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Definition of mahjong
by Cofa Tsui (August 2004)
Despite the existence of numerous variants, the games of mahjong can be generally defined as a game played by four players with the use of some specific playing pieces. To begin a game, each player is delivered with a number of playing pieces. To proceed with the game each player shall, in turn, obtain an additional piece in order to transform those pieces of his hand into any of certain predefined combinations. The player wins the game if a predefined combination is met, otherwise he must discard a piece. The loop of obtaining and discarding a playing piece continues until a win is achieved by a player.
The above is a broad definition of mahjong that, in my opinion, can cover games of mahjong in every stage of its history, including any of its possible prototypes found in ancient and modern literature. Since the scope of this website is to introduce only games under the brand name International Mahjong ("IMJ"), further explanations to those notations marked in the above definition are provided based on the International Mahjong Rules, as follows:
(Note: Article numbers are those of the International Mahjong Rules.)
1. Playing Pieces
The mahjong playing pieces can be called CARDS or TILES. In IMJ the playing pieces are collectively called PAIS. I believe this term reflects properly the true meaning of its origin, and can still represent those pieces properly when the game is further developed into the predictable future. In IMJ, a complete set of mahjong shall have 144 pais, which shall consist of 108 pieces of SERIALS, 28 pieces of FANZS and 8 pieces of FLOWERS. Refer to art. 4 for full details of contents of these pais.
2. Play Process
The play process includes many small steps, steps many new players feel complicated, but are surprisingly similar or identical among almost all known variants. In reality, and with the help of the comprehensive IMJ Rules, the complexity can be properly managed and therefore, is only temporary. All of the steps including how pais are delivered to the four players, how the players draw and discard pais and how pais are arranged into a winning hand, are covered in full details in, and therefore can all be learned from, Chapter Three through Chapter Five of the IMJ Rules.
3. Predefined Combinations
Predefined combinations are those recognized patterns or arrangements of the contents of a hand that could qualify the hand a winning hand. In the early games of mahjong, the recognized patterns are normally a number of sets (a set = certain predefined combinations each containing 3 or 4 pais) PLUS a pair of identical pais. In IMJ, a variable of patterns are included and a winning hand normally consists of 14 pais (refer to art. 19).
4. Winning Hand & Scores
In all known mahjong games, each winning hand carries certain amount of scores. However, the ways of computing the scores of a winning hand deviate greatly among variants of mahjong game, and could be very confusing to most players. As a basis, on the other hand, a winning hand contains at least one ELEMENT from which scores are derived. In IMJ, a winning hand contains a number of GRADE ELEMENTS (art. 24). From the total value of all valid grade elements of a winning hand, the scores of the hand can be determined by referring to the Standard Scoring Chart (art. 30). In IMJ, there is a total of 49 valid grade elements, all precisely defined in Chapter Six. A thorough understanding of all valid grade elements and a proper strategy in achieving the elements during play could make you a successful player!
Copyright 2004 Cofa Tsui.
(From file: IMJ\mam00_X050609.html)