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NOW….PLAY NICE!! A Look At Etiquette for Mah Jongg play!

Mah Jongg is not only a challenging, creative, complex, and strategic game, but also, and importantly, it is a social experience. Whether you are a Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced player, and whether your group plays more competitively or more casually, kindness goes a long way to making the Maj play environment enjoyable. Many of the ideas for friendly protocol suggested below are not rules of play but are suggestions to foster a friendly and supportive milieu for playing the game of Mah Jongg.

If you need information on American Mah Jongg rules, you can visit the NMJL website at

Some of the etiquette suggestions listed below may not be applicable at the tournament play level. If you are interested, the rules for tournament play can be found at

Etiquette During Set Up & Charleston Passing:

  • East breaks the wall by rolling dice, pushes out the piece of the wall to be used, then each player TAKES THEIR OWN TILES in proper sequence

  • Keep the pace of Passing….Reminder that you cannot play the whole card, so make initial choices toward a section or two that best relate to your tiles and then narrow down to a few hands within a section when equipped to do so

  • Be patient with fellow players during passing and wait until each player has their Pass of 3 tiles placed BEFORE you pick up your incoming pass (The Charleston Passing can be confusing if players do not wait for each other before picking up the incoming pass)

  • During the Charleston and Mah Jongg game play, keep yourself in your own space and respect your opponents' areas.

Etiquette During Mah Jongg Game:

  • On your turn, PAUSE…then PICK your tile slowly (count from1….2…..3…..PICK. Reaching slowly allows a small window for other players to CALL for a tile if necessary. It is not kind to Pick and Rack too quickly.

  • RACK your tile: RACK does not mean click, tap or hold the tile even if you are down to needing only ONE more tile for Mah Jongg! RACK means placing and letting go of the tile into the sloped side of your rack

  • Once a player has Racked their tile, the window of opportunity for calling for the previous discard is closed

  • A tile laid is a tile played- once a player verbalizes the tile name and places it face up on the table as a discard, that player has completed their turn

  • A great habit as I mentioned in a previous post is to Rack your tile picked from the wall then throw another tile you already know with certainty that you don’t need for your hand/hands. This habit will also help keep the pace of play.

  • When pushing out the next wall of tiles for play, push the wall to a 45-degree angle so ALL players can easily reach to pick a tile from the wall

  • Keep the PACE of play...don't be the tortoise or the hare!

  • If a player needs a moment to gather thoughts, rearrange tiles etc. grant it and use the minute to double check your own tiles

  • Verbalize clearly and correctly each discarded tile, correct each other kindly if necessary. Remember to both listen AND look at each discarded tile

  • Verbalize when you want to CALL for a discard, saying “Call”, “I want that”, or “take”

  • Verbalize when you redeem a Joker from your own or another player’s rack

  • Do NOT reach into another player’s rack for Joker redemption- hand your tile to your opponent then they will hand you the Joker from their exposure and replace the tile you gave them on their own rack

  • When you CALL for a tile, the tiles you place ON your rack for your exposure may be placed in random order (not necessarily in order of the Hand shown on playing card). In other words, if you are playing a Pung Pung Kong Kong hand, you may put your tile exposures on your rack with the Kong first, then a Pung.

  • It is customary to place Joker(s) in the middle of your exposures so opponents can identify to which exposure the Joker(s) belongs

Etiquette When Mah Jongg is Declared:

  • Winner should now rearrange & separate all exposures of tiles IN HAND ORDER according to the card on top of their rack so Mah Jongg can be verified. Transparency for corroboration of the winning hand is important.

  • VERIFY the winning Mah Jongg hand- other players should NOT throw in their tiles or begin to mix tiles for a new game until Mah Jongg is confirmed

  • If you play for money, this is when you pay up please

  • Show and Share hands if your group enjoys doing so


  • Harmony is more important than winning!

  • Compliments go a long way!

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