Four Winds Rule Collection European Classical

2. Preliminaries

The complete game of Mah Jong ordinarily consists of 16 hands (or deals), though the number may be increased each time the dealer (East) wins, or when a deal ends in a draw. Each hand begins with the building of the Wall, breaking it, and dealing the tiles.

Before the game starts players throw the dice several times in order to determine the seat order, the first dealer (East) and to determine the place where the Wall is to be broken.

2.1 Determining the seats and the first dealer

The four players take seats arbitrarily. Any player mixes four wind tiles, one of each wind, face down on the table and arranges them in a row. Each player then picks up one tile and assumes the seat indicated by the tile which he has drawn; East remains seated in his current location and South, West and North take their seats accordingly.

The players retain their relative positions (though not their seat designations, as the winds rotate) until the game has been completed.

Figure 1. Example of selection of seats.
 
a) Players take temporary seats arbitrarily.
 
b) Any player mixes four wind tiles and arranges them face down on the table.

c) Each player picks one wind tile. In the example, it is assumed that player A picks up the second tile (West), player B the first tile (North), player C the fourth tile (East), and player D the third tile (South).
 
d) Each player then assumes the seat indicated by the tile which he has drawn. Note that the winds follow each other in counter-clockwise direction in order East, South, West and North (the order in which winds are customarily listed in Chinese) so they do not follow compass directions.
2.2 The Deal

Before each hand all the tiles are placed face down on the table and thoroughly mixed by non-dealers, until East gives the command 'Pow' (meaning 'start'), after which each of the four players picks up 34 tiles and builds a row of tiles in front of him, 17 tiles long and 2 high (if Flowers and Seasons are used, 36 tiles are picked, forming a 18 tiles long row). Each player then pushes his row forward to form a hollow square. This formation is called Wall.

To determine the breaking point of the Wall, the dealer (East) throws the two dice and counts counterclockwise round the walls, beginning with himself as one (accordingly, numbers 5 and 9 indicate East, numbers 2, 6 and 10 South, numbers 3, 7 and 11 West and numbers 4, 8 and 12 North). The player thus indicated then casts the two dice and adds the sum to the total thrown by East. He then counts off along the tiles of the top tier of his wall (a stack of two tiles at a time), starting from the right end. If the grand total exceeds 18, the count continues around the corner (to the left). 

He makes a break in the wall by removing the stack of two tiles indicated by the total number thrown, and placing these tiles (also known as 'loose tiles') on top of the wall to the right of the breaking point, the uppermost tile being placed further from the breaking point. Traditionally the uppermost tile is placed on top of the third stack to the right of the breaking point, and the lowermost on top of the first stack. 

The six stacks of tiles to the right of the breaking point along with the two loose tiles are known as Dead Wall (or Kong box); the remaining tiles, starting from the tiles to the left of the breaking point, constitute the live Wall.  

Note. Some players place the loose tiles centered on top of the Dead Wall, or do not care about the position of loose tiles, but the uppermost tile must always be to the right of the lowermost tile.

The 14 tiles of the Dead Wall are reserved as replacement tiles for Kongs and Flowers and Seasons. The Dead Wall is replenishing so the used supplement tiles are replaced by reserving new tiles from the tail end of the live Wall. When supplement tiles are needed normally the player on whose side the Dead Wall resides is responsible of giving them. The rightmost "loose" tile is always used first, and when both "loose" tiles are used, two new "loose tiles" from the left end of the Dead Wall are lifted on top of the Dead Wall.

Note. Some national rules (e.g., Italian rules) still use a classical exhaustible Dead Wall consisting of (at least) 14 tiles that are reserved as supplement tiles. (The classical rules used a Dead Wall consisting of 16 tiles, and supplements for Flowers and Seasons were taken from the open end of the Wall, not from the Dead Wall; in those European rules where an exhaustible Dead Wall is still used, the number of reserved tiles might be greater than 16, for example 20 tiles, but in this case supplements for Flowers and Seasons are also taken from the Dead Wall.)

East starts the deal by taking the first two stacks of the tiles (i.e., four tiles) from the left of the break, then each of the other three players pick two stacks of tiles in order South, West and North. This is repeated twice so that each player has 12 tiles. East then draws the 1st and 5th tile from the open end of the Wall (as displayed in Fig. 2-d below), and South, East and North in turn take one tile each. Thus the dealer has 14 tiles and the other three players each 13 tiles.

The hand starts by each player arranging the dealt tiles so that their faces are not visible to the opponents, but in such a way that the other players may count them.

If the dealt hand contains Flowers or Seasons, they are immediately melded (placed face up above and to the side of the hand) and replaced with regular tiles taken from the Dead Wall (East replaces first his extra tiles, then South, West and North). Should a player draw further bonus tiles during this replacement procedure, he immediately takes supplement tiles for these, as well.

Figure 2. Building and breaking the Wall.

a) Traditionally the walls are pushed together so that each stands in at its right-hand end, and out at the left end.
  
b) East throws the two dice eight, in this case and counts counterclockwise round the walls.
 
c) The player thus indicated (North in this case) throws the two dice three in this case and adds the sum to the total thrown by East (grand total being 11 in this case). He then counts off along the tiles of the top tier of his wall, starting from the right end, breaks the wall by placing the two loose tiles (A and B) on top of the Wall to the right of the breaking point. The loose tiles and 12 tiles to the right of the breaking point (gray tiles in the picture) constitute the Dead Wall.
 
d)
The players take each 2 stacks of tiles (i.e., four tiles at a time) from the start of the live Wall, in order East, South, West and North, until each player has 12 tiles. East picks his 13th and 14th tile as illustrated in picture above (note that these two tiles are picked at the same time and South, West and North pick their final tiles only after this). This is called chan-chan because of the sound made by the clicking of the two tiles (see picture).

Related topics:
Introduction
Tiles
Playing
Miscellaneous
Scoring
Payments