Mahjong (Mah-jong), which originated before China's Ming Dynasty, is now considered a national game. People from all walks of life, old and young, love this game. Some people can spend hours or even days on the Mahjong table without rest. And now, Mahjong has become a pastime among people in the west as well as in the east. Playing the game is also nicknamed " building the Great Wall".

Bone, bamboo, jade or plastic has replaced paper to make tiny three-dimensional rectangular tiles used to play the game of Mahjong. Nobody knows for sure when the game first started or who invented it, but many people find playing Mahjong thoroughly enjoyable. Some people consider it an old men's game, and at one time playing the game was officially discouraged because gambling was considered to be associated with playing Mahjong. But no matter what others think about the game, many people do play it for fun while chatting about the events of the day.

There are 144 tiles used. The tiles carry three suits marked with numbers ranging from one to nine while each number has four tiles carrying the same suit. These 108 tiles make up the basic part of Mahjong. In today's game, a few things have changed. Tiles with the Chinese characters north, south, east and west make up another set. While these tiles represent the four directions of the wind, there are three other tiles which represent luck.

The lucky tiles literally means to get rich or to become one of the top three scholars after taking the imperial exam. In ancient China, an examination was given every three years to anyone in the country who wished to be the tested and the top three students would be awarded official titles in the imperial palace. It was a most prestigious and dignified position for the average citizen to reach. The game of luck and intelligence is woven into the game of Mahjong.

Eight tiles symbolizing flowers have also been added to the game.

The playing rules to play Mahjong: Generally four players are needed to play the game. The tiles are mixed together at the center of the table. Each person stakes two tiles together, facing down until they have eighteen stakes. Each player then form the row with a stake of eighteen tiles and join the four rows together to make a primitive looking square. Some players are very quick at his part to the game while others often need a little more time. Just like some card players who enjoy being the dealer, Mahjong players learn to set up the game very quickly. To begin the game, a person is chosen to become the banker either by choice or by rolling the dice. The banker cuts the tiles first by taking its stake which is also determined by rolling the dice and seeing what number comes up first. For instance, if the banker rolls an eight then moving from the right to the left, the eighth stake will be the first to be cut.

Players take that turn counter-clockwise, taking their first stake one after the other until it's the banker's turn again. After everyone has taken one each, the banker will have fourteen tiles and the other three will have thirteen ones.

"Hupai"(winning) is the name of the game, and to win the game of Mahjong, you need four sequences. Each sequence consists of three tiles but the same all successive numbers. A pair with the same trump tiles which can be in any suit is also necessary. The first player to make all these tiles complete wins the game.

Now to form a sequence, the players can only take a tile already thrown out into the center of the squares of tiles by his right hand and to show down the sequence. The chances to show are very rare, so it's recommended that you take the opportunity once you get the inclination to take a tile from the pile in the center before it is too late. An expert player, however, seldom rushes in to take tiles during the first round in case it might disclose his strategy of winning the game.

As far as strategies are concerned, the chances of matching up three identical tiles together are better than sequences because you can take these tiles from any player who throws it out into the center pile.

In addition to the basic rules, there are more complicated methods of playing Mahjong or the so-called "classic way" of playing the game. You can make your tiles one suit or include complete sequence or even cover all the wind tiles and cover all the lucky tiles that trump or make every single set of tiles a absolutely different from one another. Making every single set of tiles different from the others is most risky as it's time consuming. But a big win is always the greatest reward after you have become an expert of the game.

Concerning the question about the importance of the east wind, we should learn a little deeper the meaning about the wind tiles. In ancient China, people believed the heavens years and four winds which stood for the four directions made up the universe. In the game of Mahjong, the east wind regulates the banker's wind. So if the banker gets three east wind tiles and wins the game, he gets an even higher score.

On weekends or holidays many families after finishing dinner, gather around the kitchen table to play Mahjong for fun.

Many devoted Mahjong players consider the game to be a great way to stimulate their minds, and they play Mahjong on a regular basis. To win the game, the most important aspect is to observe the other players' strategies. However, some others are reluctant to join their friends to play the game of Mahjong because they prefer to play chess or bridge. In their opinion, to win a game of Mahjong depends largely on luck.

Photo Gallery of Chinese Mahjong