Mahjong (麻将) also spelled majiang and numerous other variants, is a tile-based game that originated in China during the Qing dynasty. It is commonly played by four players (with some three-player variations found in South Korea and Japan). The game and its regional variants are widely played throughout Eastern and South Eastern Asia and have a small following in Western countries. Similar to the Western card game rummy, Mahjong is a game of skill, strategy, and calculation and involves a degree of chance.

Mahjong culture is deeply ingrained in the Chinese community.

The game is played with a set of 144 tiles based on Chinese characters and symbols, although some regional variations may omit some tiles and/or add unique tiles. In most variations, each player begins by receiving 13 tiles. In turn players draw and discard tiles until they complete a legal hand using the 14th drawn tile to form 4 groups (meld) and a pair (eye). There are fairly standard rules about how a piece is drawn, how a piece is robbed from another player, the use of simples (numbered tiles) and honors (winds and dragons), the kinds of melds allowed, how to deal the tiles and the order of play. Despite these similarities, there are many regional variations to the rules including rather different scoring systems, criteria for legal winning hands and even private table rules which distinguish some variations as notably different styles of mahjong.

Mahjong is based on draw-and-discard card games that were popular in 18th and 19th century China and some are still popular today. They were played with a stripped deck of money-suited cards. Each deck is divided into three suits of Cash or coins, Strings of cash, and Myriads of strings. There are nine ranks in each suit. In addition, there are three wild cards: Red flower, White flower, and Old thousand. Depending on the game, there are multiple copies of each card.

Games scholar David Parlett has written that the Western card games Conquian and Rummy share a common origin with Mahjong. All these games involve players drawing and discarding tiles or cards to make melds. Khanhoo is an early example of such a game. The most likely ancestor to Mahjong was pènghú (碰和) which was played with 120 or 150 cards. During the late 19th century, pènghú was used interchangeably with máquè in both card and tile form.

It is not known when the conversion from cards to tiles took place precisely but it most likely occurred in the middle of the 19th century. The earliest surviving tile sets date to around 1870 and were acquired in Fuzhou, Shanghai, and Ningbo. These sets differ from modern ones in several ways. In the Glover sets, there were no “flower” and (“green dragon”) tiles. In their place were “king” tiles for heaven, earth, man, and harmony and also for each of the 4 “winds” which may have acted as bonus tiles. In the contemporaneous Himly set, there were no zhōng (“red dragon”) tiles either. Instead there were the wild cards known as Cash Flower, String Flower, and Myriad Flower plus an additional tile, the king of everything. These early jokers are still found in the Vietnamese and Thai sets. They may have been removed as the tiles share the same titles as the leaders of the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864). For example, Hong Xiuquan was the self-styled “Heavenly King of Great Peace” and his top subordinates were called east king, south king, west king, and north king.

The ban on gambling after the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949 led to a decline in playing. The game itself was banned during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Today, it is a favorite pastime in China and other Chinese-speaking communities.

Mahjong, as of 2010, is the most popular table game in Japan.

Many consider the modern American version a Jewish remake, as many American Mahjong players are of Jewish descent. The NMJL was founded by Jewish players and is considered a Jewish organization. In 1986, the National Mah Jongg League conducted their first Mah Jongg Cruise Tournament, in conjunction with Mah Jongg Madness. In 2010, this large scale seagoing event hosted its 25th Silver Anniversary Cruise, with players from all over the States and Canada participating.

In 1999, a second organization was formed, the American Mah Jongg Association.

Edited from Wikipedia

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