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CNY Breeze and 3 Player Mahjong

January 16th, 2014 by dimpledbrain

In Malaysia, Chinese New Year is always preceded by fresh and pleasant breeze. We call it the new year breeze. It will come up within a month before Chinese New Year (CNY).

The most important activity during CNY is the 3 player mahjong. So today let’s review the game:

(1) General rules

  • Played by 3 players. Total 84 tiles. Each player arranges 2 layers of 14 tiles. (Total 28 tiles). Some players will arrange 14 tiles in a row and stack another 14 tiles on top of it. More professional players will stack 10 tiles (5 tiles on top of another 5 tiles) for 2 times and another 8 tiles (4 tiles on top of 4 tiles). Or a variation thereof.
  • The 84 tiles consist of (4 identical tiles for every character)
    • Dot tiles (number 1-9) – 36 tiles
    • Wind tiles (East, South, West and North) – 16 tiles
    • Cardinal Tiles (White Board, Prosperity and Red Middle) – 12 tiles
    • Flowers (2 sets numbered Flowers 1 -4) – 8 tiles
    • Faces/Animals (2 sets non numbered Flowers) – 8 tiles
    • Joker – 4 tiles

set2(from left to right: 4 winds – East, South, West, North, 3 Cardinal Tiles- White Board, Prosperity and Red Middle, Flowers (numbered 1-4), Animals/Faces (non numbered Flowers), Dot tiles (1-9) and Joker)

  • 2 dices are thrown twice – counting is done anticlockwise. Tile taking is done clockwise. Flower replacement is done anticlockwise. Dealer will have 14 tiles and the other 2 players, 13 tiles each. The game starts when the dealer discards his/her first tile.

(2) Scoring the game

  • Minimum 5-fan (or 5 points) to win the game.
  • Flowers, Animals and Faces count for 1-fan each*. For numbered Flower tiles, 1 represents East, 2 represents South, 3 represents West and 4 represents North. The dealer (the one with 14 tiles) is considered East and the other 2 (counting anticlockwise South and West). If I’m the dealer, I will get 1 fan for each Flower tile numbered 1 or 4 only. If I’m the 2 player (the next player anticlockwise from the Dealer), I’m considered the 2nd player – I’ll get 1 fan for each Flower tile numbered 2 or 4. Everyone gets 1-fan for Flower tile numbered 4.
  • Wind tiles works the same as numbered Flower tiles. Except the dealer gets 2-fan for East while everyone else gets 1 fan for own wind. Everyone gets 1-fan for the unclaimed North wind.**
  • Everyone gets 1-fan for Cardinal tiles. *** (Another (misleading) translation for Cardinal tiles is Dragon tiles)
  • All dot tiles (chi and pong/kong) (with flowers but without Wind/Cardinal tiles) – 3 fan
  • All dot tiles (chi only) (with flowers but without Wind/Cardinal tiles) – 4 fan
  • 3 sets of 3 tiles Winds and 1 set of 2 tiles Wind – 3 fan
  • 2 sets of 3 tiles Cardinal and 1 set of 2 tiles Cardinal – 3 fan
  • Whole set (4 tiles) of numbered Flower tiles (1-4) – 3 fan
  • Max fan is 10-fan, which includes: (the calculation for some minor combinations is not fixed and may vary/can be localized).
    • All 4 winds
    • All 3 cardinal tiles
    • 4 Jokers
    • Winning with the first/last tile
    • All 16 flowers
    • All dot tiles without flowers/cardinal tiles/ winds
    • A combination of any of the above up to 10 fan.
    • There are other minor variations for fan combinations that I did not list here.
  • Some of the combinations above are possible because of Joker and one can take the Joker back to your hand if it has been used earlier to pong. (provided you draw another similar tile that you pong earlier)

(3) Strategy

  • We need minimum 14 tiles to win. (4 sets of 3 or 4 pieces + 1 pair of eyes – 2 pieces)
    • We can chi (or connect or wrongly translated as chow) the suits. E.g. 1-2-3, 2-3-4 etc
    • We can pong (or touch/bang) 3 identical pieces.
    • We can kong 4 identical pieces.
    • Flowers are always revealed on the table.
    • We can only chi (connect) from the player before us, i.e. the one on our left while we can pong/kong from either of the 2 players.
  • Since mahjong is a game of taking a tile from the pool and discarding a tile from our hand, generally speaking, we should discard our tiles in the following fashion:
    • Wind tiles
    • Cardinal tiles
    • Dot tiles. (If we have 1-6-9, discard 9 and in that order. This is just probability counting. If I get a tile of 1-8, I can still try to connect it to 1 or 6. The only problem is when I get the same tile that I just discard earlier. This somehow happens.)
    • If we have less than 4 steps to win, we should play to win; otherwise we should go defensive. E.g. discarding tiles that have been discarded earlier.
  •  Mahjong represents our ups and downs in life:
    • things always change (every time we take/discard a tile, connect or pong/kong – since the original flow will be disrupted)
    • luck plays a role (not getting the same tile we discard earlier, getting flower tiles/joker),
    • risk taking (max fan if win with flower replacement tile after 2 consecutive Kong, win with flower replacement tile/ kong – additional 1 fan),
    • strategy (outsmarting others – do we need dot tiles or character tiles, do we try to game with unwanted tiles in the pool),
    • there is a time for everything (when we can game but couldn’t do so since we haven’t met the minimum 5 fan requirements, when someone steals our kong and win) and
    • speed & alertness (we need to be quick so that we can conceal our intent from others, we need to be alert at all times because we may accidentally end up with 1 tile less or 1 tile more – say we forget to discard 1 tile after we pong/chi or we forget to take a flower replacement tile and/or discard 1 tile after we kong. If you get caught, other players may try to maximize their fans since they know you can’t win no matter what). 


*Previously we talked about conceptual vs contextual thinking. (Click here for the post.). The animal/face tiles are one such manifestation. The Animal tiles are usually rooster & centipede and cat & mouse. The Face tiles are usually Father & Mother and Son & Daughter or Grand Duke Jiang & Fish and Dragon & Sun. The Chinese is heavily influenced by relationship/ contextual thinking. (You can read more about this from the link above).

**The wind tiles are East, South, West and North simply because that’s how they are read in Chinese. In English, we’ll probably read the cardinal directions as North, South, East, West.

***The Cardinal tiles are said to represent the cardinal virtues taught by Confucius. Red Middle, Prosperity and White Board represent moderation, “abundance” and filial piety. Although strictly speaking, Confucian ethics has 5 constants or Wuchang (五常): Rén (仁, Benevolence), Yì (義, Uprightness), Lǐ (禮, Etiquette), Zhì (智, Knowledge) and Xìn (信, Integrity). The themes overlap in most instances.

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