Mahjong Strategies to Increase your Odds of Winning

best mahjong strategies

Content Writer, Vladimir

Last updated on 9th April 2024

Published: 04/01/2020

Categories: Guides

There are different Mahjong strategies you can apply to this ancient game. While some tricks apply only to a few styles of Mah-Jongg, others apply throughout the board.

Note that there isn’t any “right” or “best” strategy that can be applied to a specific situation. Strategies should be adjusted based on the game’s situation (considering the possibilities, the wall’s length, the stake amount, other players, etc.). But if you’re skilled, you can always use a flexible approach.

Having said that, if you have a basic grasp and knowledge of Mahjong or card-based casino games, you would have noticed the similarities between Rummy and Mahjong.

An ancient, more intricate approach to Rummy, Mahjong is rumoured to be as old as 2,500 years and hence, the affinity of the game is with the elderly citizens, the world over.

The intricacies of this ancient, beloved game has taken the 21st century millennials by storm, and today, I’ll be explaining the strategies to win as many hands of Mahjong, regardless of who you’re playing against.

Assuming that you know how to play Mahjong, I’ll start the explanation of the strategies with the basics like tiles arrangement, moves, what tiles to keep/discard, when to keep/discard a particular tile, and many others.

A Few Steps to Practice to Attain Perfection

  • Clear your mind to play Mahjong because it requires your undivided attention and sheer concentration as there are 3 other players you are playing against. People with higher IQ pick up the game quicker but by practice, anyone can be a great Mahjong player.
  • Try to observe and memorise the moves of the other players, mainly the player whose turn comes before you as this would give you a tactical advantage to create Chows.
  • Have a good grasp of all 144 Mahjong tiles, as one tile could be confused with many others, and this might hinder your chances to create Melds & Pairs, as the game progresses.
  • Arrange and rearrange your tiles based on the progression of the game and do not be afraid to change the Meld or Pair you are aiming to form.

Arrange your Tiles for a Strong Start

Often overlooked, arranging or organising your tiles in your rack before starting to play the game is one of the best Mahjong strategies. In fact, this could give you a tactical advantage as a poorly organised stack. This may result you in discarding a good tile.

Follow the below steps and organise your tiles in your rack:

  • Arrange the tiles so that it’s easier for you to notice the hand you have at a quick glance.
  • Arrange tiles that have more value, what you plan on collecting to make your Melds or Pairs or what you think you would discard sooner.
  • If you want to kick it up a notch, arrange the tiles from the same suit, honour or bonus, and based on their value.
  • If you are aiming to win a clean hand, place the tiles in this suit in an order that distinguishes them from the other suits.
  • Place the tiles of the suit you intend to collect besides the honour tiles, along with other major tiles you are looking forward to collecting.
  • Place major tiles to the left and other tiles together in their respective suits and the tiles you are about to discard to the far right of the rack.
  • During the progression of the game, you may need to rearrange your tiles especially if you want to move between a normal Mahjong and a special hand, so be ready for this.
  • Regardless of the system of arrangement you’ve used, do not move the tile you want to discard immediately but do it after a couple of moves just to throw off the other players who are observing your moves. The same principle applies to the tiles that you favour and do not change your arrangement immediately as soon as you pick up a tile that you needed. Make the rearrangement after a move or two, or gradually, to confuse your opponents.
  • Avoid gaps between your tiles at all times as this allows your opponents to notice how advanced your hand is, or do the opposite and place 3 or 4 tiles which have nothing to do with each other just to bluff the opponent to think that you have a winning hand in the works.
  • Be vigilant that you don’t make your moves obvious for the other players to notice and use it to their advantage.
  • As you get better and more confident with each game, throwing your opponents off from guessing the hands your playing will become second nature to you so try all the permutations to wittily mislead your opponents to believe they know what hand you are playing.

The beauty of Mahjong is the reason that it transcends time and is engraved in the hearts of people since the late 1800s.

Intimidating to begin with, the complexities of 144 tiles, their symbols, numbers, and others might boggle the mind but this is exactly what captivates players who get a taste of the game after a few hands and learning the basic objective and working towards creating Chows, Pungs, and Kongs will make you fall in love with the game.

mahjong tips and tricks

Basic Objective of Mahjong

The aim of Mahjong is to create:

  • Pungs (set of 3 identical tiles of the same suit)
  • Kongs (set of 4 identical tiles of the same suit)
  • Chows (3 suit tiles in a sequence) and a pair

This can be attained with an amalgam of these combinations or one of a number of other special hands.

It only takes a hand full of tweaks and improvements to take your game up a notch in a short span of time and drastically increase your chances of winning hand after hand of Mahjong.

A common mistake beginners make is diving headfirst into collecting as many sets of Pungs, Kongs and chows from the get-go, which could be a dangerous strategy that can lead to unforeseen complications as the game progresses.

Remember, the next time you sit down to play a hand of Mahjong, the incorporation of the below tips can sway the odds in your favour dramatically:

1. Focus on the Free Tiles

You only have a minimum of 13 tiles to move around in your rack, in a total pile of 144 tiles which are stagnant most of the game.

So, play with the tiles that are discarded and moved around by other players, and strategically make a move when you get the opportunity. Look to make matches with the tiles placed at the top of the rack as you can only match a tile when there is space on either side of the tile.

This will turn the odds of matching tiles in your favour, whilst avoiding the problem of a tile you want being trapped. Bear in mind that removing could be better or worse for the hand in the long run so focus on the free tiles cautiously.

2. Be Mindful of the Tiles you Pick Up

The game rules of Mahjong dictate that you may pick up discarded tiles when you want to complete a Pung, Kong or Chow. So, experienced players can easily keep track and predict the sequences you are going for.

In this scenario, you strategically collect the tiles you need and pick up random tiles just to mislead other players who are observing your moves.

3. Stick to a Plan of Attack, but Flexibly

This is another Mahjong strategy to make a note of. Remember that patience is a virtue to have a successful winning hand while playing Mahjong so picking up random tiles erratically might be the worst strategy ever.

Instead, be open-minded about the progression of the game, and decide if you want to stick with the gameplay you began with or if it would be wiser to make subtle changes.

Changing tactics a few hands before you feel like someone else is going to win can change of odds of you winning that hand.

4. Make the Endings Even More Interesting

Piling on the previous point, when you feel like someone is going to win the hand, keep an eye on the tiles that are being discarded by other players along with the tiles that are left in the pile.

Players usually get desperate and antsy to win the hand. So, you may even take note of the changing body language of competitors. This may also work as a double-edged sword as your own body language changes and the tiles you discard and collect are being observed by others, so be very cautious at the end and pull off an Oscar-winning performance which may help you win.

5. Practice, and Practice Some More

As easy as it is to get carried away or to ignore it, self-control and restraint to make the obvious move or picking up a tile or discarding a tile is the most difficult to practice.

You need to gradually learn to notice sensitive times, and move while playing and play a bluff by picking up or discarding a wrong tile, which will most often position you to play a deadly hand further down the lane.

There is no better strategy to play Mahjong than to play as regularly as possible and become a tactician who can predict, move and dictate how every other player at the table plays the game.

Discarding Tiles is an Art in Itself

As explained in the previous pointers, discarding tiles is one of the most important Mahjong tricks that you should learn to play. So, let me delve deeper and specifically explain to you what tile to discard at a given moment in the game, and more.

If your main focus is on creating Melds and Pairs, your immediate, secondary focus should be on not revealing the tiles you are playing to your opponents.

You can easily conceal the tiles you are playing by understanding how to discard special and isolated winds of other players are early in the game as possible. This will make it hard for your opponents not to Pung.

mahjong strategies and tactics

By following the order of discarding your east wind first, then the wind of the player seated to your left, player opposite to you and the wind of the player to your right, and by keeping your own special wind, your chances of winning will increase palpably.

Post discarding your opponents’ winds, you should focus on immediately discarding isolated dragons, or else the other competitors will gain an advantage to Pung. Like the wind tiles, you may retain the dragon pairs with yourself.

Then comes the turn of terminal tiles. Start by choosing the smallest sets in your stack to discard. Discard terminal tiles with the exception of 4, 5 and number 6 tiles as long as possible as they hold more value so retaining them will work well to win the hand at the end with higher points.

Retain One Pair Strategy

As straightforward as it sounds, retaining one Mahjong pair means that you should possess two tiles that are of the same type. With the motive to achieve a Pung or in some cases even a Kong, I advise you to go along with the same type of tile within the playing surface that is displayed at that moment once the said pair is available.

One other pairing strategy depends totally on your patience. A strategy that comes in handy by the time you have fewer tiles that you need to pair further, you will gain more points if you have saved a specific pair later on as the game progresses.

For instance, at a certain time, while playing Mahjong, you are given the chance to make a kong, and you may use the pair in this scenario. This was you will earn more points as an advanced strategy and it also works as a winning strategy.

The said strategy demands more attention from you as you must be aware that the tiles left on the playing surface should be ones to support the pair you have saved, in case the tiles left are not pairable, make sure that the paired tiles are played for a different move instead.

Utilising a pair correctly will enable you to keep away from dealing with another player, thus taking advantage of this strategy.

Be Realistic: Play to Win, Draw or to Prevent Loss

If you plan on winning Mahjong hands, you need to enter the game headstrong and the will to win and not be bogged down by a couple of failures.

With a bold enough attitude to discard anything that you don’t require in your Melds, you increase the chances of picking the tiles you need, and this may include the lucky tiles as well.

Feel free to shout “Pung” or “Chow” after the 6/7 tile and on the hind side, if you are playing not to lose, play cautiously and ensure you don’t discard your tiles erratically. If you need 3 or fewer tiles in your hand after 4 draws you may go for the win, or else you would be better off playing for a draw.

If you want to play safe and go for a draw, do not be the first one to discard your dragon or wind tile, and do not play with doubles. Don’t claim one for the triplet or go for a Pung or Chow and keep your hands hidden until the draw is received to maintain suspense.

Having said that, playing to win is the best strategy as skillful players try to prepare their hand early and try to make it so that many different tiles with complete it. You need to remember that you may not control the luck of the tiles that come your way but you can definitely increase the possibility or the chances of it happening.

free mahjong strategies to learn

Remember the Clock

Learn to value time while playing Mahjong because once you exhaust all the 144 tiles, you are given bonus points. As time is never in your favour while playing this game, let it be a focal point of your strategy.

Furthermore, you have an advantage when you find a flower or a season tile because you can match a flower tile with any other flower tiles. In addition, a season tile can be matched with any other season tile.

But the season and flower tiles cannot be matched with each other. As every tile has a base value to them, removing the tiles will enhance your scores as long as playing against the clock is concerned.

Gameplay Scenarios

As 8 or 9 are most likely to be discarded, hold on to your 7-7-7-8 rather than holding on to 4-5-5-5 and waiting for 3 or 4, because players are known to holding on to their 3 and 4. It is strategically better to wait for the tiles that are already seen on the board as players tend not to discard new tiles after the first few turns.

Emphasize on sequence and simples as they have a higher probability of a draw, and likewise, it pays to memorise that one double is worth 20 points worth of triplets so you can play the doubles accordingly. And triplets are more difficult to make as there are fewer chances you will receive a tile you need so be mindful of this.

Last but not least, remember that in any scenario, unlike most gambling games, the first hand to go out wins in Mahjong and not necessarily the highest hand.

Mahjong Tradition/Superstition

A popular tradition that dictates that when three players drop West tile, the fourth and the last player will avoid the West in his/her turn, which is based on a superstition that discarding West tile by all 4 players will result is bad luck for all of them. In fact, the same superstition goes to one Wind tile as well.

Playing Mahjong Online

Being a beginner Mahjong online player has its perks as a lot of processes are automated and the dealers and winds are taken care of for you.

Online Mahjong players soon learn that this is one of the most gripping tile-based games which can be learned a lot quicker than you earlier anticipated and a game you would enjoy for a very long time.

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