Rummy-type card game in the Canasta family for four players in fixed partnerships in which the aim is to lay down combinations in groups of cards of equal rank and suit sequences, there being a bonus for combinations of seven cards or more. Buraco is a variation of Canasta which allows both standard melds as well as sequences. It originated from Uruguay and Argentina in the mid-1940s, with apparent characteristics of simplicity and implications that are often unforeseeable and absolutely involving. Its name derives from the Portuguese word "buraco" which means “hole”, applied to the minus score of any of the two partnerships. The game is also popular in the Arab world, specifically in the Persian Gulf; where it is known as 'Baraziliya' (Brazilian). Another popular variation of Buraco is Italian.

Japanese Mahjong, also known as riichi mahjong, is a variation of mahjong. While the basic rules to the game are retained, the variation features a unique set of rules such as riichi and the use of dora. The variant is one of a few styles, where discarded tiles are ordered rather than placed in a disorganized pile. This is primarily due to the furiten rule, which takes player discards into account. The variant has grown popularity due to anime, manga, and online platforms.

American mahjong

American mahjong, also spelled mah jongg, is a variant of the Chinese game mahjong. American mahjong utilizes racks to hold each player's tiles, jokers, and "Hands and Rules" score cards. It has several distinct gameplay mechanics such as "The Charleston", which is a set of required passes, and optional passing of the tiles.

Mahjong Competition Rules (MCR), also known as Competition Mahjong and Guóbiāo Májiàng, is an international standard of rules and scoring criteria for mahjong founded by the All-China Sports Federation in July 1998 and supported by some mahjong societies, mostly in Asia. Many tournaments have adopted this standard and some mahjong societies exclusively use this scoring system for all play. It is characterised by dozens of possible combinations and a rather complex and inventive set of patterns. In effect, it mixes the scoring rules of several different mahjong variations. The game play is otherwise quite similar to Old Hong Kong Mahjong.


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  5. Waiting means waiting for one piece from the wall or a discard that would give a legal hand meeting the minimum required hand-points. Sometimes a player may be able to win with one of two different tiles (exceptionally rarely for three different tiles). A player is not considered "waiting" if the tile they are waiting for has already been discarded (leaving no possibility of receiving that piece.
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  14. 1 2 Archived from the original on June 26, 2003. Retrieved April 6, 2010.Missing or empty |title= (help)